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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

35 Costly Job Search Mistakes You Might Still Be Making

It’s always fun to hear about the big mistakes job applicants make—like showing up in sweatpants or falling asleep during the interview. (And yes, both of those things have happened.)

It’s less fun to hear about the smaller mistakes—like someone showing up five minutes late or having a typo on the first line of a cover letter—but turns out, those tiny blunders are what hiring managers complain about the most.

So, in the interest of making sure you impress—not annoy—your dream employers, we’ve rounded up all those tiny mistakes that grate on their nerves. While you’ve probably heard these things before, we could all use a reminder from time to time—because, well, we keep hearing about (and seeing) them.

On a Resume

1. Including 5 Pages (or Every Accomplishment From the Past 5 Years)

We’ve talked about the great multi-page versus one-page resume debate before, but it’s worth repeating: It’s not important to include that you worked as a dog walker for three months of college and every single thing from that point until now.

Think of it this way: Hiring managers just want the highlights; they want to know what’s compelling about you as quickly as possible (especially if they’re reading hundreds of resumes). If you really want to go into more detail, save it for the interview.

2. Including an Objective Statement

The outdated advice to include an objective statement on your resume just won’t die out there on the interwebs, which is probably why people still include them. But truthfully, objective statements just eat up space on your resume that could be spent telling an employer how stellar you are. The only time one of these sentences is necessary is if you’re making a gigantic career change and your experiences don’t line up entirely with the position.

Still want to write some sort of introductory line on your resume? Try out the summary statement. Some people swear by it.

3. Including Blatant Typos

Yes, we know you’ve heard it again and again and again. But given that a 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos, we’re going to say it just one more time.

How can you stop falling prey to resume typos? Have someone else read your resume—often, other people can more easily spot errors because they haven’t been staring at the page for hours.

If that’s really not possible, use Muse editor-in-chief Adrian Granzella Larssen’s tips for proofreading your own resume: “It’s helpful to temporarily change the font, or to read your resume from the bottom up—your eyes get used to reading a page one way and can often catch new errors when you mix the format up.”

4. Lying

Another pretty obvious one, but believe us—it still happens. (Most recently? A candidate listed a certain skill on her resume, then when we asked her about her experience in it, she looked at us blankly and admitted it was simply “something she wanted to learn more about.”)

Remember what your mama told you: Honesty is always the best policy. If you feel like there’s part of your background that’s not quite up to snuff, your best bet is creative—but truthful—positioning. Career expert Kari Reston shares smart strategies to applying for a job you’re underqualified for, and Jenny Foss of shares tips for crafting your education section when you don’t think your degree (or lack thereof) will impress.

5. Not Tailoring Your Resume to the Job

Once your resume makes it in front of the eyes of a hiring manager, you want it to scream, “I’m perfect for this job!” Right? Well, practically speaking, this means you can’t submit the same resume and cover letter for every job you apply to. Since each position will list different requirements, each application you submit should highlight your past experience and accomplishments specific to that particular job.

So, take a look at the job description and the company’s website and do some general industry research, then use career expert Lily Zhang’s tips for tailoring your resume accordingly.

6. Including Random, Unrelated, or Off-Putting Hobbies

Unfortunately, hiring managers usually don’t care if you love basketball, are active in your book club, or are a member of a Dungeons and Dragons group, but we still see this stuff on resumes anyway. Eliminate anything that’s not totally transferable to work-related skills (or a really, really epic conversation starter).

Not sure if an activity or hobby is a good fit? Zhang spells out three times when personal accomplishments or hobbies can add something to your resume.

7. Using Buzzwords That Make No Sense

Saying that you’re a master of something like “back-end hyperconverged content conversion gamification” doesn’t actually impress anyone—in fact, it doesn’t really tell anyone anything. Be simple and straightforward, and make sure that the layperson—a.k.a. the HR person who’s probably reading the first round of resumes—can understand what you’re saying.

8. Putting the Wrong Contact Information

If employers and hiring managers can’t reach you, they can’t give you the job. (And yes, we’re just as sad as you are when we email an address listed on a resume and get a bounceback.) Did you make the last digit of your phone number a “5” instead of a “6?” Did you forget your middle initial in your email address? You want to double check everything on your resume—but quadruple check this stuff.

In a Cover Letter

9. Not Including One

Even if it’s not technically “required,” many hiring managers will disqualify you immediately for not sending one. Enough said.

