Fact: If you’re job searching, you’re probably stressed. That’s okay. What’s not okay is allowing yourself to get overly anxious about things that will not make or break your job candidacy.
I won’t argue with you about whether a particular detail is important, but if there’s something else more helpful to your job search that you could be spending your time on, you might want to reconsider your priorities. Here are a few things I see people (needlessly) stress out about all the time.
1. Tweaking Your Resume
What’s the first thing on most job seekers’ to-do list? Updating their resume. That’s great, but the problem arises when that becomes the only step.
I’ve seen my fair share of job seekers who just obsess over their resumes, and it’s such a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong. A well-written resume is clearly an important component of a successful job search, but that’s all it is: one component. Get it done and move on. The rest of your time could be spent much more wisely on networking, meeting people, and letting your contacts know what you’re after (more on that here). Who you know is much more likely than your resume to get your foot in the door. Allot your time accordingly.
2. Over-Explaining Your Background
More and more people have winding, non-linear career paths now. That means, among other things, that more and more people are spending their precious cover letter space explaining how they’ve come to apply to a particular job—meticulous detail of the decision making behind each career shift included.
This is important stuff and, if you get an interview, the hiring manager will certainly ask about your career path (here’s how to handle it). But until he or she is interested enough in your candidacy to offer you an interview, the person reading your application simply will not be invested enough to care.
Instead, focus your cover letter on the impact you can make (try this template), and back up your claims with previous experience and relevant skills. No need to tie it altogether yet. Just get across that you can get the job done, first and foremost. You can worry about explaining your past and future career trajectory when you get invited for an interview.
3. Questioning How to Address Your Interviewer
You’ve made it all the way to the interview stage, and (against your better judgment) you’re really getting your hopes up about a particular position. You don’t want to risk doing anything, and I mean anything, wrong.
I know how that feels. However, this doesn’t mean you should be freaking out over every little thing. For example, stressing over whether to address your thank you note to “Mr. Smith” or “Mr. John Smith” or “John” or “Johnny” (which is how he introduced himself) is overkill. Go with what feels right for the type of company you’re responding to and call it a day. Get the big things—like actually sending a thank you note—right, and let the little things go.
4. Wondering When and How Often to Follow Up
Everything is done and now you’re just—waiting. I know it’s stressful, but resist the urge to follow up every three hours until you get a response. If your interviewer said he or she would get back to you in a week, then send off your thank you note after the interview and do not follow up again until a week has passed.
Of course, it’s definitely a good thing to express your excitement and it’s understandable to want a response, but before you do it (again), try to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Making the decision to hire someone takes time, especially if it requires the approval of several people. And if you were hiring someone, would you think it was overkill that he or she emailed twice in a single week about the same thing? Maybe. If you would find your own behavior kind of annoying, then that’s a pretty good sign someone else would, too.
So, what does this mean in a nutshell? Don’t overwhelm yourself, and don’t overwhelm others. Your job search will inevitably be a little stressful, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. If it starts to feel like one, take a step back and evaluate whether you’re making this whole process harder than it needs to be. Even if no one is nice or kind to you during your job search, you can at least be nice and kind to yourself.
Photo of stressed man courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. 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