Hiring managers see a lot of job applicants make the same mistakes over and over again, many of which are easily preventable if only applicants knew how hiring managers operate. Here are eight things that hiring managers wish all job candidates knew – both to help them hire more easily and to end some of the frustration for job-seekers.
1. You can ruin your chances by being too aggressive. When you're searching for a job, enthusiasm helps. But some job applicants cross the line from enthusiastic to annoying or pushy – and in doing so, kill their chances for a job offer. If you're doing any of the following, you've crossed the line and may turn off hiring managers who might otherwise consider hiring you: Dropping off your résumé in person when the job posting instructs you to apply online, checking on the status of your application more than once within three weeks, repeatedly calling and hanging up when you get voicemail or cold-contacting numerous employees at the company to try to get extra attention paid to your résumé.
2. We really want you to be honest. Too many job seekers approach job searching as if their only goal is to win a job offer, losing sight of the fact that this can land them in the wrong job. But if you're honest – with yourself and with your interviewer – about your strengths and weaknesses and if you give the hiring manager a glimpse of the real you, you'll both be able to make a better informed decision about how well you'd do in the job. (Of course, if you just need a job at any costs, this might not resonate with you, but if you want a job where you'll excel and be happy, it should.)
3. You don't get to choose your references. You might think that employers will only call the references on the list you provide, but in fact, they may call anyone you've worked for or who might know you, on your list or not. In fact, smart reference-checkers will make a point of calling people not on your list, since they assume you've only listed people who you know will speak of you glowingly.
4. No matter how positive things seem, you shouldn't count on a job offer. No matter how confident you are that an employer wants to hire you, you never have a job offer until you have a firm – preferably written – offer in hand. That's true no matter what an interviewer says to you, even if they say things like, "You'll be great at this," "We're excited to work with you" or "You're exactly what we're looking for." None of those things means that an offer is coming, no matter how encouraging they sound.
5. The small details matter. Candidates frequently act as if only "official" contacts, like interviews and formal writing samples, count during the hiring process. So they'll send flawless cover letters and then check up on their applications with sloppily written emails that include spelling errors, or they'll be charming and polite to their interviewer but rude to the receptionist. Good employers are paying attention to everything during the hiring process, not just the official pieces.
6. If you can't produce references, most hiring managers will be wary. Some candidates wonder what to do if their past employers have a policy of not giving out references, but most employers will expect you to find someone willing to vouch for your work anyway. Unfair? Maybe, but the reality is that if they have two great candidates and one has references and one doesn't, they're going to go with the one who does.
7. Wondering how to stand out? Use your cover letter. A well-written, engaging cover letter that's customized to a particular opening can open doors when your résumé alone might not have gotten you a second look.
8. Your personality matters a lot. Good hiring managers think a lot about your personality. You could have great skills but not get hired because your working style would clash with the people with whom you'd work. Often, one personality type will simply fit better into a department than another will – and whether that style is quiet, loud, thick-skinned, aggressive, informal or stiff is hard to know from the outside.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.