Common mistakes in the job search process

This guest post is written by Jill Pante, Director of Lerner College’s Career Services Center.

I’ve been a career counselor/coach for 15 years, with clients ranging in age from 18 to 72. Our conversations about the job search have included straightforward topics

like resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn and interviews, as well as more complicated and personal topics like layoffs, divorces, deaths, illnesses, unexpected pregnancies, depression and more. I’ve worked with hundreds of recruiters and hiring managers, getting their perspectives on the recruitment and job search process, and prior to my work in career services, I spent a year as a recruiter for a non-profit.

This is to say that I’ve seen it all when it comes to the job search process, and I’ve noticed that my clients of all ages recycle some critical mistakes. These 5 common mistakes, in particular, are ones that come up quite regularly:

Not tailoring the resume or cover letter to the job description

Job descriptions can be boring to read and sometimes VERY lengthy. But unfortunately, the job description is the only thing that will tell you exactly what the employer is looking for. If you keep sending out the same resume and you’re not getting any feedback (meaning an interview), you need to review your resume to ensure it matches the job description.

I recently read an article about how to beat the “robots” or algorithms that sometimes screen resumes before they are seen by a human being. One of the suggestions was to copy the job description and transform it into a Word Doodle or Word Cloud. This should display the top words and phrases used in the description. After you do this, copy and paste your resume into the Word Doodle or Cloud, and see if the individual word counts match up. If not, you need to make some adjustments. For example, if an employer uses “analytics” frequently but your resume only uses “finance,” then you need to change your wording to ensure it matches up with the description. Taking the time to match your resume to the job description can make a difference in you getting noticed.

 Not providing details on your achievements

It can be difficult to talk about ourselves and our accomplishments. Some people think it’s bragging and others think it’s not important. Whether on a resume, cover letter, or during an interview, you need to tell your professional story! Storytelling is a key skill to utilize when you’re trying to persuade someone – in this case, to persuade someone to hire you.

Writing and talking about your key accomplishments, and providing data and details about them, can make a huge difference when hiring managers are making a decision. Bullet points that don’t include details are scanned over quickly. Interview answers that don’t paint a picture of you overcoming a difficult setback or taking initiative are going to fall flat. Hiring managers like to hear about the $10,000 you saved the company, or the student organization that went from 20 to 100 members under your leadership. Relook at your resume bullet points, and determine where you can add specific numbers. Before your interview, prepare 4-5 stories that show your leadership, initiative, etc.

A recommendation I give to all of my clients is to keep a leadership journal. Make a point to update it once a month with what you accomplished. That way, when you go to update your resume, prepare your stories or complete your annual appraisal, you’ll have your key achievements already in place.

Sitting and waiting

I see many clients make the mistake of applying to a job and then sitting and waiting for a response. I’m not a sit and wait type of person, because reaching out and taking initiative can help you see results.

If you’ve applied to 50 positions, divide that list into thirds or quarters. For the top tier, take a direct outreach approach, which can include steps like these:

  • Find the HR recruiter and email them a brief message with your name, interest in specific position, quick background of qualifications (1-2 sentences max), confirming you applied online and asking for consideration or an opportunity to speak directly.
  • Identify alumni who work at the company and send them a message to connect.
  • Research whether the company will be at any local career fairs.
  • Follow the company on your social media accounts and post that you just applied to the job.
  • Utilize LinkedIn to connect with and message employees who work there.
  • Find out if any employees are in your direct network and message them to get coffee.
  • Go to your alma mater and meet with a career counselor to get additional resources.
  • If anyone from the company is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, consider attending the next open event.

There’s so much you can do besides sit and wait. The job search can be very frustrating, and it will get worse if you just sit there. Keep the momentum going every day.

Not utilizing your networks

I recently worked with an alum who had been searching for 6 months for a new position in his field. During that time, he told no one of his job search and only applied through the employer portal using the same resume. The result: Nothing. After we spoke, he started reaching out to his networks, sending connection requests and messaging alumni on LinkedIn as well as finding local networking events to attend. Within 2 months, he had multiple interviews and was feeling very positive about his job search.

Our networks are in place for a reason – to provide support, assistance and a sense of community. Besides friends and family, think about your networks and where you can expand. Alumni groups are usually the first place I suggest. After that, I suggest industry-specific professional organizations or associations, followed by local community groups like Chambers of Commerce or Rotary Clubs. Networking and expanding your network can be daunting, but it is essential in the job search.

My formula for success is 30/70: 30% of your time should be spent on applying to jobs online. The other 70% should be getting out there and talking to people – whether it be online (LinkedIn) or in person.

 Keeping the job search a secret

Unless you have a specific reason for keeping your job search a secret, I advise to shout it out to the world! I genuinely believe that people want to help others. If people don’t know that you need help, then they can’t help. Email everyone in your contact list. Post your job search needs on all social media outlets – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Put a sign in the window of your car that you’re looking for a position. Mention your job search at the next party or social outing you attend.

I have dozens upon dozens of stories of clients finding their job because they struck up a conversation with someone in the grocery store. By letting everyone know, you are essentially creating a team of supporters that want to see you succeed. Of course, make sure your resume and LinkedIn are properly updated and professional before you do this.

While not all job searches are the same, these are some common mistakes that can mean the difference between waiting for a response and prepping for your first interview.

What Business Leaders Need to Know About Generative AI

The recent successes of generative AI models like ChatGPT and DALL-E have left savvy executives wondering how this new technology will revolutionize their industry. No one can predict the impact gen AI will have on an enterprise, but smart executives know that they...

Six Tips for Building Resilience in a Tough Job Market

Article written by Jessica Venturi, a career counselor with the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Political forces, emerging technologies, and other unprecedented pressures on the job market can feel particularly daunting to job seekers. We can do...