The world abounds in bad advice for job-seekers. Here are some spectacularly unsound directives.
Nearly every day, someone sends me a bit of astounding job-search advice from a blog or a newsletter. Some of this advice seems to come directly from the planet X-19, and some of it seems to have been made up on the spot. Here are 10 of my favorite pieces of atrocious job-search advice, for you to read and ignore at all costs:
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1. Don't Wrap It Up
The Summary or Objective at the top of your résumé is the wrap-up; It tells the reader, "This person knows who s/he is, what s/he's done, and why it matters." Your Summary shows off your writing skills, shows that you know what's salient in your background, and puts a point on the arrow of your résumé. Don't skip it, no matter who tells you it's not necessary or important.
2. Tell Us Everything
Another piece of horrendous job search advice tells job-seekers to share as much information as possible. A post-millennium résumé uses up two pages, maximum, when it's printed. (Academic CVs are another story.) Editing is a business skill, after all -- just tell us what's most noteworthy in your long list of impressive feats.
3. Use Corporatespeak
Any résumé that trumpets "cross-functional facilitation of multi-level teams" is headed straight for the shredder. The worst job-search advice tells us to write our résumés using ponderous corporate boilerplate that sinks a smart person's résumé like a stone. Please ignore that advice, and write your résumé the way you speak.
4. Don't Ever Postpone a Phone Screen
A very bad bit of job-search advice says "Whatever you do, don't ever miss a phone screen! Even if you're in the shower or on your way to be the best man at your brother's wedding, make time for that phone interview!" This is good advice if your job-search philosophy emphasizes groveling. I don't recommend this approach. Let the would-be phone-screener know that you're tied up at the moment but would be happy to speak at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, or some other convenient time. Lock in the time during that first call, but don't contort your life to fit the screener's schedule.
5. Don't Bring Up Money
Do bring up money by the second interview, and let the employers know what your salary requirements are before they start getting ideas that perhaps you're a trust-fund baby and could bring your formidable skills over to XYZ Corp. for a cool $45,000. Set them straight, at the first opportunity.
6. Send Your Resume Via an Online Job Ad or the Company Web Site, Only
Successful job-seekers use friends, LinkedIn contacts, and anybody else in their network to locate and reach out to contacts inside a target employer. Playing by the rules often gets your résumé pitched into the abyss at the far end of the e-mail address email@example.com. If you've got a way into the decision-maker's office, use it. Ignore advice that instructs you to send one résumé via the company Web site and wait (and wait, and wait) to hear from them.
7. Never Send a Paper Resume
I've been recommending sending snail-mail letters to corporate job-search target contacts for three or four years now, and people tell me it's working. The response rate is higher, and the approach is friendlier. A surface-mail letter can often get you an interview in a case where an e-mail would get ignored or spam-filtered. One friend of mine sent her surface-mail résumé and cover letter to a major company's COO in New York, and got a call a week later from a general manager wanting to interview her in Phoenix, where she lives. She showed up at the interview to see her paper letter -- yes, her actual, signed letter, on bond paper -- and résumé sitting on his desk in Phoenix (probably conveyed via an old-fashioned Inter-Office envelope). An e-mail might have ended up in the COO's spam folder.
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8. Wait for Them to Call You
You can't wait for companies to call you back. You've got to call and follow up on the résumés you've sent. If an ad says "no calls," use your LinkedIn connections to put you in touch with someone who can put in a word with the hiring manager. Don't sit and wait for the call to come. Your résumé is in a stack with 150 others, and if you don't push it up the pipeline, no one will.
9. Give Them Everything
Give them your résumé, your cover letter, and your time in a phone-screen or face-to-face interview. But don't give anyone your list of references until it's clear that mutual interest to move forward exists (usually after two interviews), and don't fill out endless tests and questionnaires in the hope of perhaps getting an audience with the Emperor. Let the employers know that you'd be happy to talk (ideally on the phone at first) to see whether your interests and theirs intersect. If there's a good match, you'll feel better about sharing more time and energy on whatever tests and exercises they've constructed to weed out unsuitable candidates. Maybe.
10. Post Your Resume on Every Job Board
This is the best way in the world to get overexposed and undervalued in the job market. (Exception: If you're looking for contract or journeyman IT work, it's a great idea to post your credentials all over.) People will find your LinkedIn profile if they're looking and if you've taken the time to fill it out with pithy details of your background. If you're not employed, include a headline like "Online Marketer ISO Next Challenge" or "Controller Seeking Company Seeking Controller." Your résumé posted on a job board is a spam-and-scam magnet and a mark that your network isn't as robust as it might be. These aren't the signs you want to put out there. Use your network (vs. the world at large) to help you spread the job-search word.
What's the worst job-seeking advice you've ever gotten?
Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.