11 things to avoid when you’re searching for a job

If you’ve been applying for jobs but you aren’t getting the outcome that you hoped for, or that your experience deserves, then it can be useful to take a step back and reevaluate your job search technique. Even if you are doing everything perfectly, and persistence may be all that is required, regularly evaluating your approach and how you’re feeling about your job search can be a valuable process.

The challenge for many of us is knowing which behaviours to do more of, and which to do less of. The key thing is to learn from, and iterate your approach. So read advice, speak to friends and family and ask employers for candid feedback. Sometimes the most helpful feedback people can give you is the most difficult to hear. With this in mind, here are 11 common mistakes that you should try to avoid in your job search.

1. Forgetting to pay attention to how you come across on social media

social media

Whether you like it or not, social media can play a part in whether or not you land the job that you want. Once an employer receives your application, they may check your social media accounts to try and learn more about you, and get more of a feel for who you are socially. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your social media accounts as private as possible, whilst making sure that anything on display makes you look friendly, approachable and fairly sensible. This means making sure that your profile picture isn’t of you singing drunk karaoke, or dancing on table tops, unless that’s the image you are keen to portray!

Additionally, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, then now would be a good time to get one. A LinkedIn profile is often seen as a more honest record of someone’s CV because it’s publicly visible, and it’s becoming common place for employers to review a person’s LinkedIn profile alongside their CV and cover letter. If employers find that a candidate doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile, they might have concerns over why this is which could put you at a disadvantage e.g. is the candidate unable to keep up with technological trends? Do they have something to hide? Creating an account is free and easy, and it’s worth doing if you want to give yourself the best possible chance of success.

2. Selling yourself short

There’s nothing wrong with being humble and modest, but when it comes to applying for jobs, you need to put your best foot forward and sell yourself as much as you can. No matter what your background is, you will have some skills or experience that are useful in some way. Even if you haven’t worked for the last five years because you’ve been caring for a sick family member, try not to look at this as simply ‘being out of work’, but as an unpaid job where you developed skills like keeping calm under pressure, resilience, empathy and communication skills. Every experience is worth something and chances are, you have experience that is more valuable than you realise, so try not to sell yourself short.

3. Sending job applications that contain grammatical errors

You’d be surprised how many CVs and cover letters contain spelling or grammatical errors, and this is a quick way to lose the attention of the employer you’re trying to appeal to. One of the key things many employers look for are signs that you are able to take pride and care over your work, and that you have good attention to detail. Having mistakes on your CV or cover letter can suggest to employers that you aren’t serious about the job you’re applying for because you haven’t taken the time to check over your application. To avoid any grammar mistakes, it’s always best to check your application at least twice – and possibly have a friend or family member read it too.

4. Sending out generic applications

Often it can feel like the quickest way to land a job is to fire out a series of applications to try and increase the likelihood that you’ll get a response. However, usually this means that you won’t have been able to take the time to tailor each one to the role you’re applying for. Employers will want to hear specifics about why you want to work for their company and what positives you can bring to the role, so if you send the same generic application to every company you apply to, then there’s a good chance that it simply won’t capture an employers attention and you won’t make it to the next stage of the application process.

We also hear all too often of people submitting a CV or cover letter that very articulately outlines why they want to work for the last company they applied for, and not this company! These typically get dismissed, so it’s important to take the time to get your application right.

When you are applying for lots of jobs and struggling to get an interview, we know it can feel like an extra mountain of effort to write so many extra cover notes and tailored CVs. However we firmly believe that it’s better to spend an hour writing one really detailed CV and a cover letter which discusses the skills and experience that are relevant to the role and shows you’ve done research on the company you’re applying to, than to send off ten of the same CV and cover letter to multiple companies.

5. Forgetting to include a cover letter

forgetting to include a cover letter

If you haven’t been including a cover letter with your job applications, then you aren’t alone, as this is something that people commonly think they don’t need to do. However, by not including one, you could be encouraging employers to dismiss your application without even reading it. A cover letter is your chance to speak directly to an employer and briefly tell them the key reasons why you would be a good fit for the job, outline any transferable skills you have and tell them why you are excited about working for them. It can be a really good way to make your application stand out from the crowd.

6. Trying to hide gaps in your CV

CV gaps are incredibly common and can occur for a number of reasons, such as having to look after a sick relative, recovering from illness or taking a break to go travelling.

It’s always better to be honest and open about breaks in employment, as gaps can often come to light during reference checks or at interview stage. As long as you can give a confident and reasonable explanation for any gaps, employers aren’t likely to hold them against you. But if you get caught trying to hide your past, or are overly apologetic in your explanation, then it’s more likely they will become a bigger issue for an employer than it needs to be.

