Finding a way to break through the clutter of cover letters, resumes, and LinkedIn profiles and stand out is key when you’re gunning for a new job. But, standing out for all the wrong reasons is detrimental to any shot you might have at success.
As head of recruiting at HubSpot, a fast-growing inbound marketing and sales software company, I read a lot of resumes and interview a lot of people on a daily basis. Applicants often attempt to tap into their creative side and do something a little different that lets their personality shine through. Some are successful—and HubSpot has been able to build a fantastic employee base and culture by identifying them. Others, as you might imagine, stand out for all the wrong reasons.
At this point in my career, that list of ridiculous things I’ve seen come through my inbox has gotten pretty long and too good not to share. So, here’s a taste of some of the worst (and most perplexing) mistakes I’ve seen applicants make and some tips on how to be different enough to land your dream job without scaring anyone off:
Mistake #1: Addressing your cover letter “Ahoy there,” and then following up with an email leading with “Sup Leslie?”
Don’t mistake being comfortably casual with abandoning professionalism. Sometimes, the stress of the job search and interview process turns people into robots—which, don’t get me wrong, is also a turnoff—but swinging to the other end of the pendulum and abandoning all professional common sense in the way that you communicate can be a very easy nail in the coffin. Stick to language you’d use when speaking with your boss.
Mistake #2: Citing a milestone that you hit “quotia” last year in bold to lead off your sales resume
I’m certainly not the first to say it, but I simply can’t emphasize it enough: Proofread everything! Spell check helps, but it’s not enough. You need to go through every document and email you send with a fine-tooth comb to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. If you don’t put this kind of attention to detail in your job application, how can you expect your prospective employers to believe that you will put it into the work that you’ll be doing on their behalf?
Mistake #3: Putting “find me on MySpace” as a call to action on your six-page resume
First, there is simply no reason why your resume should be six pages long—there is no chance that a recruiter is going to read it all. You’ll have the opportunity to elaborate on your experiences during your in-person interviews, but submitting a resume that goes past page one is almost a surefire way to ensure that you never get that chance.
While we’re on the topic: Since resume space is precious, make sure you use it wisely and make it relevant to the company that you’re applying to. Asking a marketing-focused company like HubSpot to find you on MySpace is a huge red flag that you’re not up on current marketing trends and practices. (Side note: At this point, referencing MySpace should be a huge red flag to anyone.)
Mistake #4: Telling the recruiter “I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed,” or starting your cover letter with “I’m a traitor”
No one is perfect, that’s for sure, but there is certainly no need to proactively highlight your flaws in a cover letter or interview. That said, it is common for recruiters and managers to ask about weaknesses during an interview. If and when they do, choose wisely and talk about traits that you can also put a positive spin on. (Here’s how.) Generally speaking, being a traitor comes with nearly no redeeming qualities.
Mistake #5: On a phone screen, noting that you’re “a people person—a person of the people,” then referring to yourself as a “power plant of passion” in the interview
Think before you speak. Interviewing for a new job can be nerve-racking, but you’re there to make a good impression and hopefully stand out in a genuine, positive way. Using oddball, nonsensical metaphors or phrases to describe yourself or your work does the exact opposite—making you seem like you’re giving the hiring manager lip service instead of sharing what you realistically can do.
Instead, practice before the interview, so that you walk in prepared with polished ways to talk about yourself. And if you need a moment to answer a question that you’re asked, take the time to gather your thoughts rather than spitting out the first thing that comes to mind. Coming off as thoughtful and well-spoken versus quick to answer can make all the difference in moving your name to the top of the hiring list.
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