If you’re on the hunt for a new job, pause before you spam your resume to every opening you see—otherwise, you could be sabotaging yourself. “Employers are desperate to find good, qualified professionals, but most job hunters are not acting professionally,” says Andrea Kay, author of This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want. “Everybody is in a rush to respond to employers, but just getting your resume and email out there won’t cut it.”
Which makes sense: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 12.2 million Americans were jobless at the end of December 2012, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 7.8 percent. That means that hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of people end up applying for the same positions. With those odds stacked against you, it’s no wonder that even the smallest errors can hinder your job prospects.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate looking for your first job, or a seasoned employee hoping to swap careers, don’t make these five mistakes common among job seekers.
Mistake #1: You list your old boss as a reference… but forget to tell her
In a recent survey of 2,500 hiring managers by CareerBuilder.com, nearly 30 percent said they had found misleading or false references on candidates’ resumes. And it’s not worth the risk of listing a reference you haven’t prepped first—80 percent of the managers surveyed said they check references regularly. Even if your references like you, if you don’t notify them that they might be contacted, they won’t be able to put in the best word for you. “Give them a heads up,” Ryan Kahn, author of Hired!: The Guide for the Recent Graduate, says. “Otherwise, they might not have a clue of what to say about you because they’re caught off-guard.”
Do This: If the person has told you in the past to feel free to list her as a reference, then send a quick email letting her know that you’re applying for the job, explain what it is and why you’re excited about it, and that she might be contacted. If she hasn’t already said you can put down her name, send an email asking if it’s okay to do so.
Mistake #2: You only have one version of your resume
It’s tempting to submit your resume to every job opening you see, but it’s better to be more selective—and to target your approach, Kahn says. Recruiters spend an average of 6.25 seconds looking at resumes, according to a study by Ladders.com. They focus primarily on current and previous companies and positions listed, and pay attention to the ones that are most relevant to the job they’re hiring for. That means that if you use the same resume for all applications, no matter the job, you could be missing out on opportunities to stand out for individual positions.
Do This: For each job you apply to, make small tweaks to your resume so that the skills and experience valuable to that particular company are easy to see and understand. The person hiring an executive assistant might not care that you were a barista for a year, just as the restaurant looking for a hostess won’t care at all that you spent some time as a paralegal.
Mistake #3: You have no questions at the end of the interview
Playing it cool may be a good approach in dating, but when it comes to the job hunt, enthusiasm and curiosity are super important. At the end of each interview, most hiring managers ask if you have any questions for them. If you’ve got nothing, it comes across as if you’re disinterested and just going through the motions–not a good look.
Do This: Employers want job seekers to engage in a flowing conversation. Tell them why you’re interested in the job, be prepared to discuss the company’s positive attributes, and always have several questions prepared to ask the hiring manager at the end of the interview. Some good ones to try: What is the office environment like? What do you like about working here? What’s a typical day like? Questions to avoid (on a first interview, at least): Will I ever have to stay late or work weekends? How much money are you offering?
Mistake #4: You lead with your own needs
Landing an interview at an awesome company can be very exciting—and it’s easy to get caught up in all the perks that job will bring. But one of the worst things you can do (in a cover letter or interview) is show that you’re thinking of yourself and your own gains over what the company will gain by hiring you. Talking about how fabulous the job would be for your career makes you sound like you’re just excited about the job because it’s a stepping stone to something even better down the line.
Do This: “Think about what the employer wants,” Kay says. “Why would they hire me above all others? What are their problems and issues I can help them with?” Find out what services the company offers and the problems the industry is facing. That way you’ll know how your particular skill set can help. Then speak to those attributes.
Mistake #5: You send a generic thank you card
You already know to write hand-written thank you notes after an interview (right?). But the key to the perfect follow-through is to make sure that your cards aren’t just an obvious formality. A generic thank you won’t make you memorable, and neither will rattling off what’s already written on your resume without any anecdotal support.
Do This: In follow-up emails and letters, Kay says to be specific and relatable by referencing what you learned and discussed during the interview. And always remind the hiring manager how passionate you are about the opportunity—sometimes enthusiasm can override a lack of experience.