By: Diane Marshall [email@example.com]
When Bad Job Searches Happen to Good Candidates
Ten Common Mistakes Made by Job Seekers
By Laura Gassner Otting, President, Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group
Each job seeker who comes to me in need of résumé editing or job search
counseling is unique. Each has had a different career and each carries
individual goals for the future. That being said, many of them make the same
mistakes on their cover letters and résumés as they travel the job search
Here are the ten most common mistakes I encounter:
- "Insert Job Here": Most job seekers are looking broadly at any
available position that fits within their interests and skills set. Therefore,
they send out undirected résumés and, even worse, form cover letters
differentiated only by the value in the "insert job here" space. Spend a few
extra minutes to learn about the organization, and personalize your letter and
resume reflecting what makes your candidacy special.
- Read and Follow Directions: Does the application call for a writing
sample and a salary history? Are you being instructed to mail by post all
materials, or would the organization like applications submitted
electronically? Job description writers pay to advertise specific directions
for a reason. Follow them.
- Think About the Message You Send: Rehearse the voice mail message
you plan to leave. Consider a more serious e-mail address. Does your home
voice mail play strange music or have a silly outgoing message? Is your résumé
printed on purple paper? All of these things factor into a headhunter's first,
and indelible, impression.
- A Poor Résumé: Too many résumés cross my desk and end up in the
trash can. The really good ones grab my attention and get read, and even
better, get forwarded onto a hiring committee. The really bad ones list tasks
and skills, rather than accomplishments and results. Stop writing about your
hobbies; start writing about the change you brought to an organization and the
constituency it serves.
- Spell Check: Nine out of ten résumés I have seen claiming that the
applicant is "detail oriented" have a typo on it somewhere. Some of these
typos are tricky, like extra spaces and missing hyphens. Others, sadly, are
not. Don't forget to look over headers and addresses, even your name - several
weeks ago I consulted with a Phylllis who had just sent out a hundred résumés
in a mass mailing - for pesky mistakes.
- Dream, Within Reason: If I've seen your resume cross my desk for
jobs way out of your range, I won't be inclined to believe your interest or
fit when you apply for something perfect. Of course you can move into
increasingly senior positions - I spend all day every day helping job seekers
do exactly that - just don't try to skip too many steps up the ladder or you
might become the boy who cried wolf.
- Know Your Weaknesses: I am always willing to consider imperfect
candidates. No candidate ever has everything the search committee wants. I'm
never inclined, however, to consider applicants who are imperfect but think
they are the best thing going. If you are missing a key skill or some years of
experience, own the weakness, but then describe how your other skills and
experiences will help you compensate or catch up quickly.
- Curiosity is Key: Nothing saddens me more than a candidate who
seems ideal at first, but then asks me no questions about the organization I
am representing. If they aren't curious about the position or the group, then
I begin to second guess whether they are really the right fit. Once a hiring
manager's excitement is dampened, it's hard to get it back. Note: questions
based on the salary or benefits do not count.
- Thank You Notes: Call me old fashioned, call me a prig. I like
thank you notes. Thank you letters are the perfect opportunity to remind your
interviewer why you should be hired, or for you to insert into the equation a
key fact that you forgot to mention when you met. These letters are so
uncommon, sadly, that candidates who thank me for spending time with them
stand out in my mind. I become more attached to them, I campaign for them more
vigorously, and they get hired more often.
- Get a Second Opinion: Send your résumé to a friend, a colleague, a
mentor or a résumé professional who can give you an outside perspective.
Often, job seekers think that they have been exceptionally unambiguous about
their proudest career moments when, in fact, their résumés are unclear to
anyone who wasn't sharing the same conference room. An outside pair of eyes
will shed light on your résumés' strengths and weaknesses, and help your
Laura Gassner Otting
is founder and president of
Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, a niche consulting firm dedicated to
strengthening the capacity of nonprofits and their staff, and is available on an
hourly basis to discuss individual resumes, cover letters, job search strategies
and other related issues.
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