5 Ways to Ruin Your Job Search

It’s difficult enough to remain actively engaged in a job search without worrying about self-sabotage. Fortunately for you, there are some strategies you can employ to make sure you don’t end up pursuing bad ideas that you think are really great at the time.

The ‘Spray and Pray’ Method

According to Melissa Cooley, founder of The Job Quest, the biggest mistake that job-seekers often make is using the “spray and pray” method: firing out résumés as quickly as possible at anything that seems even remotely related to their industry and skills.

“This hurts candidates in a multiple ways,” she said. “The same résumé is used for each position. Even within the same niche in the same industry, there are going to be nuances that differentiate one job opening from another. By doing this, they aren’t bothering to assess for a good fit.”

The Linear Quest

The converse of “spray and pray” is a linear search, which is just as fruitless. According to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, approaching a job search as a one-option-at-a-time process is unproductive. “It doesn’t build a dynamic energy into the process,” he noted, “and by having many more irons in the fire, you diversify the risk and disappointment that is inevitable when any single opportunity disappears.”

Creative Stalking

Overly aggressive contact with everyone who has anything to do with a position you think may be perfect is a recipe for disaster. Don’t litter peoples’ inboxes and voicemails with notes and résumés, and don’t try to be cute—at best you’ll become spam, at worst you may get the attention of law enforcement.

Speaker, author, and consultant Barry Maher can personally attest to what he described as “the worst job hunting strategy mistake I’ve ever encountered.”

In Maher’s telling, a candidate went to a business’s website and found the names and business contacts for everyone he assumed would be making the
hiring decision. Using letters cut from the newspaper, he sent his targeted list a series of single-word notes that, once put together, resembled ransom threats. He started with his first name “John,” following it up with “Smith.” Subsequent notes transformed the message into “John Smith Is,” then “John Smith Is Going,” followed by “John Smith Is going to,” and, “John Smith Is Going to Blow.”

“Apparently,” Maher said, “he thought he was clever enough to avoid creating a problem message. But the next note, ‘John Smith Is Going to Blow You Away!’ was when the police showed up at his door. He never got the chance to send out the next letter with his résumé, which explained just how his expertise was going to ‘blow everyone away.’”

Delete, Delete, Delete

As you well know by this point, the Internet contains potentially damaging information and images. A candidate’s carefully built persona can evaporate in a heartbeat with a single indiscretion. Even if you’ve restricted your personal sites, some content may still be accessible. You never know who’s taken a screen shot of that particularly inflammatory joke, or shared an untoward photo.

How can you prevent an employer’s online search query from turning disastrous? Make it a point to keep your public social-networking presence as PG (or PG-13) as possible, and lock down or eliminate anything you think might burn you later on. For those of you who’ve been involved in any public lawsuit or other recklessness, whether it was major or minor, managing search engines should be a top priority—and if your potential employer does dig up the info, honesty on your part is critical.

Pretty Little Lies of Omission

“One of my clients made it to final rounds with a large financial institution and then received an offer,” Cohen said. “She never told her interviewers that she was no longer employed and had actually left her former employer many months before. Her résumé and LinkedIn profile implied that she was still there. When she completed the mandatory application, she disclosed the actual date of separation.”

An associate in the Human Resources department caught the inconsistency and brought it to the attention of the hiring manager. The offer was pulled. “It was explained that she could not be trusted,” Cohen added. “If she misrepresented a matter as simple as this, and at the very beginning of a relationship, she could not be trusted to be truthful on matters of greater importance.”

Bonus: Friendly May Come Off as Creepy

A post-interview note is necessary, but don’t try too hard. Tracy Vistine, lead recruiter for Messina Group, had a candidate follow up by sending chocolates to the office as a thank-you. “Some people thought it showed interest,” she said, “but the rest of us saw it as being creepy.” Don’t be creepy.

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