IT Employment

10 mistakes to avoid when seeking a new job

Sometimes, all it takes is a small mistake or oversight to turn off a potential employer. Calvin Sun offers this list of job-search gaffes that could torpedo your chances of getting hired.

Sometimes, all it takes is a small mistake or oversight to turn off a potential employer. Calvin Sun offers this list of job-search gaffes that could torpedo your chances of getting hired.


Searching for a job requires you to do a lot of things the right way, avoiding missteps that can doom your efforts despite your strong qualifications and experience. Here are a few simple things to watch out for when your job-hunting campaign is underway.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Relying on human resources office

You've heard it before, certainly, but the advice still remains valid: Don't send your resume to human resources, or the hiring department, or the hiring manager. In most cases, these departments serve only screen people out. You're much better off finding the name of a specific person, namely your prospective boss. If that person likes your qualifications, he or she might be able to push you through the human resources bureaucracy. Is it possible that that person may simply forward or refer you to human resources? Sure. But you've lost nothing in the attempt.

For details on finding and contacting people within a prospective company, see "Breaking through the wall."

#2: Using an unprofessional e-mail address

You and your friends might think cutiepie@aol.com or drinkstoomuch@gmail.com are funny or clever addresses. Think, however, how a hiring manager might view them. That person might lack your sense of humor, and his or her reaction might hurt your chances. You're better off with simply your name plus, if necessary, a numerical suffix.

#3: Having an unprofessional telephone greeting

The same logic applies to your voicemail greeting. All you need say is that you're unavailable -- not that you're out clubbing or playing Wii. Why give a potential hiring manager a reason to pass you by?

#4: Overlooking misspellings in your cover letter

Back in college, a classmate of mine told me that he was applying for a job with what was then known as Morgan Guaranty. The trouble was, throughout the entire cover letter, he referred to them as "Morgan Guarantee." Not surprisingly, he didn't get the job.

Misspellings are never good, but they hurt you the worst if they involve the name of the company or the names of people. Check them out thoroughly before sending a letter. Names can be spelled in different ways, e.g. "Anne/Ann," "Michelle/Michele," "Scott/Scot." Furthermore, as companies merge or become acquired, their names often change accordingly. If in doubt, check the company Web site or simply call the receptionist and explain that you want to confirm a spelling.

Remember that while Word has a spell-checker, it doesn't have a "what you meant to write-checker." If you wrote "they're chances" or "there chances" when you meant to say "their chances," Word won't flag your phrase (at least it didn't for me just now). Make sure of your sentences even if Word says the spelling is okay.

#5: Failing to write a post-interview thank you letter

Contrary to what others may say, writing such a note is not signaling desperation on your part, nor does it constitute groveling. When you travel to a company to interview, you are a guest. The person who invited you had to do many things to prepare, such as reserving a conference room and coordinating peoples' schedules. Your note shows your appreciation for those efforts and gives you an additional chance to reinforce your strong points. Failing to write a note deprives you of that chance and may mark you as being unprofessional.

#6: Dressing inappropriately for the interview

If you're interviewing at a bank, dress like a bank person. Forget the t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. Forget the too-high or too-tight skirts and too-low blouses. They're out of place and will hurt your chances. When in doubt, dress more conservatively. Even better, research how people dress and do likewise.

#7: Omitting accomplishments from your resume

Don't just list responsibilities on your resume. Talk about your accomplishments, and if you can, quantify them. For example, don't just say, "Wrote programs in [name of language]." Instead, say "Developed system that reduced order entry processing time by x%."

#8: Arriving late for an interview without letting someone know

If you're running way behind, call or text ahead to let the interviewer know you'll be late. Sure, it's better to be on time. But if you can't be, at least the people you're meeting with can continue with other work while waiting for you. The worst alternative of all is to simply show up late. It smacks of rudeness and unprofessionalism and may hurt your chances.

#9: Bad-mouthing a former employer

Much as you might be tempted, and even if the interviewer asks you, avoid bad-mouthing your former company, co-workers, or boss. All you need say is that while you learned a great deal (a true statement, even if your boss and co-workers were horrible), you felt a need to move on and gain more challenge. Bad-mouthing the old company may mark you as a troublemaker by your prospective employer.

#10: Failing to leverage existing contacts

If you're looking for a job, you don't have to do it alone. Think of other people who can help, such as former co-workers, vendors, and especially fellow alumni from high school or college. If you fail to do so, you simply make your own search more difficult and frustrating.

This point illustrates the old saying that "One hand washes the other." Before you need to leverage your existing contacts, think about how you can help others in their own job searches. When you do, you will feel tremendous satisfaction at having done good for someone. And you'll make it more likely that those persons will later help you in the same way.


