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Is Your Job-Search Advice Wildly Outdated?

Alison Green

If you ever advise friends or family members on their job search, are you sure that your advice is up to date? Job searching has changed significantly in the last 10 years, and a lot of traditional advice no longer matches up with how successful job searches work today. In fact, most job seekers have story upon aggravating story about the bad advice they have received from well-meaning friends and family who just wanted to help -- but instead steered job seekers terribly wrong.

Here's a quick checklist of some of the most commonly repeated pieces of bad advice out there. Take a look, and see if you spot any pointers that you need to remove from your repertoire before giving advice again -- or whether you need to revise your strategies for your own job search.

1. "Employers will be impressed if you take the initiative to show up in person instead of just applying online." Also known as "go out there, and pound the pavement," this piece of advice has been around for a long time -- and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. In most fields, showing up to apply in person will mark you as unprofessional and out of touch. Most employers provide specific instructions about how they accept applications, and it's nearly always limited to electronic submissions, often through a specific online application system they've set up. (Retail and food service continue to be exceptions to this; in-person applications are more common in those fields.)

2. "Call to follow up on your application, or you won't look interested in the job." Legions of job seekers have been taught that calling to follow up on applications is an essential part of the process. Maybe this worked at some point, but these days employers frown on follow-up calls. Persistent following up mainly shows that you don't understand how the hiring process works and don't respect the hiring manager's time. Similarly ...

3. "Say in your cover letter that you'll call in a week to schedule an interview." A whole generation of college graduates has been instructed by campus career centers to include this in their cover letters. Those career centers should talk more frequently with actual employers, because in reality it comes across as pushy and overbearing. Job seekers don't get to decide to schedule an interview; once they've submitted an application, the ball is in the employer's court to decide which of the strongest candidates they'd like to speak with.

4. "Go ahead and inflate your current salary. Everyone does it, and employers don't really check." Everyone does not do it, and employers do check. And when they do, the lie can torpedo a job offer that had been a sure thing, because lying in your application is a very big deal.

5. "The best jobs aren't advertised, so you need to network your way into them." Networking can be hugely helpful, but plenty of people get jobs by applying to publicly posted job ads. But the real reason this advice is problematic is because it leads people to do things like send their résumé to their neighbor's sister's friend and ask this total stranger to recommend them for a job at her company. (Unsurprisingly, the neighbor's sister's friend is usually disconcerted by being asked to vouch for a stranger, while the job seeker thinks he's just doing what he's supposed to do.)

6. "You need to find a way to stand out from the pack. Send the hiring manager chocolate, turn your résumé into an infographic, send a hard copy by overnight mail or otherwise deviate from the usual job application process." It's understandable that in a tough job market, people start wondering how they can stand out from the competition, but gimmicks like these make candidates stand out in a bad way. The boring reality is that the way job seekers stand out is by being highly qualified for the job, writing a great cover letter, having a résumé that shows evidence that they'd excel at the duties of the job and being warm, responsive and enthusiastic. Trying to circumvent those basics usually just comes across as naive, hokey or overly aggressive.

So, how many of these pieces of bad advice are you guilty of giving to friends or family in the past -- or of following yourself?

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.



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