Recently I was working with the producer of a TV magazine on a segment featuring
mid-life career changes. While she asked a number of insightful questions, there
was one in particular that got me thinking, "What are the three to five biggest
mistakes you've seen job seekers make in the seventeen years you've been a career
counselor?" Formulating the answer didn't take long.
While there has been some fine tuning in terms of how people look for a new
position, the basic job search process hasn't changed. Neither have the mistakes
people make, whatever their job, level of expertise, age, education, or intellect.
Like many situations for which there is little pre-education (taking care of a
newborn, recognizing the hidden agendas in corporate politics), initiating a job
campaign often mysteriously erodes a candidate's common sense and turns him into
a victim of his own ineptitude.
What are these classic blunders even savvy professionals often make, what are
their consequences, and how can you avoid falling into their collective trap?
Many job seekers never figure out what they really want in their careers.
A. They miss a golden opportunity to identify the skills, interests, values, and
personality traits that maximize both their contribution to their employer and
their own career satisfaction.
B. If an individual doesn't know what she wants and has to offer in a career,
she can't tell someone else who might be able to help her find it.
C. Misdirected job seekers often waste a lot of time considering mediocre
opportunities. Many eventually take jobs that are completely wrong for them
without even knowing it!
The Right Approach
To mount an effective job search campaign, you must know both what you want from
your career and what you have to offer a potential employer. In other words, you
must develop a benchmark job description. Before you start networking, answering
ads or sending out direct mail inquiries, think carefully about:
- Your most enjoyable transferable skills
- Your most outstanding special knowledges or technical skills
- Your most salient personality traits
- The working conditions and people environments you especially value
- The components of a reasonable compensation package geared to your level
of responsibility and experience
Once you have identified the most important elements for each of these issues,
combine them into a cohesive paragraph that will also serve as your 2-3 minute
commercial. Then, when you are networking, looking over NBEW ads or
contemplating whether to accept an offer, you will have the self knowledge to
make the right choices.
2. Many job seekers rely almost exclusively on want ads, executive search
firms and direct mail campaigns when they are looking for a new opportunity.
A. This let-the-other-guy-do-it approach forces them to abdicate control of
their own job search process and puts the burden of responsibility on others who,
in most cases, neither know now care about their future.
B. These candidates can't develop or maintain any momentum because they are
constantly putting their ball in the other player's court.
C. Statistics tell us that 80-90% of jobs are filled through networking.
Relying primarily on other, less productive techniques lengthens a job search
The Right Approach
To expedite your job search process, concentrate most of your time on networking
because it has the best track record for uncovering opportunities. Talk to your
relatives, friends, fellow volunteers, school alumni, church members and any
other people with whom you have a natural affinity. Attend continuing education
classes in areas that interest you. Go to job clubs and networking meetings.
Ask your contacts for names of other people they think might help you.
Make your networking conversations vehicles for getting and giving information
mutually beneficial to both parties. And, answer ads and contact head hunters or
corporations only if they offer possibilities genuinely compatible with your
3. Most job seekers neglect to do prior research on jobs, companies or
industries before they write their resumes or go on networking appointments or
A. From a potential employer's perspective, candidates who exhibit no prior
knowledge of an opening or company are so-so job seekers who seem much more
interested in themselves than the job they are pursuing. Only truly outstanding
credentials will propel an individual from this easily ignored group to the
interview pile or a job offer.
B. Without knowing in advance about the company and the job, candidates miss the
opportunity to pre-test whether their expertise, skills and values will be a good
match with a position. Their lack of knowledge weakens their case for why a
recruiter should hire them because they can't explain how their background
specifically meshes with the jobs they are seeking.
C. These candidates waste both employers' time and their own chasing the wrong
positions. In this regard mistakes #1 and #3 go hand in hand.
The Right Approach
Learn as much as you can about the company and job you're pursuing by using a
combination of researching techniques. Go to the library for some background on
organizations. Read their annual reports and articles about them in trade
journals, local and international business publications. If you have access to a
larger library, check the databases available online via America Online,
Compuserv, Prodigy and the Internet. If you are willing to spend the money, order
some of the customized reports via your computer from Dow Jones and other firms
that keep track of corporate performance.
Take advantage of what your contacts might be able to tell you. Use online
bulletin boards and use net groups if you have the connecting hardware and
software. People enjoy helping one another, especially if they feel they are
giving you "the inside scoop."
4. Many job seekers spend days developing one perfect resume that will be all
things to all people, then use it for everything: want ads, search firms, direct
mail campaigns, and contacts. They rationalize that a tailored cover letter is
all they need. Some don't even customize their letter.
A. Generic resumes rarely produce results because they don't speak directly to
the employer's needs. Recruiters have neither the time nor the inclination to
pick the diamonds from the dirt. They figure this is the job seeker's
responsibility. They're right.
B. When an electronic resume scanning system targeting key words is in use, a
real live person may never see an uncustomized resume. The resume will be
relegated to the great hard disk in the sky, then purged within six months with
nary a human glance throughout the entire process.
C. Obsessing over creating the perfect resume can become a great excuse for
procrastination. "Well, I can't go talk to him yet because I don't have my
D. Career changers who use a traditional chronological resume without regard to
its impression on potential employers will only get job offers in the field they
are desperately trying to leave.
The Right Approach
Tailor both your cover letter and resume to every ad, networking lead, direct
mail target, and solicited search firm inquiry. If you have a specific objective
in mind, you will select accomplishments, key words, skills and personality
traits that mirror its requirements. The more you know about the position and
company, the more you can customize your resume to zero in on what the employer
While it takes a good deal more effort to do this, the payoff is worth it. You'll
not only get more interviews, you'll also make better use of the time you spend
talking with your prospective employer. You might also keep in mind that
thinking through the process of writing a tailored resume is one of the best ways
to prepare for an outstanding interview.
5. Job seekers often assume the main reason for an interview is getting a job
offer. With the offer firmly in hand, they will then decide whether they want
the position or not.
A. Many of these candidates take jobs they don't really want. "A bird in the
hand is worth two in the bush."
B. These job seekers are so busy impressing their recruiter they neglect to ask
the critical questions necessary for deciding if the job is a good match.
C. The manager hires a persona manufactured to his exact specifications, not a
real person. Eventually, he will discover the individual behind the facade and
feel he's been conned.
D. Putting up a false front is hard, devious work that can't go on forever. If
the position is a poor match, the job seeker will eventually realize he's
unhappy. His productivity will suffer, he'll become depressed or resentful, or
he'll begin looking for another job. Either way, everyone loses.
The Right Approach
The best approach for landing a great job involves combining the advice throughout
Understand what you want from your career and can offer an employer.
Research both the job and the company before your interview.
Think in advance about the employer's potential questions as well as the ones
you want to ask. Then practice or role play until you're comfortable with
Be yourself. Answer honestly. Don't retreat from either asking or replying
to questions about difficult situations. It's better to openly disagree with
someone whose philosophy and management style differs from yours than "get
married" and suffer the added pain of endless no-win arguments and an
inevitable divorce. An employment interview is a microcosm of your upcoming
relationship. If the two of you don't see eye to eye your first hour
together, imagine how you'll get along after months or years of butting heads
or maintaining an uneasy truce.
Never accept a position you don't want. If you are having any doubts,
identify the source of your discomfort and ask probing questions. Life is too
short to live with regret.