10. Not Following Instructions

When reading a job description, make sure you check to see if the employer put any special instructions or requests in. Some hiring managers may ask for you to explain certain types of experiences or even answer specific questions in your cover letter. They also might ask you to address it to a particular person.

The bottom line: These instructions aren’t optional (and it really ticks people off when you don’t follow them). Pay attention.

11. Putting the Wrong Company Name on the Cover Letter

File this under more things to quadruple-check before sending out a job application. Seriously, it’s so avoidable if you just take one extra glance!

We also recommend labeling all of your documents appropriately so you can tell things apart (naming a doc “The Muse Jan 2015 Cover Letter” is better than just “Cover Letter,” so you don’t end up sending the wrong thing by accident).

12. Using the Same Cover Letter for Every Company You Apply To

Like tailoring a resume for every company, writing a different cover letter for every company is just as crucial. Not only will doing so keep you from making embarrassing mistakes (like talking about the wrong company in your letter), but it will also help you focus on that specific job listing and company and what you’d bring to the gig.

Need a little cover letter inspiration? We’ve got 31 kick-ass examples to get you thinking.

13. Telling Your Life Story

While telling stories in your cover letter can be a great way to show your passion for the position, you never want to leave a hiring manager wondering, “So, what’s the point?” In other words, don’t ramble. For one thing, it’d definitely go over the general one-page limit for most cover letters, and for another thing, there’s a lot of stuff people (more specifically, hiring managers) just don’t need to know about you.

If there’s something that must be added in to give context to your application, keep it short and leave out emotions. For example, if you’re applying to jobs in New York despite currently being based on the West Coast, there’s no need to tell a hiring manager that you’re doing it to move away from your crazy ex.

14. Regurgitating Your Resume

If your cover letter is basically your resume in paragraph form, you’re probably going to need to start over. Your resume is likely the first thing a recruiter looks at, so you’re wasting your time (and the recruiter’s) if your cover letter is a harder-to-read version of something he or she has already seen.

If you find the idea of addressing some person of higher authority to be intimidating, take Alexandra Franzen’s advice and write your cover letter as if these people already know you and respect you.

15. Sending One Giant Block of Text

Not only are giant blocks of text just hard to look at, but they’re also hard to absorb. A hiring manager might pass you over for a job solely because his or her eyes are crossing looking at your cover letter’s wall of text.

Think of your cover letter like a book. Chapters in books are separated from one another, and the paragraphs of a cover letter should be, too. Doing so allows you to move through several different points without the transitions being too awkward.

16. Starting With Your Name

“My name is John Smith and I’m applying…” Unless you’re already famous, your name just isn’t the most relevant piece of information to start with. Not to mention that your name should be listed on your resume, the sign-off in your cover letter, and in other parts of your application.

Instead, start your letter with a relevant qualification as a way to introduce yourself. (Here’s a bit more about kicking off your cover letter with an awesome opener.)

17. Being Too Salesy or Aggressive

If you’ve ever ended a cover letter with, “I will call you next week to arrange a date and time when I can come in for an interview,” you’re probably being a bit too aggressive.

You do want to be confident, of course, but a salesy tone can overshadow your solid qualifications and make you seem pompous (probably not what you’re going for). If you want to express your interest, stick with a safer, less salesy line, like, “I’d love a chance to speak with you further about the position.”

18. Not Making it Clear Why You Want the Position

In the midst of going into detail about your qualifications and explaining any special circumstances that a hiring manager may need to know about, you might have forgotten the most important part of the cover letter: saying why you want the job in the first place.

As you read through a cover letter, read each sentence and see if it answers a very simple question: “Why?”

In an Interview

19. Not Getting Back to the Hiring Manager in a Timely Matter

We heard this complaint from a hiring manager recently, and we were shocked that not everyone responds to interview requests as fast as they possibly can! Even if you’re busy, you should always, always respond within one business day. Any longer, and the hiring manager is likely going to question both your interest in the position and your general email manners.

20. Showing Up Late

There’s really no excuse for being late to an interview. Even if there was an accident on the freeway. Even if you got lost. Being punctual is just the respectful, professional thing to do. Plan to arrive to the office a half hour early, so even if you hit a traffic or subway snafu, you’ll still be safe. That said, find a place to wait until 5-10 minutes before your interview so you don’t make the mistake of…

21. Showing Up Way Too Early

By showing up early (20, 30—we’ve even seen 40—minutes in advance), you’re putting immediate pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever she may be wrapping up and deal with you. Or, she’s going to start the interview feeling guilty because she knows she just left you sitting in the lobby for 20 minutes.
Worse, you might run into the guy who interviewed right before you, and that’s bound to throw you off your interview game.

