You’re networking. You’ve revamped your resume a hundred times. You write (what you think are) killer cover letters. And yet? It’s been months, and you have zero jobs. What gives?
Well, clearly something isn’t clicking. But though you might be getting the nuts and bolts of a job search right, sometimes the mistake isn’t as simple as a typo in your cover letter. So, before you go on another coffee date or submit another resume, check to see if you’re making any of these three subtle—but critical—errors.
1. Check Your Intent
Not having a clear sense of what you want is a huge red flag for hiring managers. No company wants to be your trial run, so any indication that you’re not totally sold on a particular position is a big turn-off.
Obviously, you don’t want to tell your employer that you’ll take any job, but you also don’t want to tell yourself that—because it’s likely not true. It’s not easy, but going through the work of figuring out exactly what you want and then crafting your story in your resume and cover letter will be worth it in the long run.
If you’re not sure if you’re guilty of not knowing what your intent is when applying for a job, ask yourself these questions. If you answer “yes,” it’s time to do some serious self-reflection about what you want.
- Are you applying for every job you’re even marginally qualified for?
- Are you unable to describe in vivid detail what your dream job is?
- Do you think it’s a little ridiculous to think of landing jobs you want when you can’t even land jobs you don’t want?
2. Check Your Perspective
Maybe you’re pretty clear about what you want—and that’s great! But, are you only focused on what’s in it for you?
Another subtle error that job seekers make is focusing too much on themselves. This can happen in networking, cover letters, and interviewing—basically throughout the job application process. Applying for a job is very different from, say, applying to college. When you’re applying to college, they do care what you want to learn and get out of the experience. When you’re applying for a job, they care much more about what skills you have to offer and what problems you can solve—and a lot less about what you’re going to get out of it. (At least until much later in the process.)
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you might want to reevaluate how you’re approaching potential future employers.
- Do you keep emphasizing how the position is “a great opportunity to learn” in your application or in the interview?
- Are you networking and meeting with people with the sole intent of getting introduced to a hiring manager?
- Do you talk about companies being a great fit for you instead of you being a great fit for a company?
3. Check Your Tone
Sometimes searching for a job takes a long time—and that does weird things to people. You might be feeling angry and like you deserve more. Or maybe, you’ve never felt less confident than you do now.
Find someone to talk to about these feelings—someone who isn’t reading your job application. Whether you’re frustrated or just sad, you want to be careful that these emotions aren’t slipping into your search. For example, even if you feel like an utter imposter trying to apply for a reach position, do not apologize for your lack of experience in your cover letter. This is where you sell your story, not undermine it.
Ask yourself these questions, and if you get a “yes,” be mindful of how you’re coming across to people and, in particular, the language you’re using.
- Do you have the words “Even though I…” in your cover letter?
- Do you commiserate (read: complain) about the horrible job search process when you’re networking?
- Are you actively preventing yourself from getting excited when you get an interview because you know it won’t lead to anything?
Self-diagnosing what’s going on in your own job search can be hard (it’s usually a lot easier to see what others are doing wrong), but asking yourself these questions is important. If you find yourself falling into one of these buckets, that’s a good thing—now you know exactly where you need to course correct. If you’re not, or if you still aren’t sure what could be holding you back, you may want to consider meeting with a career coach or counselor. Some additional perspective could be just what you need to get on track to your dream job.
Photo of facepalming man courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author