There are some truly great career sites out there and a lot to be learned from browsing them…and I humbly hope you include this site in at least some of your browsing. BUT…there is also a lot of advice out there telling you how to sell yourself in an interview or job search that is either just plain bad advice or assumes you have more understanding of the interview process than you do, and therefore maybe doesn’t provide the exceptions and caveats you need to apply even useful advice to your best advantage.
Now I’m not saying career experts do this on purpose. But there are different reasons people blog and different perspectives they blog from – and one size does not fit all. Plus, quite candidly, anyone can declare themselves a career expert, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting good advice. Yes…even question what you read here and use only what feels right for you. While I certainly try my best to give you solid advice and take in all possibilities I can think of, no one is perfect. And no one has all the answers.
So that said, my best advice about job search advice is to read as much advice as you can stand – this way you do get to see different perspectives and find some sites you feel especially good about – but then (even for the very best sites) find a way to make it work for you and your own unique needs.
Job Search & Interview Advice to Watch Out For
- Beware of always and never or any such absolutes that don’t take into account exceptions. (This is a good idea in general when deciding about advice or opinions.) If someone says always or never or gives you exact words to use, take that as a clue to put your own critical thinking into full gear. Often these declarative articles are written to stir up controversy and hopefully get the writer extra traffic. Although of course, there are exceptions to that too, like “Never tell your interviewer she’s an idiot” or “Always do your best.” Those are indeed absolutes but also probably good ideas.
- Articles that say cover letters are dead. Sometimes online articles are more about disagreements between career “experts” (and of course generating site traffic) than anything you necessarily need to put into action. Cover letters are a good way to make a strong, targeted case for yourself – and they can also be very useful to get your resume more than a few quick seconds of viewing time. And even if they aren’t the reason you get selected for the initial interview, they can have a life beyond screening since people along the way during the interview process get to see them too. I’d rather take the time to include a cover letter just in case it makes the difference. Yes…I know often recruiters say leave the cover letter out completely and just send them your resume, and I am not going to tell you to ignore that advice since I’m not a recruiter. But here’s my own take…unless specifically mentioned as a don’t, a good cover letter can show that you can sell yourself well, so maybe you’ll attract a recruiter you might not otherwise have found – even if you lose the ones who function by absolutes. And there are reasons that go beyond the screening process, including giving you practice at selling your skills for the job, something you’ll need to do anyway.
- Articles that say resumes are dead. Yup. They’re out there too – under the guise of newfangled state-of-the-art thinking. Don’t be fooled. This is pure hype aimed at getting you to read the article. Oh sure there are other ways – most notably networking – that can get you into an interview without a resume (and I strongly recommend becoming very comfortable with every aspect of networking since it is your best ally); but again down the line there will most likely be someone – even a protective HR department – who will want to see a resume. And most networking contacts like to see one too. Helps them know who you are and whether they might be sticking their neck out too far in helping you, should you not be able to handle the job. Making your resume little more than a second thought (or no thought at all) because you can network your way into a job is just plain lazy – and it may come back to bite you if somewhere down the road it does become an issue. “Who the heck hired this bozo???”
- Articles that make creating a highly marketable brand THE answer to all your job search problems. Brands just can’t do it all – no matter how good they are. It’s certainly good to know who you are and make sure your resume and cover letter market you well…and branding can help you do that. But let’s not get carried away. Brand schmand…you still have to have the goods and know how to deliver them! And you better have real life stories and examples that prove it. Also, when you create your brand, in my humble opinion the best brand is Brand YOU. If the product you’re trying to sell (you) isn’t really you, but instead some manufactured version of you that you think folks who make the hiring decisions want to see…then you will have a harder time selling it or you. Also, even if that spiffy new brand does get you the job, you may have to keep living up to whatever you created and wind up building a career based on someone who you aren’t! The perfect recipe for misery. How do I know? When I got my finance degree, I built this picture of a finance person that for sure got me jobs – “I love analyzing tiny numbers for hours on end and thrive in an environment of competitiveness, gray suits, and 12-14 hour days” – but that wasn’t really me. Lord knows. And years down the road it came back to bite me. True…I had many great and transferable experiences along the way, but I’ve come to believe that BRAND YOU is the only brand worth creating even if initially you wind up in a job that pays less. [Since “only” is an absolute, feel free of course to question even this advice.]
- Handy-dandy templates for cover letters or resumes or thank you letters. Guaranteed can’t-fail templates are great for increasing traffic to a website, but NOT a great way for you to stand out from the masses. First, over-reliance on these result in one-dimensional products. But also, after a while, a screener’s eyes can glaze over seeing the same format again and again and yet again (especially if you’re getting your template from a major site.) Now don’t get me wrong…there are terrific samples out there and I highly suggest you look at them first if you aren’t already familiar with the way things should look, but I think it’s best to use samples to give you ideas. If you truly want to stand out…make it your own!
- Sites that say you absolutely need a job objective – while other sites tell you job objectives are absolutely passé. Remember what I said about words like absolutely? To be honest, I’m not a fan of job objectives, especially if you already have ample experience. One top-level finance person I know with specialized expertise wound up with a job objective (recommended by an “expert”) that was so generalized he got nowhere and even undermined the strength of his resume. It looks kind of lame to see Job Objective at a certain level. For this level of experience, I prefer a section on top that lists special skills or qualifications or some such thing – much more of a grabber than job objective anyway. Or you can use your desired title if you want a summary heading of some sort. For example, Beth Brown (a senior member on Susan Ireland’s resume team) suggests using ” ‘Chief Operations Officer’ right at the top, rather than ‘Objective: Seeking a position as Chief Operations Officer.’ ” Much more powerful I think. BUT…for folks just starting out or maybe changing careers, a job objective could be a fine choice. I guess. Just make it one that pops and not some nebulous objective like “Looking for a good job somewhere challenging”, ok?
- Telling you to hyper-load your resume with lots of key words & key phrases to maximize SEO possibilities rather than making sure your keywords are targeted to your specific needs and make sense for you. Hard to make your resume tell a story when it keeps popping out obviously placed keywords! One so-called expert claiming SEO as a specialty told someone I know to weight her resume with certain keywords that did indeed get her more interviews…but none of them were interviews for the kind of job she really wanted. Getting more interviews isn’t the most effective goal…but getting more of the right ones is. So definitely consider keywords for your resume and choose them carefully. But also make sure you have a strong resume that clearly tells a story and points right to the job you’re applying for by emphasizing skills and experience that feed right into the new job requirements.
- Giving you precise instructions for how you should interview and what you should say. There are career sites out there that give exact answers that sound so wooden, so scripted they make me cringe. Great way not to let the real you shine! Once again…use samples / examples as you would templates – to guide and spark your own ideas. But when it comes to the actual interview, speak as if you are in a conversation (which you are) and not a fourth grade recital repeating sample answers you found somewhere. Not only does it have the potential to make you sound lame, but I can just imagine some interviewer getting 3 out of four candidates all with almost the exact same answer. Guess who stands out?
Summary thoughts on job search & interview advice samples
So…to break my own rule…ALWAYS come up with your own words and spin on career site advice. Check around to see what else is out there that may feel right to you. And above all, absolutes should positively always absolutely be a red flag when evaluating job search advice.
Feel free to add your own pet peeves about job search advice that can make a job seeker’s head spin! (And yes…I don’t doubt numbered lists like this one might be a pet peeve.)
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About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, Career Nook and on Google+.