13 Job Search Mistakes You Might Not Even Realize You’re Making

By Maddie Lloyd - Mar. 17, 2021
Articles In Job Application Guide

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When you’re in the middle of a job hunt, one mistake could mean getting the job or being totally removed from the hiring process. Even something like a bad handshake or just having poor interview etiquette can totally ruin your chances of getting a job — even if you have all the right qualifications and experience.

Here’s the deal:

Trying to get a job can be challenging, and with so many things that can go wrong, it’s important that you do everything right. There are so many mistakes you could be making along the way that are so common — you might not even realize you’re making them.

With that in mind, these are the 13 most common job search mistakes you could be making, and how to avoid them:

1Having Too Much Information on Your Resume and Cover Letter

There’s really no need to list every single job you’ve ever had, your high school graduation, every course you took in college, and what you like to do in your spare time. You only have a few seconds to make an impression, so you’ll want it to be that you’re focused and concise, not that you overshare and have no editing skills.

Employers just want the good stuff — they want to know your best qualifications as quickly as possible. Tell them what you can do for the company on day one. You can go more into detail during the interview.

Ideally, your resume should only be one page.

2Not Tailoring Your Resume to Match the Job Qualifications

Your resume needs to show employers that you’re the perfect (or as close to perfect as possible) person for the job. This means that you’re going to have to edit your resume for every job you apply for, and make sure that you reflect the job requirements in your qualifications and experience.

You might be a fantastic square dancer, but that won’t matter if the employer is looking for someone who’s good at math. Instead of talking up your dancing skills, describe how your perfect understanding of geometry has allowed you to choreograph an award-winning square dance routine.

If you can show employers that you’re perfectly suited for the position, you’re sure to land an interview.

3Including an Objective Statement on Your Resume

In all honesty, objective statements are outdated. Plus, they just take up prime resume real estate that could otherwise be used to show an employer how awesome you are.

With that in mind, just leave it out and focus on your experience and accomplishments. The only instance where a resume objective would be needed is if you’re making a big career change, and your experience doesn’t perfectly line up with the position.

Instead, we recommend using a resume summary statement. While a resume objective discusses your career goals, a resume summary statement brings attention to your most relevant and impressive professional accomplishments and skills.

Here’s an example of a resume objective statement:

Recent marketing graduate from UVA seeking a copyediting opportunity to utilize my skills in editing, grammar, and SEO to help drive content strategy for B2B and B2C content engagement.

Not bad, but it basically just tells the reader that you want a job. Let’s take a look at that same applicant’s resume summary statement.

Accomplished copyeditor with over two years of experience in digital marketing. Launched a blog-based, organic search-driven marketing campaign that increased organic traffic by 46% year-over-year through engaging B2B and B2C content. Experience with the latest SEO techniques, making data-driven solutions with tools like Google Analytics, and working with a team of marketers and writers.

You can see how the summary statement packs a much more impactful punch than the resume objective. Unless you’re a recent graduate with zilch in terms of experience, you should always opt for a summary statement over an objective.

4Having Typos on Your Resume and Cover Letter

There’s no easier way to get yourself screened out of the hiring process than to send in a resume or cover letter that’s loaded with typos and grammatical errors.

Have someone else read your resume — it’s easier for others to find errors because they haven’t been staring at the same page for days on end.

If you’re an awful person and don’t have any friends to look over your resume, temporarily change your font, or read your resume from bottom to top. Switching up the format can open your eyes to errors you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

5Using a Generic Cover Letter for Every Job You Apply For

Talk about a rookie move. Sending the same cover letter to every job you apply for basically just tells them, “I couldn’t care less about getting a job at your company and this job prospect means absolutely nothing to me.”

Writing a specific cover letter for each position will help you focus on the specific job and company at hand. You’ll be able to more clearly their concerns and requirements, and you’ll be able to show genuine interest.

If you’re trying to save time as you apply to many job openings, it’s okay to have a semi-generic cover letter — as a starting point. From there, though, you should make edits that are specific to each job application. Some achievements might look great to one company, while another company won’t be interested in it.

Learn what hiring managers want to hear by reading the job description and adjusting your cover letter’s language accordingly.

And before you ask, yes, recruiters and hiring managers can tell if your cover letter is generic — especially if you forget to change the name of the company you’re addressing in your letter.

6Making Your Cover Letter a Paragraph Form of Your Resume

If you’re using your cover letter to basically regurgitate everything that’s on your resume, you should probably just start over completely.

