Job searching stinks. I’ll say it. You have to write out a document saying what you’ve done, write a cover letter saying what you’ll do, and then you get to meet with someone who is, by definition, judging you. Sign me up! (Said no one ever).
Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to stink. Let’s review some of the most common mistakes that job seekers make during this process and, in doing so, give you a path that's better paved to your new job. To be clear, no one is going to hand you an engraved invitation to make your life and your work exactly the way you want them to be. But with a little strategic guidance, you can do the work to make it possible — especially by avoiding these common missteps from the start.
1. Using one go-to cover letter for all of the jobs you apply to.
If you have just the one cover letter, you have no cover letter. Cover letters are an opportunity for you to showcase your understanding of the hiring manager’s pain points and to begin to solve them. So do some research, talk about the company or organization, and distill out how your unique skills can solve those problems. Consider the following line as an example: “The candidate you bring on as your next Director of Marketing at Company X will need to be able to understand the way that digital and offline marketing tactics work together, be able to work cross-functionally, and be fluent in leveraging data to make a case — my background speaks to those needs in Y ways." By referencing the specific pain points that a Director of Marketing at this company should be able to address, you're demonstrating that you have a deep understanding of the business objectives connected to this specific role, instead of speaking to past accomplishments in your repertoire only. And that makes for a much more personalized cover letter overall.
2. Going on interviews without preparing enough in advance.
The power dynamic in an interview is uncomfortable. The interviewer is asking you questions, and you have to answer them in the right way. Here’s the thing: most people do not prepare, or don't prepare well enough, for interviews. It not only shows, but it also prevents them from getting the job. To show your preparedness you could, for example, bring a notebook and have some questions written out. You know they’re going to ask you what questions you have. Don’t first think about those questions are during the interview. Open your notebook and show that you’ve prepared and written down your top strategic questions about the role. You want to demonstrate that it’s not just any job that you want — it’s this one, and you’ve prepared your questions accordingly. Further, if it’s around lunchtime, have a snack. Bring some water. Make sure your creature comforts are met so you can focus. And if it’s the middle of the summer and you’re walking three blocks from the subway, for goodness sake, get there early so you can stop sweating before you walk in the door. #awkward.
3. Trash talking your boss (or anyone).
It’s totally possible that your boss is a jerk and that she didn’t treat you fairly. It’s also possible that you were misled in the interview process and the product was not where they said that it was. However, the interviewer does not know the truth or the backstory, and it will reflect poorly on you to trash talk. Let it rip with your friends. Then, button up your story with a mentor or a coach and come up with a version that is still the truth, but leaves out any negativity.
4. Writing a resume that reads like a job description.
Most resumes contain tons of inputs and not nearly enough outputs. Just because you were responsible for something doesn’t mean that you did it well. Consider instead: “Grew vertical specific book of business 20% year over year by consistently setting meetings, managing pipeline, and staying on top of industry trends that matter to prospects. Identified and attended seven to ten appropriate industry events per year and created new opportunities through networking, thought leadership and adding value to prospects and clients.” Meanwhile, most people say simply: “Responsible for bringing in new business.” Which, of course, doesn’t mean that you did.
5. Ignoring your gut.
Does the job seem like it’s not quite right? I get that not having a job, or having one that's draining your soul, is extremely uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean you should take an offer that doesn’t feel right to you. There will be something better. If something seems too good to be true, or if your gut is telling you it’s not quite the right fit, then listen!
Though it’s a grind to look for a job, by avoiding these key mistakes and following a strategic pathway instead, you can (and will!) land the role you're ultimately meant for.