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Leadership Development

Published By:
National Post

Avoid 10 Deadly Job Search Sins
Even seasoned execs can irk recruitment professionals by being cliched


By Michael Stern 16th January 2008


Many human resource executives complain that recruiting has become harder in recent years because so many top-quality candidates have taken job-search training or sessions on "how to interview well."
These people show up on time, always say the right things, and have a slick explanation readily available for every question potential employers ask about their resume or accomplishments.
Weeding out superior candidates from those who just interview well is becoming a growing burden for search consultants, HR professionals and senior company executives alike who are under pressure to select the best talent.

However, there is another side to this coin: The seasoned executives who make fundamental mistakes when they apply for a new job.

How many of these 10 deadly sins have you committed?
  • Sending out documents that others can't open, much less read. If a recruiter can't access your letter or resume the first time, they're unlikely to try again.
    And the perpetrators aren't just Luddites still trying to get by with Windows 3.1 or WordStar —you can also be ahead of your time. Many people working in Windows XP, for instance, cannot read documents created by Vista unless they've been specifically saved in XP format.
    Test important e-mails on different platforms (try sending copies to friends first) before you send them out.


  • Submitting 10-page resumes. No one has the time or the interest to read so much about you, so not only is your effort wasted but may count against you. Stick to the salient points. When appealing to busy employers, less is more.


  • Not inspiring a callback. Calling a recruiter or potential employer and leaving a message with your name and phone number —but no compelling reason to call you back is a no-no.

  • Let us know a little more about you, your qualifications, your company and your interests. Give us a "hook" to remember you by.

  • Trying to create an "in" by saying, "I got your number from a mutual acquaintance." Headhunters and employers are very busy, and many people try to get through our defenses by pretending to know a friend.


  • Separate yourself from the fraud artists by telling us exactly who suggested you call us --and why.
    If I haven't called you back, don't leave a snooty message. I don't want to hear you say, "I've left two messages for you. When can I expect to hear back?" HR executives and recruiters can't possibly return every call. Let them know you respect how busy they are, but that you would still like to meet. Be reasonable, nonthreatening and guilt-free.


  • Reading your resume in an interview. This happens to me in about 10% of job interviews. I ask Ralph what kind of work he does as vice-president of finance for XYZ Co., and he proceeds to read his activities and accomplishments right off his own CV.
    A big part of interviewing involves assessing your presentation skills. If you haven't memorized your accomplishments, or if you can't think on your feet, reading is still no excuse. It gives me no sense of your personality or where your passions lie.


  • Writing long, involved cover letters. Like many search consultants and HR executives, I rarely read cover letters. They focus on what the writer is best at or excited about —they almost never approach the conversation from the employer's point of view.
    If cover letters added more value to an application I might look at them more often. For instance, you could emphasize the key qualifications we are looking for.


  • Spending too much time on your resume working out appropriate "objectives." Nobody cares.
    Objectives such as "I am a dynamic and driven marketing executive looking to add value at the enterprise level" are cliche collections —and they simply don't register with most professional recruiters or consultants who have heard or read the same thing countless times before.


  • Don't babble. Some candidates, whether through nervousness or lack of preparation, jaw on endlessly in interviews.
    If you want to make a point, make sure it's of interest to the person you're speaking with. Asking, "Would you like to hear any more about this?" marks you as a professional communicator with manners and judgment.


  • Not knowing how to straddle the line between desperate and uninterested. To preserve their bargaining power, many candidates distance themselves from the opportunity —pretending they're not much interested.
    This can backfire on you, since employers are looking for people who will bring passion to the job.
    Show you're interested. Let a potential employer know you are intrigued by, but not committed to, the opportunity they are offering.



If you're clearly the best person for the job, these sins may be forgiven. But if the competition is tight, or you really want this new position, don't undermine your prospects. Get the basics right, and your future will look after itself.