7. Having an unprofessional email address or voicemail message

It may seem like a small thing, but if you want employers to take you seriously then it’s a good idea to make sure that you don’t have an unprofessional and/or inappropriate email address or voicemail message. There’s nothing wrong with having these for your personal use, but if you have anything particularly edgy, it’s better to have a separate email address or phone number that you can give to employers if you want them to take you seriously.

If you don’t have a sensible email address, then the good news is that it’s quick and easy to set up a new email account. It’s also worth switching off your personalised voicemail message if it’s unprofessional and either using the default one provided by your phone network or recording a new message, until after your job search is over!

8. Making your CV too long and text heavy

Employers can receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening and they will have a limited amount of time to get through them all – which means they will typically skim read applications and only look in more detail at those which end up being shortlisted. For this reason, it’s critical that you keep your CV short and only give details about your most recent skills and experience, as you will only have a matter of seconds to capture a prospective employers attention.

The best way to do this is to keep your CV to a maximum length of two pages long and avoid using long paragraphs – instead use bullet points and short sentences to detail your skills and experience. It can be especially important to have a strong and succinct opening statement that summarises your experience and skills in a few sentences or bullets.

9. Relying solely on job listings to find new opportunities

If you’ve only been applying for opportunities that you’ve found on online job boards – then it could be time to broaden your search. 

You don’t need to wait for a job to be advertised to enquire about working for a company. Sending off a few speculative emails could help you to get in the door before a role is advertised, or prompt a company who have been thinking about hiring into making a decision. Build up a list of companies you think you’d enjoy working for and write a personalised note to each of them, explaining why you’d love to work for them and what you could offer to their team. This also demonstrates to an employer that you are a proactive person who has sought them out specifically. Even if some of the companies don’t have an opening right now, they’re far more likely to remember you and get back in touch when they do want to hire.

You could also try having a closer look at your network to see whether there is anyone that you know, who could introduce you to people working in the industry or company that you’d like to work for.

Even if there’s no immediate reason to reach out to someone, this can be a great time to reconnect with old colleagues and friends. Simply by putting yourself out there you are creating an opportunity for something to happen and you never know when the next opportunity may arise. It’s also worth seeing whether there are any job fairs being held in your local area, as these are great for meeting employers face-to-face and networking with a range of different industry professionals.

10. Putting all your eggs in one basket

You may have found an advert for the perfect job, spend hours crafting the perfect application and then submitted it, thinking that you just have to get the job because it’s such a perfect fit. But whilst it’s important to stay hopeful and positive when applying for jobs, it can be helpful not to place too much hope on one particular job application as this can prevent you from applying for some other really great opportunities.

Try to think of each job application like an open door, and after you have submitted your application, picture yourself pushing the door to and moving towards the next open door, which is where your next opportunity lies, and so on. This will help you to increase your options and improve your chances of getting the response you want.

11. Letting rejection affect the rest of your search

letting rejection affect your job search

Receiving a rejection after submitting a job application can be debilitating, and whilst it’s okay to let yourself feel disappointed, try not to let that disappointment stop you from moving forward and applying for the next opportunity. Once you receive a rejection, ask for feedback on why your application was rejected (although don’t worry if they can’t give you this, as sometimes you will only be offered this if you are rejected at the interview stage), and use it to move forward and focus on the rest of your search.

Rejections are inevitable – they happen to everyone at all stages of life, but the key thing is to keep moving forward. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. So be sure to take any feelings that you have after a rejection and turn them into a desire to better your application and interview techniques and drive you forward.

Bonus tip: use keywords in your CV

After we first published this article, a few Rest Less members contacted us to suggest this idea. We thought it would make a great addition, so here it is as a bonus tip!

Many CV sites allow employers and recruiters to conduct keywords searches of their CV databases, so that they can filter to candidates who have relevant skills or experience mentioned on their CV. For example, a company looking for a Sales Manager might search for keywords like “sales manager”, “business development”, “customer pipeline”, “lead prospecting”, “CRM” and so on.

Think about the kinds of searches you’d like your CV to appear in. Then find a way to include words related to that search within the relevant sections of your CV. Naturally, the most important thing is that your CV reads well. However, there is usually a way to work keywords neatly into the existing content, particularly if you’re already talking about the kinds of skills and experience you want to target.

And finally...

We know that finding your next job can be a real challenge. Even if you’re following all the right steps, it can still take time for that breakthrough to come. Try to stay positive and if need be, approach your one hundredth application with the same energy and enthusiasm as you did your first. Your breakthrough will come and the more positive you are, the easier the journey will be and the better your chances of success. Good luck!

Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have any other tips or learnings you could share with the Rest Less community? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected].

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