About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

13 comments
wolvie3421
wolvie3421

also don't forget to have a clean background check before you really neeeed to find a new job :)

greenhouse
greenhouse

I absolutely agree on all points. I have found that in the last few years you rarely get a follow-up thank you note for the interview via email or snail mail. Those who do bother get extra points with me. It is a formality but one that shows respect and a real desire for the job. A bigger pet peeve is the inappropriate email address. These days it is so easy to get a free email account there is no excuse for a non-business like address for job hunting. I think it shows a lack of maturity which is important in the workplace.

cupcake
cupcake

Overall, I think the article was good, but there can be exceptions. I have had the same email address for what seems like FOREVER and everyone I know - personally and professionally - knows that is how to contact me. It is how I am referenced on former jobs, my blog, LinkedIn, etc. So, when I went job hunting this spring after getting laid off from my former company, the message I got was 'change the email'... and yes, the email is cupcake@... I learned, however, that prospective employers were unable to find me when looking online and from personal references. I even had one interviewer tell me that the name 'stuck' in his head and that made him think of me before others. After a couple of offers - including the example above - I accepted one and am - for the most part - very happy. So, there is an exception to the rules... and its good to keep this in mind.

iShango
iShango

This is a typically American etiquette list. In the SthWest Pacific the thank you note would be binned or put on the notice board as a joke... The cringe factor of that suggestion is akin to fingernails on a blackboard (or polystyrene on a whiteboard.) The rest of the list is right on target with a special mention to #4 and the importance of spelling names and #10 Leveraging Contacts. Statistics in Godzone (NZ) suggest that as many as 75% of job placements are via someone known to the successful candidate.

Joe-Swanson
Joe-Swanson

If the job you are interviewing for doesn't have three letters and start with 'C' you probably don't want to wear a suit. There may be different norms for IT workers in different industries but generally men wear Dockers and polo shirts to work. Spruce it up for the interview of course, but you probably don't want to look like you just got laid off by Lehman Bros.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Lol thanks for the comment. Yes, I've heard that it's done at various places: that when a thank you note is received, the employer posts it and people make fun of it. But let's think more: at the time, the candidate doesn't know that the company will react that way, right? So, what does the candidate have to lose? Yes, you say, the candidate damages his chances of getting hired. My response, then and now, is that any company that would react this way is a company I wouldn't want to work for anyway. lol Thanks.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

With all due respect, based on your comments you would be unemployable in Canada or the United Kingdom. I have NEVER heard of a more ridiculous way of sucking up to a company than sending a thank you note. We had this same issue come up in another very similar discussion and that is the first I've heard of it. I have worked in the USA, have worked in Canada, Have worked in the UK and have been a business development manager for a major recruiting company, TR was the first time I have even heard of such a thing. I quickly asked around to see if I had been missing something and found that I hadn't, nobody else had ever heard of such a thing either and most answered the question while laughing with disbelief. Even after telling them I was serious, they said 'well perhaps ONE or TWO companies may get off on something like that but I haven't even seen one'. Why would I want to work for a company that took favour toward a candidate who sent a thank you note for interviewing someone? Here's the reality. The company is in NEED to fill a position in order to function as it needs to. I have taken MY time and effort to learn and develop that needed skill myself. I will offer that skill to you at a cost of X dollars for every two weeks that I provide your company with that needed skillset. Now, why the HELL should I be thanking you for considering me as the right person to help your company achieve its goals? I should be waiting by my mailbox for the thank you note your company should send me for taking MY time to answer your questions as I offer to help your company. You are welcome. Thanking someone for needing for my help? I don't think so. When are employees going to start looking at their skills for what they really are and when will they get through to these ignorant employers who think they are doing us some sort of fantastic favour by hiring us? Want me to thank you for your time, while I offered to help YOU because I have what you need? Screw you I'll go help your competitor instead. Employees need to start recognizing and selling their value and not bending over and begging for a paycheck.

