September 14, 2003
By Mary Ellen Slayer
"Happy Families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," wrote Leo Tolstoy. The same could probably be said of unhappy job seekers...
Every step in the process between you and a better job (or in the case of recent grads, any job at all) can seem filled with chances to screw up in new ways. And while a few of you have certainly impressed me with your unique ability to offend potential employers, some mistakes seem to occur more often than others. Here are a few of the most commons ones:
Choose 'hot' jobs
You are more likely to be successful, including financially, if you do work that you enjoy and that suits your temperament. One of the scariest questions I ever got from a reader was from a man who was trying to decide whether to study nursing or engineering, and his main criterion was which one was hotter--that is, which would pay better. What would be more disturbing: driving over a bridge designed by the guy who should have been a nurse or being cared for by a nurse who should have been an engineer?
Being too secretive Your teachers, friends, family and professional peers can't help you find a job if they don't know you're looking. The plethora of jobs advertised on the Internet did not change the one fundamental truth of job hunting: Contacts matter. Other people are a crucial part of your job search. So, what stops people from including people in their social and professional networks in their job searches? Are we afraid to burden them with our request for help? Perhaps it's plain old-fashioned shame, especially if we're jobless. Even though most of us will be unemployed at some point in our lives, being out of work carries quite a stigma in our culture--one that can be extremely detrimental to our careers if it keeps us from asking for help when we need it.
Advertising the quest for a new job to the wrong people. Than wrong person, 9 times out of 10, includes your current boss as well as most of your co-workers. If it's too obvious that you're itching to leave, you will be treated differently--and not in a good way. Looking for a job is no guarantee that you'll find one any time soon, and if you start loudly counting those proverbial chickens, you might find yourself clucking out the door with a pink slip and no nest egg.
Not proofreading resumes and cover letters. This should be a no-brainer, but typos and misspellings on these documents remain a top complaint of hiring managers in industry surveys year after year. Your enthusiasm for working at "Northrup Grumman" is very charming, but it won't make up for mangling the company's name. (It's spelled Northrop.) Your best bet is to have several other people edit your work before submitting it. Spell-check is not enough.
Not taking entry-level jobs seriously. Every job is a "real" job, including temp jobs. We almost all start off working poorly paid, low skilled, not-very-fun jobs. The way you get a better job is by doing the one you have really well, not by whining about how bored you are or how you don't make enough money. Do you really think your boss will give you a raise and a promotion just to shut you up?
Underdressing for an interview. I know a suit feels uncomfortable after four or five years in tank tops, baggy skirts and sandals. But your college uniform is simply not the uniform of the working world. It is especially inappropriate for job interviews. Hiring managers are looking for reasons to cull applicants; don't give them such an easy one to drop you.
Not following up After an interview, send a thank-you note to everyone you spoke with. It doesn't have to be handwritten on fancy stationary; e-mail is often fine. Basically, you just need to thank them for taking the time to meet with you and to say you are still interested in the job. This helps keep communication lines open. It's best to do this within two days. Hiring managers shouldn't have to guess if you are still interested in the job.
Don't worry if you see yourself in this list -- that just makes you a member of one big, mildly dysfunctional but still mostly employable, happy family.