How to torpedo your job search


  • Have you ever heard someone complain that jobs just aren’t out there?


And write cover letters that are: addressed to the wrong company, for the wrong job, contain foul language, off-putting, off-color humor and badly attempt to rhyme?

Or submit resumes stuffed full of buzzwords, slang, and assertions that they have experience in particular skill sets earned from having been around people performing that job?

Or give an interested recruiter/hiring manager a laundry list of reasons why they can’t take phone calls at this time or that date?


  • Have you ever heard someone state unequivocally that they’d never work for less than $XX,XXX?


And so refuse to apply for anything they think would pay less, even without experience in their field?
Or proceed to joust with a potential employer belligerently over the offered salary, the conditions of employment and the job description itself after agreeing that those terms were all understood and amenable in the first phone interview as the basic attributes of the job to which they were applying?

  • Have you ever heard someone refuse to take an interview after complaining about the job market?


Unless it was specifically under a set of their own conditions and not consider accommodating any other variety of possible conditions offered that would allow the potential employer to schedule all the interviewers needed?

Or accept and not show up at all without cancelling?


  • Have you ever heard someone ask for two days to consider a job offer?


But then disappear for over a week ignoring all emails requesting an update?

I’ve been on the job hunt many times. During the boom economy, it wasn’t terrible, and during the recession, it kind of was. I’ve crafted and recrafted my cover letters and resumes a thousand times and submitted them into the endless maws of applications. I’ve had uncomfortable job interviews where it was clear that we weren’t a good fit for each other and at least one where I was eager for the end. I’ve had great interviews where it felt like we were a great fit and yet the result wasn’t what I had expected.

I’ve had the dubious learning experience of watching really bad managers hire for largely HR-contradicted (read: illegal) reasons and manage poorly.

In these past few years, I’ve been seated on the other side of the table making these hiring decisions myself. I walked into it seeing an incredible responsibility to myself as a future manager of these hires and to the applicants to conduct a fair and robust process.

It was sobering.

I’m still convinced that there are a lot of good people looking for work, just as I think there are good employers out there.

But on this side of the curtain, I didn’t believe some of the behaviors and decision making I was seeing that made me ask: why am I working harder to try to give you a job than you are to get it?

There’s a lot of great standard advice out there for jobseekers to, as much as possible, demystify a largely hit or miss matchmaking operation and a lot of it is good for every applicant to use and refine from there. Not everyone is born star level status in their field so start with a solid foundation.

: Exercise good judgment. If not your own, borrow someone else’s. You know who they are.

: Don’t Lie. Don’t stretch the truth. Don’t overreach with the facts.

: Have someone proofread your work. Twice.

Focus on what matters: the impression you’re making

I actually don’t care about who the cover letter is addressed to: Sir or Madam, To Whom it May Concern. Generics are fine; if you go to the trouble of researching who the hiring manager is, then make sure you have the right person. 99% of applicants address their cover letter to the wrong person. That doesn’t matter.

It’s the person who decides to go the extra mile (of absurdity) that stands out: in a bad way.

From a few years ago: “I would happily fetch your coffee and [your preferred reading material].”  Cute. Funny when you get the person you meant it for, but not actually professional or funny when that quickly conveyed a lack of understanding of the role.

Think about what your words and actions say about your judgment and decision-making abilities to the person in charge. That’s what matters.

Game playing and real content

Another common trend I see is applicants trying to make themselves appear to be hot commodities using tricks and by playing hard to get.

Using buzzwords to answer a question when I’ve asked for a specific example is not an answer; if you realize you lack the experience that I’m asking for then address that directly with real reasons why I should not be worried. Show me you have a brain and that you can solve problems. Because when I work harder than a candidate in the interview, I will move on. This should be very nearly a partnership: I didn’t play games when I dated, I don’t play games when I manage, I will not play games when I hire.

Whatever the shape of the economy, people are not only unemployed but underemployed. I personally believe in offering a fair interviewing process, and so do a lot of HR people and recruiters that I know and work with.  It’d be decent to meet them (us) halfway.

Beginner or moderate level notwithstanding, everyone, applicant and hiring manager alike, deserves respect in what’s already generally a nerve-wracking and (levels vary) stressful situation for the former and time-consuming and high-stakes job for the latter.
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Continue Career Week Reading at A Gai Shan Life
Career Life: Securing the battlements for a promotion
Career Life: Taking the Castle, Part 2

About Revanche

Revanche writes the personal finance blog A Gai Shan Life.