Woman at her computer looking frustrated

The seven deadly sins of the job search

Elizabeth Bromstein|

It’s easy to commit job-search sins. There are so many. Here we list the seven most deadly sins that will kill your search and most likely result in you remaining forever unemployed.

Not being prepared. One of the most important rules of the job search is “be prepared” (just like the Scouts). Preparation includes, but is not limited to, thoroughly researching the company you’re applying to, practicing for the interview – including planning your answers to typical and/or difficult questions – planning what to wear, and prepping your references so they know, first, that they will be called as references (the number of people who don’t give warning about this is far too high) and, second, what to say. Never be caught off guard.

Not treating job hunting like a job. A recent survey of unemployed Canadians found that most aren’t exactly killing themselves looking for work. Thirty-two percent said they had spent five or fewer hours looking for a job in the past week, and only eight per cent said they had spent 31 hours or more. How on earth do you expect to find a job if you spend just half a day looking? Job hunting is a job. You should be spending a full work week at it. That’s 40 hours.

Focusing on the “I” and not the “you.” A recent article by Peter Harris discusses the worst job interview answer you can possibly give to the question “Why should I hire you?” That answer is any variation on “Because I need the job.” You’re not a charity case. You’re a job candidate. And as such you need to demonstrate what you can do for the employer, not what they can do for you.

Sending out generic resumes. A common practice is to send out a generic resume and count on the cover letter to bridge the gap between the resume and the job description. Don’t do that. It doesn’t work. Tailor your resume to each specific position. If the main job requirement is that you drive sales, focus in the “experience” section on examples of how you have increased sales in the past. If you are required to manage a team, illustrate that you have managed teams in the past. Also, rid your resume of tired, old clichés. Nobody wants to read that you’re a “results oriented team player.”

Not developing your people skills. A recent survey of Canadian CEOs found that people skills are by far the most desired attributes in potential hires. You have to know how to – and demonstrate that you can – listen, communicate, and share. This includes not being an idiot online and not starting arguments with strangers on social media. Be as nice as you can to everyone you meet. Smart employers will always hire for attitude over skill, so it pays to be likeable.

Not paying attention to detail. Attention to detail isn’t just a requirement for most jobs, it’s a requirement for getting anywhere. From an error-free application (always scan your resume and cover letter for typos and grammatical errors – and have a friend read it for you); to looking your best at the interview – which includes researching company culture whenever possible; to a thorough post-interview follow up, pay attention to the details. That’s where the devil is, as they say.

Applying for jobs for which you’re not even remotely qualified. Hiring managers often have to sift through hundreds of resumes looking for the right fit. Please don’t waste people’s time. If the posting is for a programmer and you don’t have any coding ability, don’t apply. You’re not going to get it. Of course, we have talked in the past about credential creep, in which employers ask for an impossible combination of skills and experience (because they don’t actually know what they’re talking about and only have a vague idea of what the position actually requires), essentially making the position an impossible one to fill. Follow a simple three quarter rule: if you have three out of four of all the skills and experience required, go ahead and apply.

Category: Job interviews, Job Search Strategies, Latest News & Advice, Resumes, Resumes and Cover Letters
  • Richard Derek

    Sorry, but generic resumes are here to stay. If employers would only give candidates a chance to prove themselves.

    • WalkerBob

      They are under no obligation to do that. It is up to you to make yourself stand out or be out of work.

      • Richard Derek

        There are so many qualified – highly educated people with experience – who are either out of work or working as taxi drivers or in minimum wage jobs. Why, because employers don’t want to read Resumes and give people a chance.

  • Helen

    Expecting someone to spend 40 hours a week on their job hunt is not reasonable. I know because I’ve been there. If you are following up on leads, touching base with your network and visiting every job bank and employment website that is even remotely related to your chosen career, you can’t fill 40 hours. Especially if you have been looking for a while, and you’ve created email alerts for new job postings.

    If you’re spending 40 hours a week on your search, you will annoy everyone you know with incessant inquiries and burn yourself out. Not to mention the bottomless pit of despair you will dig for yourself when you spend 40 hours a week on job search activities, interviews, writing resumes, networking and building cover letters only to later be informed that the position you have been courting will not be filled.

    • Andrew

      While I agree that 40 hours is difficult, I would say that it is that type of commitment that is needed to make your search bear fruit. I would also add that it is more important HOW you conduct your search, not necessarily HOW LONG you conduct your search for that matters

    • John Goudreau

      I disagree, you can spend 40 hours a week just doing the research on the companies that you are applying to. Sure you can spend 10 minutes on the internet and get the background information, but I also like hang around the company – talk to workers to find out what the company is like to work for – see if they have a habit of hiring staff and laying them off every 6 months – if they have extra high expectations of the new hires, if they allow for a learning curve or if they train by dumping you in the fire and seeing how you handle it.

  • yury

    my personal experience – i got interview while was sending generic resumes and never ever got an interview when i spent hours customizing my resume for the position i really wanted.

  • Neil De Silva

    The people who do the initial screening are only looking for reasons to REJECT the 99% of applicants so that they can then

  • Neil De Silva

    ……interview the five or so Candidates they feel are the PERFECT candidates for the job! Recruiters need to be better trained in finding Talented Employees NOT in hiring those who know to CREATE a false impression by “cosmetic” Resumes!

  • Jukbo

    I wonder WHY all these canned Workopolis’ articles (“The worst # mistakes to get a job…”, “# bad things to write in a resume…”, “#….bla bla bla”) ALWAYS are focused in “Sales Jobs”. What about writing serious articles about serious jobs? (Engineering, Oil&Gas, IT, etc) ???.

    The “Sales” example SUCKS. They (Workopolis) talk about “Creativity” in their website but don’t do any effort to be one of them… I fell like I’m reading an old magazine at the barber’s shop about the classic “# secrets to loose weight”.

  • Jasna Peli

    I agree Helen, most of us have other responsibilities even when not working, being on the internet for 40 hrs a day looking for work, are you kidding?
    As to tweaking every resume, totally unnecessary. Most of us look for work that we already know and have experience in, and have honest resumes, related to our job search. Only dishonest resumes need tweaking.
    I have over 15 yrs exp. in office work but I am older worker. I have submitted over 65 resumes in 6 months, two interviews. Best one is, they offer me the job then call me back next day and tell me the position has been cancelled.
    My resume is honest, well written and cover letter is simple but states my accomplishments and contributions. Been told by head-hunter, resume is perfect for my job category. So why cannot I get an interviews? simple, with older worker employers automatically know we want better pay, based on our work experience, though they always offer lower salary in hopes you will accept. When you don’t, they move on to find someone that will.
    With young workers, employers can lower wages for lack of experience.
    All these so called experts, give us information on how to land a job. Remember, we are all different with different needs, personalities and experiences, some of us have life experience, some education some with both. Trust your judgement, conduct yourself professionally an according to job you are applying for and be honest with your self and on your resume. Don’t downplay yourself, if you do, the potential employer will as well.
    I have always done just that, landed a job no problem. But turning 50, it got lot harder.