8 Job-Hunting Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make: Advice from the Pros

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by Sharon Reed Abboud

Imagine that you arrive 30 minutes late for an interview… your clothing is inappropriate, you forgot your resume, and you have not done the preparation to answer the interviewer’s questions effectively. Relax… that would never happen, right? But you may be continually making less obvious mistakes in your interviews and job search — without even knowing it.

Career pros across America say job-seekers make the same mistakes all the time.

Here are some of the most common job-hunting mistakes that can prevent you from landing your next job and progressing up the career ladder.

1. Lack of Career/Job Focus

Todd Bermont, author of 10 Insider Secrets to a Winning Job Search: Everything You Need to Get the Job You Want in 24 hours or Less, Career Press, and 10 Insider Secrets Career Transition Workshop: Your Complete Guide to Discovering Your Ideal Self, 10 Step Publications, says the No. 1 mistake he sees is that people do not know what they really want to do for a living. “That comes across loud and clear in job interviews,” Bermont said. “The competition is fierce, and job-hunters will be competing against people that know exactly what they want and are passionate about it.”

“Before embarking on a job hunt, you must determine your ideal job and go for it,” Bermont explained. “Otherwise it is like going on a vacation without deciding where you want to go before you start driving. If you don’t know your destination, how can you map out a route?”

Debra Davenport, PhD, CEO of Davenport/Folio, a career consulting firm based in Los Angeles and Phoenix, AZ, agreed. Davenport said that the No. 1 job-hunting mistake that she sees is people who are “pursuing jobs for which the applicant has no interest or passion. Most people I counsel have never really taken the time to discover their right livelihood, and that is the most critically important thing that everyone should do. You really should love your work.”

According to Orville Pierson, a senior vice president at Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), a NJ-based global outplacement company, and author of The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search, McGraw-Hill, far too many people make the mistake of only having vague goals, like that they are “looking for a management job” or “a job with a dynamic fast growing business.” Job-hunters also sometimes say that they don’t want to limit their options and are open to any type of job opportunity. But, Pierson explained, these unfocused job-seekers fail to appear interested in anything but getting on someone’s payroll. “Their search is too diffuse,” Pierson said. “They do not communicate enough specific value.”

2. Lack of Job-Search Preparation

The No. 2 biggest mistake, according to Bermont, is lack of preparation before job interviews. With ready access to information via the Internet, this deficiency seems improbable, but it is true. Bermont says that job-seekers need to spend a minimum of four hours of preparation and practice time for every hour of scheduled interviews.

Maurene Hinds, author of The Ferguson Guide To Resumes And Job-hunting Skills: A Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing for Your Job Search, Furguson Publishing, agreed. “Prepare. Prepare. Prepare,” she emphasized. “This applies to all aspects of the job search process. For example, be prepared to fully commit to the job-search process from the beginning. Know the job market, salary ranges for your target position… When asked to interview, conduct company research to better answer questions and prepare questions for interviewers. Read up on interviewing techniques to be prepared for tricky questions and uncomfortable situations.”

“Job-seekers who research as much as possible on potential companies and job offers will feel more in control of the process and likely find positions that they will be happier with than people who do not prepare and research,” Hinds added.

Pierson said that most job-hunters do not put enough time into their job search. Even when people put in enough hours, Pierson commented, they often fail to allocate time in productive ways. Pierson said endlessly revising resumes is one “time-wasting mistake.” Another mistake is “spending hours wordsmithing cover letters.” Instead, the main focus should be on developing contacts and networking with prospective employers.

One of the biggest mistakes while looking for a job is “not taking looking for a job as a job,” commented Anthony W. Beshara, Ph.D., president, Babich & Associates, a Texas-based placement and recruitment firm, and author of The Job Search Solution: The Ultimate System for Finding a Great Job Now, AMACON. Job-seekers need a “failure is not an option” mentality, they need to be “passionate” and have an “I’ll do what it takes mentality.”

3. Lack of Job-Seeker Confidence

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with preparation because preparation gives the job-seeker a sense of self-confidence. “Preparation and confidence are key,” commented Bermont. “Just like a football team will practice an entire week for one game, job-hunters need to prepare and practice for interviews.”

Diane Stafford, workplace and career columnist at the Kansas City Star, agreed that it is integral to project confidence. “Don’t let your anger or despair show in your voice. Employers are looking for good attitudes. Do you best to show it.”

4. Relying Only on Posted Job Openings

Pierson said that many job-seekers pursue only announced openings and do not use proactive approaches. “This can be translated as they only use the job boards and neglect networking,” Pierson commented. “A well-planned search covers all the bases.”

Hinds agreed. “A common mistake is not being proactive enough in the job search. It’s easy to post a resume online and hope for the job interviews to come in, but in reality, that’s often not enough. People need all methods available, not just online resources. One of the best ways to learn of opening is through networking contacts. However, using all the methods available can help ensure a successful job search.”

“There are at least 2 million people emailing resumes to advertisements posted on the web… It is estimated that 2 to 5 percent of the people that email a resume get any response, and that includes rejections. I tell candidates that it is a total waste of time,” Beshara said.

5. Sending out Inadequate Resumes

It is important to craft an effective resume and cover letter. Check out Quint Careers’ free Resume and CV Writing Resources. It is important to customize the cover letter and each resume to the opportunity, Bermont said.

Career-seekers are advised to avoid the temptation to send their resume only the HR department of a company. Bermont said that job-seekers should take the time to research a company and send their resume instead to their prospective new boss in the department that they want to work.

6. Talking Too Much in the Interview

Hey, guys “shhh” — listen up! Bermont says many job-seekers talk way too much in their interview. It is also important to listen carefully when your interviewers are speaking. To find out more about effective interviewing techniques, check out Quint Careers’ Interviewing Resources.

7. Not Realizing it is a “Number’s Game” when Networking

According to Pierson, job-seekers, “Don’t realize it is a numbers game — or they seriously underestimate the numbers needed.”

Research done by Lee Hecht Harrison reveals that over the last 15 years, the average job-hunter in the $30,000 to $100,000 salary range talks to 25 different decision makers on the way to being hired by one of them. “These are not 25 interviews. Most are brief, informal conversations. Five are interviews or very serious conversations,” Pierson said.

According to Pierson, the average person talks to 14 people when networking to get the opportunity to talk to one decision-maker (i.e., the person with hiring authority.) “Many job-hunters make the mistake of seriously underestimating the numbers required for success,” Pierson said.

8. Job Searching Without a Plan

Most job-seekers do not take the time to write up a list of prospective employers and a job-search plan. According to Pierson, this plan is an important part of your job search because it allows the job-seeker to be proactive rather than reactive. “It focuses the search. It lets you know what to do every week. It is also an excellent networking tool… not having one is a serious mistake.”

Pierson advises job-seekers to “make a solid plan and follow it. Be systematic, not random in how you approach it. Track your progress as you go and tweak the plan as needed.”

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Sharon Reed Abboud is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer, specializing in career and education issues.

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