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3 Pieces of Job Search Advice That Don't Work in Real Life

Some job searching advice feels like it was dreamed up in a lab by people who have never hired or even done much interviewing as a candidate, because it won't work well in real life. Here are three pieces of popular advice about job searching that don't typically play out the way they're intended.

[See: 10 Things Your Mom Didn't Teach You About Job Searching.]

1. Bad advice: When your interviewer asks why you left your last job and you don't want to give the real reason, just say "it wasn't the right fit."

Why it doesn't work: Very few interviewers are going leave that answer there. Any savvy interviewer, upon hearing this answer, is going to ask you in what ways the job wasn't the right fit for you and will ask for specifics. This isn't intended as a "gotcha." It's because "not the right fit" could cover anything from "I hated the open-office floor plan" to "I couldn't get along with my co-workers" to "I wasn't good at the work." And the specifics matter. If it wasn't the right culture for you, hiring managers want to know why so they can make sure they don't hire you into a job that will be a similarly bad fit for you. If you couldn't get along with your manager or co-workers, they want to know more about that, so they can make sure they don't put you in a similar scenario if they hire you, and so forth.

What to do instead: Prepare a more specific answer. It doesn't need to be lengthy -- just a couple of sentences is fine -- but it needs to give real information about why you left. For example: "My department was going through some upheaval, with three directors in 18 months and some funding cuts. There were real questions about the future of that program, and I'm looking for something with more stability."

[See: 8 Ways Millennials Can Build Leadership Skills.]

2. Bad advice: When your interviewer asks about your salary expectations, avoid the question by saying that you want to learn more about the job responsibilities first.

Why it doesn't work: This comes across as a transparent and rather disingenuous attempt to avoid answering the question. You should already understand the gist of the job responsibilities, which were presumably sketched out in the posting for the position. You probably have a range in mind that you're looking for, and you're not likely to cut that range in half if it turns out that you'll be, say, managing three people rather than six.

What to do instead: You can try to turn the question around and ask, "What range did you have in mind for the position?" Some interviewers will tell you and some won't. If your interviewer continues to press for a number, one option is to say, "I'm currently earning X, with an excellent benefits package, and like anyone, I'm looking to increase that if I move to a new position." Or, you can just answer the question! Do some research, know what comparable positions in your area pay and come up with a range based on that.

[See: 10 Things They Don't Tell You About Your First Job.]

3. Bad advice: Forget about explaining your qualifications. Instead, tell the hiring manager how you'll solve her problems.

Why it doesn't work: This advice can work in some limited situations and for some jobs, but it's far from being universally applicable. In many contexts, it's just too difficult to guess at what the hiring manager's problems are, and so this tactic ends up coming across as presumptuous and uninformed. In fact, more often than not, candidates using this approach sound cringingly off base both in the problems they propose solving and the ways they suggest they can solve them. As a result, the tactic ends up sounding like a bad sales pitch, and makes you a weaker candidate rather than a stronger one.

What to do instead: It's true that you should frame your candidacy in terms of what you can do for the employer, but you don't need to get overly creative. Stay focused on explaining how you'd excel at the work laid out in the job posting, and point to evidence in your past track record to support it. That's really what most hiring managers are looking for.



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