Psst…if you don’t bring seven copies of your resume to the interview, printed on expensive paper, they won’t take you seriously. Oh, and if you don’t follow up with Human Resources once a day, every day after your interview, they’ll forget you exist. …Pass it on!
The job hunt is one of those processes that is oddly regimented (when is the last time you saw a resume that wasn’t templated to within an inch of its life?), but also subject to old wives’ tales and everyone thinking they know best. (Except we do. Trust.) It can be hard to know what advice to rely on, and which to take with a grain of salt. In that spirit, let’s look at some of the most common bits of job hunt conventional wisdom, and see how it stacks up, reality-wise.
Myth: You don’t need a cover letter anymore.
This is a popular one in this age of digital job applications and faceless job engine sites. The phrase “cover letter” itself conveys a bygone era: you would wrap your resume in a paper-life substance covered with words about your intentions, your qualifications, and your eagerness to talk in depth about this opportunity, then place it in another paper cover, whereupon a civil servant would convey your package to a “mailbox.” Quaint, no?
In reality, the cover letter does indeed serve a purpose, even if the entire process is handled online. It helps give context to your resume, and puts a voice to your stats. Your resume may be neutrally reviewed for key words by a robot inside a hamster wheel (that’s how those sites work, right?), but at some point your package will be viewed by a human looking to hire you. It’s good practice to write a cover letter to attach to your resume, regardless of how you send in your package.
Myth: Never quit a job without having another job offer first.
Ideally, sure, you’d have your next job lined up while you’re still working, and have a seamless transition from one to the next. But you know what doesn’t always line up correctly? Life. Sometimes quitting your job is the right option, regardless of what you have coming up next. Not having a job lined up can make your job search more complicated, but this isn’t a black-and-white issue.
Myth: Add HR people to your network for future opportunities.
According to career expert Hannah Morgan, this is not the best use of your time or networking energy. Human Resources professionals are usually focused on filling specific roles at specific times. They may not know about future openings, or even think to mine their own networks for openings that have already come up. You’re better off networking with people in your target departments at specific companies.
Myth: Enthusiasm and passion outweigh experience for reach positions.
I wish this one were true! Unfortunately, the reality is that overcoming a lack of experience is a major challenge for people looking to level up, or people trying to change careers. While it’s not an impossible challenge, especially if you’re committed, there’s no easy way around a lack of experience. Ideally, you’d be eager and passionate while actively working to get more experience. But while passion alone may get you spunkiness bonus points, it may not translate into a job offer. If you’re trying to show your dedication to the job, even when you don’t have the most experience, you can help yourself by tailoring your resume to emphasize skills over experience, and use the interview as a platform to talk about other ways you’re qualified for the position.
Myth: You can’t change career paths after you choose one.
Ever heard of famed newspaper editor Walt Disney? Or how about legendary bureaucrat Julia Child? No career decision is a permanent one, if you don’t want it to be. Sometimes we just outgrow old choices—and career decisions aren’t immune from that. Or maybe your career path isn’t what you thought it would be when you started. Or maybe you just feel ready for a change. Whatever the reason, you can always prepare to start over in a new field. There are challenges in making the switch—experience? Job opportunities? Skills?—but if you’re invested in this change and make plans to get the experience and skills you need (or are willing to start from the bottom), there’s nothing stopping you.
Myth: All you need is a good resume.
A good resume is the centerpiece of your job application package, that part is true. But it’s not the only thing, and you can’t count on it to get you from first look to job offer. You need to build the rest of your package around it. Even great resume might not be able to overcome a “meh” interview—or worse, and actively bad one.
It’s important to be able to put your resume details (skills, experience, career highlights) in context, and to be able to talk about them coherently and confidently. You want your voice as an applicant to come through, and that comes via the interview, not just the bullet points on paper (or screen). Once you send off your resume, that’s your starting point for interview prep. Practice your handshake, come up with specific anecdotes that demonstrate your skills, and don’t forget to bring questions to ask.
Myth: Hiring managers will be able to connect the dots on my qualifications for this job.
Don’t leave anything to chance! If you want the company to know you’d be a good fit because of your communication and leadership skills, tell them! Don’t count on an HR rep or an interviewer to assume that based on your education, or past jobs, that you’d be a good fit for the position. Use the cover letter and the interview to your best advantage to make connections to the job description, and make sure you hit the points you want to hit.
Myth: I’m clearly qualified, so the automated application system will push me to the top.
Remember what I just said about not taking things for granted? This goes double for computerized application processes. When you work on your resume for this application, make sure you’re using as many keywords from the job description as you can, as well as strategizing how to make your resume pop, even in robot eyes. Knowing how these automated engines process and spit out the data in your resume is an extremely helpful tool in actively trying to game the application system.
Myth: You should stay in constant contact with the hiring department so they know how engaged you are.
Follow-up is great. A thank-you note is imperative. But after that, regularly checking in to see how the post-interview process is moving along is not a great strategy. For one thing, they may be seeing other candidates, or doing an internal review process. Hiring can have a lot of moving parts, and if someone is out on vacation for a few days or there are a number of qualified candidates, you may not get the instant job offer that you might hope to get.
After you submit a resume, it’s best to wait until you hear from the company…reaching out at that stage won’t necessarily help get your resume seen or considered. After you have an interview, send your thank you on the same day, and then give them at least a week. At the one week mark, it’s okay to start checking in occasionally (but only occasionally). And there are other, less invasive ways to follow up after the interview, if you’re feeling especially anxious and don’t want to annoy the hiring manager or long-suffering HR rep.
Myth: Your best job opportunities are found online.
The interweb is one of the best, most inclusive tools you have in your job search arsenal. You can find companies and openings that you might never have thought to search for, and can have your resume in someone’s hands in the time it takes to send an email. But don’t count out offline methods, either.
There’s something to be said for good, old-fashioned networking: most jobs are still filled by either internal candidates or by applicants directly referred by employees. (There’s a reason so many companies offer referral bonuses for employees who bring in new hires. And who doesn’t like the idea of earning cash for their friends?) So while job engines can broaden your job search, don’t rely on them exclusively to get that job offer in your hands.
There’s so much career advice out there, and it can be hard to tell what’s true, what used to be true, and what just isn’t true. Taking the time to think through (and do some research) about which of our most cherished job search truisms and “facts” will make you a leaner, meaner candidate armed with the best information to make decisions for your own career and job hunt.
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