It’s a job seeker’s worst nightmare: You have the right experience and you’ve found the right role, but somewhere along the way, you make a mistake that disqualifies you.
Now that you’re sufficiently scared by that scenario, you should know that most of these impossible-to-recover-from mistakes are also totally avoidable.The trick is knowing about these costly—but all too common, and often well-intentioned—errors in advance, so you can be sure to sidestep them as you go through the process.
1. You Show Up Unprepared for a Networking Meeting
You don’t prepare anything because your game plan is to simply chat and connect so you can demonstrate that you’re not using your contact. However, if you have nothing to say about your job search, the other person will actually be really disappointed.
Here’s why: Coffee meetings cost your contact more than $4. And even if you treat him, they’re still not free. That’s because the other person has to build out time in his schedule to meet up with you (and if we all had free hours floating around, people wouldn’t be so obsessed with productivity hacks).
I’m not saying he’d rather be somewhere else: My point is that he made an effort to find the time to discuss your job prospects. (Translation: He believes in you and wants to help!) If you have no questions about his industry or work or not the slightest idea what you’re interested in, it’s a waste of his time.
So, while you can lead with small talk, also be ready to make the most of the meeting. This means bringing several questions about the other person’s work or career trajectory and at least one idea of a career path or skill you’re interested in exploring.
2. You Send Out Generic Job Applications
Compiling your materials is time-consuming. So, once you have an error-free resume and a cover letter that expresses your skills and interests, it’s understandable that you might not see the issue in sending that one perfected document out for every role you’re interested in. After all, could the tasks assigned to an engineer at one company really be that different than they would be at another? If you’ve already found the perfect way to sum up your sales experience, why shouldn’t you just stick with what you have?
While you can use one, killer template as a starting point, you’re not saving any time by skipping the customization step. That’s because generic apps are many hiring managers’ pet peeve—they figure that if you don’t have 30 minutes to create a specific application, they might as well not take 30 minutes to interview you. Or, even worse, because you’re not tailoring and using the right wording (even when you’re describing the exact right skills), you’re taken out of consideration because the person skimming this document doesn’t see what feels so obvious to you.
Along these lines, fake-personalizing (i.e., using find-replace to swap out the company and position name but otherwise keeping your letter the same) should also be avoided. Hiring managers can typically see right through this—and even worse you risk messing it up and including the wrong company name in your application!
So, take the time customize your application. If a job doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort, that’s OK. It may be a sign that it’s not the right role for you anyhow.
3. You Act Like You’ve Already Been Hired in Your Interview
You hear so much about the importance of fitting in that you want to show you’re a match for company culture right away. So, you lean way back in your chair and crack jokes about the office, the perks, the people you’ve met already—really, everything’s fair game for a casual conversation.
You’re totally blindsided when you don’t receive an offer, because you thought you had developed a great rapport. The truth is that you may have, but at the same time, acting too comfortable comes off as cocky. It can worry the interviewer that this is how you’d approach all stressful or important situations. From there, she questions whether you’d be up to meeting with key stakeholders and representing the company in a serious light as well.
So, don’t act like a team member. Instead, act like a candidate who would be a good team member. And never make comments—no matter how offhand or how well things have been going—like you know you’re just going through the motions until they hire you. Treat it like an interview the whole way through by keeping your tone a tad deferential.
4. You Obsessively Follow Up
This one’s kind of a heartbreaker, because you could have done everything right and be the number one candidate at the end of an interview, but if you mess this up, you’ll undo all of your hard work.
It’s not fair when people characterize an overly aggressive follow-up strategy as sheer impatience. There are lots of well-meaning reasons why you might overdo it: You want to show how much you care; you need to know if you should put in two weeks notice; you have another offer on the table.
But, you have to remember that you don’t actually have the job yet, and so if you start pestering the hiring manager, you could lose your top spot. Remember, the application process is an audition, and there are times when you’ll have to play by the rules (even if the rules kind of suck).
Avoid any of these lines that scare hiring managers and use this template for following up on a job opportunity instead. Finally, if you don’t hear back right away, be sure to wait one week before checking back in.
Looking for a new job takes work, so the last thing you want to do is get in your own way. Along with focusing on what you should do, spend some time thinking about what you should be sure to avoid. That way, you can rest easy that you’re setting yourself up for success.