22. Having a Terrible Handshake

While average handshakes usually don’t stick in our memories, bad handshakes, sadly, do. And, the last thing you want after leaving a job interview is to be remembered as the one with limp noodles as fingers or bone-crushing lobster claws as hands. Here’s a quick lesson to make sure you get it right every time.

23. Not Doing Your Research

Yes, you’ll learn a lot about a company and role during the job interview, but it shouldn’t be the first time you’re learning everything. With the entire internet at your fingertips, you’ll look like you couldn’t care less about the position, which is not exactly going to win interviewers over.

So spend some time Googling the company, not just doing a cursory glance at its website. Aim to really understand its mission, vision, culture, and recent news-worthy events. Here’s a guide to help you out.

24. Talking Too Much

While you definitely want to highlight your accomplishments and sell the hiring manager on why you’re the one for the job, you definitely don’t want to leave the interviewer wondering how long you’re going to go on without taking a breath (or looking at his or her watch). Think of the interview more as a conversation than a presentation. And be sure to watch for clues—like your interviewer’s body language. If she’s shifting back and forth or clearing her throat, it’s time to let her get to the next question.

25. Bad-Mouthing Your Old Employer

No matter how bad a job was, you never, ever want to bad-mouth a former employer in an interview. Why? Because the interviewer will assume you’ll do it again—like when you’re leaving this company. Keep your tone somewhere between neutral and positive, focusing on what you’ve learned from each experience and what you’re hoping to do in the future. This especially applies when you’re talking about why you’re leaving—here are a few tips on how to do it right.

26. Not Acting Excited to Be There

Here’s a little secret about interviewers: Meeting with candidate after candidate isn’t exactly the best part of their job. So, if you can make the process a little more fun or exciting by at least acting like you’re happy to be there, you’ll do yourself a serious favor. This is especially true on phone interviews—since body language and facial expressions are impossible to convey when you’re not together in person, you’ll need to express a little excitement in your voice. Here are a few tips.

27. Getting Too Casual

OK, but try not to get too excited. We’ve heard candidates curse, ask to charge their phones, and talk about using recreational drugs in interviews. Spoiler alert: None of them got hired.

28. Not Having Questions for the Interviewer

Please tell us you’ve heard this by now, but there’s truly nothing worse than asking a candidate what questions they have about the job, and hearing crickets. Nearly as bad is when someone asks generic questions that have already been covered—because they’ve memorized them and can’t come up with anything else. Zhang has great advice for asking actually thoughtful, insightful questions.

When Following Up

29. Not Sending a Thank-You Note

If you’re thinking about not sending one, just think about all of those other candidates who are. You will stand out—and not in a good way. That said, your thank you note can do more harm than good if you make any of the following mistakes:

30. Sending One a Week Late

Thank you notes are the most effective when you send them ASAP or at least within 48 hours of your interview. If you want to leave the impression that you’re only mildly interested in the position, then go ahead and take your time. If not, then send it immediately. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

31. Sending a Generic One

You might think that going through the motions and sending a generic thank you note is better than sending nothing, but you’d be wrong. Hiring managers get excited when they find exceptional candidates who are really excited about the job. And sending a boring thank you note that could have been addressed to anyone? That’s an easy way to shatter your image.

32. Sending an Inappropriate One

You don’t have the job yet, so don’t get too chummy in your note. No matter how sure you are that you nailed the interview, your best bet is to remain professional throughout the process. (That means no nicknames, no sarcasm, and, again, no cursing.)

33. Sending the Same Exact One to All of Your Interviewers

I know—you think you’re being efficient. But interviewers frequently forward all thank-you notes to each other (and HR), in which case your copy-and-paste job will be immediately obvious.

34. Following Up on Social Media

Sure, reaching out to the hiring manager you’ve just interviewed with shows that you know how to use social media. But it also is pretty impersonal, reeks of humblebragging, and frankly seems a bit lazy. Channel your energy into a well-written email instead.

35. Being All About You

Did you forget to mention that one time you did something that was extremely relevant to the job you’re interviewing for now? It might be okay to mention it briefly, but it’s definitely a mistake for you to transform your thank you note into a take two of your interview. Thank you notes shouldn’t be long, so you don’t really have a lot of space to, you know, thank your interviewer—let alone share another story. If you must do it, make it brief.

Photo of man reaching out hand courtesy of Shutterstock.