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When you’re looking for a job, finding ways to stand out and make a great impression can be everything. But, sometimes, the very “rules” that are supposed to help you do that can hold you back.
Career and leadership coach Kathy Caprino, author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, sees such “bad” information come from her clients regularly. “I don’t know where they’ve gotten it,” she says. “But we have to be braver, and we have to be more powerful and more confident.” Caprino says that when we’re braver about our job search efforts, we feel more comfortable ignoring conventional wisdom that doesn’t work and focusing on carving our own path—which probably means getting to our destination faster.
To help you be more effective in the hunt for your next job, ignore this tired and, sometimes, just plain wrong advice:
Head to the job boards to look for openings
Yes, job boards have loads of positions listed. But while they yield roughly 50% of applications to companies, less than 1% of those individuals land the job, according to the 2019 Jobvite Recruiting Benchmark Report. In fact, by the time many jobs are posted, the company may already have leads on great candidates or have made a decision about their next hire, says career coach Terry McDougall, author of Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms.
When she was a hiring manager, she would begin putting the word out on her network about an opening before she could get it posted. “In a big company, it would usually take at least two or three weeks for the job to be posted. And by that point, the person that resigned is already gone, so I’m in a hurry to fill the role,” she says. So, spend more time focused on your contacts than scouring job boards.
The team at Hatchit, an IT recruiting firm, says that more companies and recruiters are using creative sourcing and posting jobs in subreddits, Slack channels, and specialized platforms to get more targeted responses.
Reach out to everyone in your network
While it may seem obvious to spread the word far and wide when you’re looking for a job, the reality is that some people are in a better position to help you than others. Be strategic about reaching out to your network especially at first, says Neil Burton, executive director of Clemson University’s Center for Career and Professional Development. “Anything that you do during the job search needs to be strategic. There needs to be a reason behind that. You need to understand what that reason is,” he says.
Think about the people who see you as the professional you are and who are familiar with your best work. By strategically focusing on a fraction of your network instead of spreading yourself too thin, you are likely to not only get better results, but build more meaningful relationships. Authenticity in networking is essential, Burton says.
Be sure you’re qualified
A 2019 Monster survey found that recruiters reset expectations to consider candidates who have most or some of the skills necessary for the role. Too many people—especially women—talk themselves out of applying for a role because they think they’re not qualified, Caprino says. Don’t lie or exaggerate your skills, but if you can make a good case for being able to do the job, go for it, she says. “I’ve been hired and hundreds of people I’ve worked with have been hired when they haven’t had the qualifications, but what they have had and how they talk to people makes the hiring manager say, ‘I’ve gotta have you [on my team],'” she says.
Adapt to be a good “culture fit”
Hiring managers may be looking for “culture fit” when interviewing candidates. Trying to guess what that is and match it is a mistake, Caprino says. If you conduct your interviews all buttoned-up and not acting at all like yourself, you could be setting yourself up for failure. While you don’t want to be rude or inappropriate, it’s a good idea to let the team see some of your quirks. “If you’re hiding who you really are and you get the job, you can’t be who you really are there,” she says. Share your interests and hobbies. Be transparent about what you’re looking for in the job and how you work best.
Don’t bother with a cover letter
Cover letters are often an afterthought, and there’s even debate over whether you really need one. But, as Fast Company recently reported, ResumeLab’s research found that a great cover letter can land you an interview even if your résumé isn’t strong enough to do so. So, be sure to craft a short, strong intro to go along with your résumé.
Résumé format doesn’t matter
“While certain résumé-writing guidelines appear to remain steadfast, many other elements have continued to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of hiring professionals and to adapt to the latest recruitment tools and processes,” says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume. You need to create your résumé to be picked up by applicant tracking systems. That means clear text and a simple, clean layout with clearly marked sections and white space, she says.
Typically a “hybrid” or combination résumé format is best, as it includes some upfront narrative that gives insight into the candidate. TopResume’s research has also found that résumés with a left-hand rail or column offer a fresher look that catches recruiters’ eyes but that also successfully passes through the ATS, whereas a résumé with a right-hand rail or column does not. Including the phrase “references available upon request” at the bottom of the résumé, using two spaces after each period, or including an upfront objective will all make your résumé look dated, she says.
Wait for the perfect job
In job hunting, as in other areas, the perfect can be the enemy of the good. If you keep holding out for the perfect job, especially in this climate, you could be missing out on opportunities to learn and grow, Burton says. “Instead of looking for that perfect job, look at it as something that’s going to pay the bills and build the experience that you need to take the next step in your career,” he says. “Nobody gets the perfect job, especially not right out of college,” he says.
Instead, identify the skills you need to build to get to your perfect job and go after positions that will help you build those skills. That will likely get you to your “dream job” faster than holding out for a position that may take a long time to land, Burton says.