Your resume is the first thing most employers look at, so you’re just wasting everyone’s time if you use your cover letter to write out every single thing they’ve already seen an abbreviated version of.

Think of your resume as a document that answers the “who, what, when, where,” while your cover letter answers the “how” and “why.” Talk about why you love the job, why you’re interested in the company, and why your former experience matters.

Also, cover the specific methods that you use to get your job done. Hiring managers and recruiters know the basic responsibilities you had based on your job title — what they don’t know (yet) is what unique value you bring to those duties.

7Dressing Inappropriately for the Interview

Showing up to your interview looking like a slob, or even being underdressed, will definitely make you stand out — in a bad way. It’s important to show your professionalism in your attire, so look into the company culture and learn how to dress for the interview.

If you’re having trouble picking out an outfit, research the company’s website and LinkedIn pages, as well as the pages of employees. If they seem more laid-back and relaxed, you can probably opt for a business casual outfit, while a more traditional company might require business professional attire.

When your research is inconclusive, you can always just call the company and ask what sort of clothing is appropriate. It might be awkward, but an uncomfortable chat with the receptionist is worth boosting your chances at a job offer.

8Not Having a List of References

You should always have a sturdy list of references on hand when you’re in the midst of a job hunt. Employers will probably check in with them, so want to have a good set of people who can speak highly of your qualifications.

You should always check in with your references before providing an employer with their contact information instead of completely blindsiding them. Here’s everything you need to know about asking someone for a reference.

9Getting to the Interview Late, or Showing Up Way Too Early

There’s no reason why you should ever be late to an interview. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview with a few minutes to spare. This will show that you’re professional and not an inconsiderate jerk.

On the other hand, you don’t want to show up too early. When you get to your interview 20, 30, or 40 minutes early, you risk putting pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever they’re doing and deal with you.

Aim to get to your interview 10-15 minutes early, and you’ll be good to go. If you arrive any earlier than that, practice these pre-interview relaxation tips while you wait to go in.

10Not Doing Background Research on the Company Before the Interview

If the interviewer asks you “What do you know about our company?” and your only response is a blank stare, you probably won’t get the job.

Check out the company website and read up on their mission, history, core values, and any recent news-worthy events. This will show them that you actually care, plus, you can decide for yourself if you’d enjoy working for their company.

Additionally, you’ll be able to talk more intelligently and specifically about the issues that the company is facing. Then, you can break those problems down and determine what role your department will play in instituting any changes.

This knowledge is really invaluable, as a candidate who’s done her research will be able to position herself as an individual who’s already thinking about solutions. Hiring managers love selecting candidates that seem like they’ll be able to step into the role and be effective from day one.

11Saying Negative Things About Your Former Employers

Even if you feel that you were fired unjustly from a former position, you should never, ever bad mouth your previous boss. It just shows that you’re immature and unprofessional. Plus, the interviewer may worry that you’ll say the same things about their company in the future.

Even if you hate your former boss with the burning passion of a thousand suns, stay neutral and positive. Focus on what you’ve learned from each job experience and what you plan to do in the future.

There may even be interview questions that bait you into negativity. You should never attempt to avoid the reasoning behind the question by stating something like “I never had an issue with a boss” or “Conflicts never arise, so I never have to resolve them.”

However, when you talk about negative events from past professional experiences, you should always finish with solutions and lessons learned.

12Not Having Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Every job interview ends with the inevitable question “Do you have any questions for me?” You should always go into the interview with a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer about the company and its goals.

Some questions you can ask are:

  • “What does a typical workday look like?”

  • “What is your favorite part of working here?”

  • “Can you tell me a little about the history of this position?”

Just remember, the only wrong answer to this question is “No.”

Additionally, don’t treat the interview as an interrogation. Ask questions naturally as they arise rather than saving them all for the end. It will make you seem like a more engaged and active conversational partner.

13Forgetting to Follow Up With the Hiring Manager in a Timely Manner

Even if you’re the busiest person on the planet, you should always set aside time to send a follow-up letter or a thank-you email within one business day of your interview.

Sending a thank you note thanking the interviewer for their time will show that you’re genuinely interested in the position and that you’re not just a big inconsiderate jerk who lacks all professionalism. Just do yourself a favor and send a thank-you email.

Final Thoughts

Searching for the right job is hard enough on its own; you don’t want to unknowingly make a mistake that could completely derail your chances of getting your dream job.

Now that you know which mistakes to avoid, you’ll surely be able to make a good impression on employers and get the job.

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Articles In Job Application Guide
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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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