Question of the Month: April 2006

Question: “What are the most common mistakes that most job seekers make?”

Ah, now that’s a loaded question, given how unfamiliar the vast majority of professionals are with the modern job hunting process!  In the spirit of the question, however, let’s look past some of the fairly obvious and remedial missteps that people make — such as not catching typos on their resume or not dressing properly for an interview — and concentrate, instead, on some of the more subtle things people do wrong that have an even more profound impact on their overall success rate.

First things first, I’d have to say that the single most dangerous error in judgment a professional-level employee can make in today’s market is to not take the job hunting process and career management process seriously enough.  Now granted, I tend to be exposed far more to people who are encountering career turbulence, as opposed to those who are enjoying smooth sailing, but I think the lesson still holds that in the modern marketplace nobody can afford to feel “entitled” to a good job, at good pay.  These opportunities are a finite commodity, and no matter how much education and experience you’ve amassed, at the end of the day you still need to find an employer willing to pay you a large amount of cold hard cash for the solutions you can bring to their organization.  This can take a considerable amount of time if you’re targeting jobs in mid-to-senior-level management, and even longer if you’re not willing to relocate outside of Puget Sound.  So if you don’t treat the process with respect, establish a game plan, and stick to it, you will be at high risk in terms of your ability to locate an appropriate new assignment.

The second issue I see many job seekers get way too hung up on relates to putting together their resume presentation.  Simply put, the golden age of resume-writing has passed.  And while this document is still a critical part of your job search, and needs to be treated appropriately, far too many people continue tweaking, editing, and revising this document for weeks on end in the fervent hope that it will magically open doors for them or dramatically increase their response rate.  In truth, the resume is far less significant than it used to be.  Employers and recruiters scan these documents for a few brief seconds and will derive 80-90% of their impression from the candidate’s actual work history, and series of choices they’ve made throughout their career, instead of aesthetic issues like font, format, and length.  I’ve said it before and will say it again — I would always place my money on the candidate who moves quickly and sends out twice as many “good” resumes during their search, and follows them up aggressively, versus the candidate who takes weeks compiling a “great” resume and ends up delaying their search efforts and coming up way short in terms of overall submission volume.

Lastly, since all good things come in threes, I’d implore most active job hunters to pay extremely careful attention to the attitude they’re projecting out in the marketplace regarding their availability.  As stated above in this newsletter, it’s imperative that you work hard to create a positive, winning impression on every single person you encounter, even if you’re secretly struggling with feelings of frustration, fear, and stress.  You simply can’t afford to let these feelings leak out to anyone other than your absolute most trusted friends and family members — and, potentially, your career coach — or you’ll do irreparable damage to your “personal brand” and ability to generate useful contact names and referrals.  And yet, here I am mentioning this issue as one of the three most common mistakes that most job seekers make, so what does that tell you about most people’s awareness of how they come across? 🙂

In the end, paying attention to the three factors above will have a greater impact on your ultimate success rate — both in terms of the length of time you’re in the market and the quality of the offers you receive — than any specific “tactical” issue I could mention.  Unlike many things in life, I don’t feel that the “devil is in the details” quite as much when it comes to job searching.  The main rewards come to those who stay positive, identify their goals, take the process seriously, and don’t let anything come between them and a conversation with their most likely customers!


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