Rob Kuhn
Rob Kuhn

In 2004 I found myself looking for a new job having been part of a mass layoff. I had been with my former employer for nearly 15 years. During that time I had been approached numerous times from headhunters and other companies; I even seriously considered one but I had a good thing with my current employer and I wasn't actively looking anyway (but I did passively look - it doesn't hurt to keep your options open...). So... when I was looking for a new job, I went back to my old-school ways. Sending in hard copies of my resume and cover letter, often times FAXing it before I put it in the mail. Sending copies via e-mail to me felt like it would be too easy for it to get deleted or passed over; yet I still sent it anyway. When I did land the interviews, I would immediately send a thank you note to each of the people I met (be sure to ask for their card or at least note their name). I'd do this the minute I got home because the experience was still fresh in my mind. I would also stick to their last name (i.e. Dear Ms. Smith or Dear Mr. Jones) instead of addressing them by just their first name. In the follow up letters/notes, I would thank them for their time, what I found interesting about our talk and just about anything that dealt with the time I spent with that person. And I hand wrote these letters. This, I believe, shows that I took the time and effort to take pen to hand and write to them. It is also important that each letter should be different. Chances are if they liked you they will get together to talk about the interview and they may even compare thank you letters. I've been told that it is OK to send a thank you letter via e-mail. For me that still seems impersonal and can easily be deleted or caught up in a spam filter of some sort. A hand written letter can easily be thrown away as well but chances are very good that they at least took the time to open it. It's also important to send a thank you letter even if afterward you decided that the position was not what you were hoping for (remember, you're trying to learn as much about the job and the company as they are trying to learn more about you and your experience - it's a two way interview). This shows a level of professionalism and it provides them with how to proceed; chances are they gave you some sort of ranking and if you sent them a letter indicating that you are passing on the position then it may make their decision easier if they had other candidates. Or if they really liked you they may try to restructure the position to where it would be attractive to you - you just never know. Regardless, I'm from the old school of doing things and I got a lot of positive comments from the handwritten thank you letters I wrote. In fact I was told by my current employer (of which I've been here for nearly 3 years now) that I am the only one who actually sent in a handwritten thank you letter and it was one of the deciding factors in them offering me the position - they were pretty much all in agreement that they were going to make the offer; the thank you letters I sent to them pretty much sealed the deal. All that said... whether you send a handwritten or en e-mail, I feel it is very important to send the thank you letter. It also gives you the opportunity to sell yourself to them - how many interviews did you wish you had said something? And it is possible to write it in a way where it doesn't sound like you're begging either. The thank you letter should also be short and concise and it should also list why you think they should consider you for the position. You should also not make promises of any sort - I have seen this in thank you letters sent to me.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That last was particularly well-founded and well-aimed.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

...it's good enough for me www.georgestrait.com Last February, he came to Philadelphia to put on a concert. Of course, the tickets weren't free--I had to pay for them. I paid money, he put on a concert--even exchange, right? Just like employer pays salary, employee does work. Guess what? As soon as "Deep in the Heart of Texas" (the always-first number) finished, and he got on the stage, one of the first things he said was, "Thank you for coming tonight." Then, during the instrumental portion of "The Cowboy Rides Away" (the last song), he did the (lol) unforgivable and unthinkable: He said thank you again!!! Do you think anyone in that audience went home laughing to each other at at him, saying "Boy what a jerk that George Strait is"? I didn't, and I don't think anyone else did either. I've never met Mr. Strait in person, but I've heard that when he does "meet and greet" sessions after a performance, the first thing he does is thank the person for coming. Do you think, as a result of saying "thank you," Mr. Strait has trouble filling concert halls? When, in your view, is it appropriate to thank people? Thanks.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

lol thanks. Let's make sure we keep two issues separate: the PRINCIPLE of a thank you letter, and the possible ABUSES of such a letter. I think I see your point in one respect: If I, as an interviewer, get a letter that says "thank you Mr. Sun, you are the greatest person, a pillar of your community, and your company is the greatest etc. etc." I would think "what an insincere person." (right?) However, what about this case: I suspect you've interviewed people in the past, as I have. Think about what you may have had to do: - schedule the visit - alert the receptionist - book a conference room - coordinate schedules of the [other] interviewers - (most importantly) take time out of your day when you could have been doing "real work" Given all of this "grunt work," how could I possibly laugh at someone who sent me a note that said, "thanks for arranging the meeting and for taking the time to meet with me."? Let me ask you: is there ANY kind of "thank you" that would not receive ridicule, in your eyes? Or would ANY kind of thank you, even for the time the interviewer spent setting things up, still be ridiculed? Thanks.

cupcake
cupcake

I have never been comfortable writing or sending either, and the one time (a few years back) I wanted to write one, I called the headhunter the day after the interview for the guy's correct spelling of his last name and they said, 'don't bother... they want you to start on Monday'. Sometimes, if the interview isn't enough to move them, the follow up probably won't either.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

You are sending a follow up letter, not a thank you note. I always follow up an interview with a letter, but I wait a few days first and use it to regenrate interest in me as a candidate. "It was a pleasure speaking with you on ....." I then turn it into an urgency letter in order to push action from them, either way hired or not, I am NOT going ot wait three weeks for you to decide what will work for you. Such a long process is an indicator of how long it takes for teh company to move in something, I don't work for companies with too much beaurocratic BS that they can't simply get the job done or make changes as needed. A thank you letter, in fact in the original post that this came up it was a Thank You CARD that was used, is just a needy way of begging for work. But I'll send a follow up email a few days rater, "Thanks for your time on Monday, I hope I managed to answer any questions or concerns you may have had, should you require further information or have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact mem anytime." I have even gone as far as telling them " I am considering several opportunities and will be making a decision on .....2008. I would like to consider all available ofers at that time, if you wish to offer me an opportunity with your company, I will accept such proposals until.....date (a week or two before the date you stated you will be accepting a position). I have actually had a potential employer send me an offer stating "Sorry for the delayed reply and employment offer, I hope that yuo will still have time to consider a position with our company." Its all a game, just be sure that YOU are the one with the ball. You'd be amazed at how many companies are desperate for teh right person though they play cool guy and pretend the ball is in their court. EI never thank people for simply interviewing me, though I do appreciate people's time. Just say thanks in a respectful way and let them know you'll be gone if they don't act auickly.