Unemployment is at an 18-year low, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the job of their dreams. (Or the paycheck they deserve.)
If you’re hoping to trade up for a better opportunity, you need to bring your A-game. That means polishing your resume and cover letter, gathering the best references and recommendations … and avoiding job search mistakes that might make hiring managers think twice before scheduling an interview.
Avoid these blunders in your job search:
1. Staying Too Long at the Party
The median tenure for U.S. workers was 4.2 years in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. And while a pattern of job hopping every year won’t help your chances of getting hired, neither will staying put.
For one thing, not changing employers will affect your earnings in the short and long term. Raises typically hover around 3 percent at most orgs; hang on long than that, and you’ll be earning far less than you would if you changed jobs.
So, what’s the sweet spot? There’s no scientific consensus on the perfect tenure for maximizing earnings and opportunity. Plus, your mileage may vary — you wouldn’t want to leave your dream job, for example, just to boost your pay by a few thousand dollars that will be eaten by taxes. But, you’re probably better off sticking around at least 18 months and leaving before five years.
“In general, three to five years in a job without a promotion is the optimal tenure to establish a track record of success without suffering the negative consequences of job stagnation,” writes Alison Doyle, job search expert at The Balance Careers. “That, of course, depends on the job, the level you are at, and the organization you work for.”
Shorter than that, and you’re a job hopper. Longer, and you could be perceived as unambitious or locked into a routine.
2. Not Sending Thank-You Notes
In a recent TopResume survey, 68 percent of recruiters and hiring managers said that thank-you notes affected their decision of whether to hire a candidate. Nearly 1 in 5 said that they’d nixed a candidate because they didn’t send a thank-you note after a job interview.
Timing is also important: for maximum results, send your thank-you note or email within 24 hours of the interview. And get the details right — misspelling the name of the company or the interviewer could destroy the impact.
3. Copying Templates Exactly
Cover letter and resume templates are a boon to job seekers, who might otherwise waste valuable job searching time staring down the blank page. But templates are just a jumping off point for application materials. If you don’t personalize your resume and cover letter enough, you might wind up looking like a plagiarist … or at least a pretty boring candidate.
Employers want to hire you, not some focus-group idea of the perfect worker. So, think about what makes you the perfect person for the job — your skills, experience, attitude, know-how — and showcase that in your messaging.
And don’t forget to customize your materials for each job. Just because the job titles are the same doesn’t mean that the hiring managers are focused on the same things. Look at the job description and emphasize your qualities that match what they’re looking for.
4. Applying Online
There’s nothing wrong with looking at job boards for your next opportunity — just as long as that isn’t the only place you look.
Job ads are a good entry point into your search, but applying randomly has pretty low ROI. For best results, use the leads you find in your online job search as a jumping off point for your mission. Then, hit LinkedIn to find connections to the company that can give you an inside track.
5. Spamming the Hiring Manager
As an exercise, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes for a minute. Who do you want to hire — the person who just wants any job or the person who wants the specific job you’re trying to fill?
The answer is obviously the latter. For all kinds of reasons — employee engagement, fit, etc. — employers want workers who are enthused about their job. So, even if you’re just looking for any job (because you’re unemployed, say, or sick of your current gig) it pays to appear as if you’re laser-focused on this one opportunity.
As a practical matter, this means not applying for a zillion openings at the same firm and making sure that any recruiters or headhunters you’re using don’t do the same. If your resume comes in for everything from assistant to CEO, the company’s HR person will begin to suspect that you’re not after this particular job.
6. Not Knowing How Much You’re Worth
If you had to negotiate a job offer tomorrow, how much would you ask for? If you don’t know, now’s the time to find out. PayScale’s Salary Survey offers a range based on data from real people with your job title, qualifications and skills.
Go into your job search without that information, and you’re more likely to low-ball yourself (or price your services out of contention).
7. Crossing the Line
It’s important to follow up after job interviews, but don’t overdo it. Send a thank-you note within 24 hours and then follow up a week later to inquire about next steps. But don’t start a campaign of repeated phone calls, emails and direct messages.
Employers want to hire people who’ll be pleasant to have around, as well as effective in their role. Stalking your prospective coworkers will not give a good impression.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you ever committed one of these job search mistakes? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.