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8 Job Search Mistakes to Avoid (And What to Do Instead)

Susan P. Joyce profile image

Susan P. Joyce

A photograph of two die—one with a red "x" and other with a green checkmark—on a yellow background to represent job search mistakes.

There are tons of good (and not-so-good) advice out there that can guide you through the job search, but none of them can guarantee you’ll get a new role. For every cover letter template and resume format guide you read, there are dozens more that will point you in a completely different direction.

That being said, I’m sure hiring managers everywhere can agree on a few objective things you should avoid when looking for a new position. Here is a list of eight job search mistakes you definitely don’t want to make, and what you can do instead:

When submitting the application:

Mistake #1: Not reading the job posting closely, or ignoring directions.

To make the best impression in your application, double check the job description to make sure you haven’t missed any essential directions or clear asks from the hiring manager. These may include submitting all of your materials in a single PDF file, or addressing specific points in your cover letter.

Mistake #2: Applying indiscriminately.

Job seeking is NOT a “numbers game,” with your probability of landing a job increasing with the total number of jobs applied for. Select jobs that are a good match for your skills and experience, and choose employers who genuinely interest you. The next time you see a job description that might be a good fit, reflect on the type of work that energizes and inspires you, and whether this role aligns with those values.

Mistake #3: Not proofreading.

Everyone knows that checking application materials for obvious errors and typos is important; yet, the lack of proofreading of submitted job documents remains a significant factor in disqualifying applicants. Double (or triple!) check your cover letter and resume before submitting your completed application to the hiring manager. If you find that you’re making the same mistakes in your materials, take a look at our guide for correcting common resume mistakes.

When interviewing:

Mistake #4: Trashing a previous employer.

Speaking badly of your previous employer may identify you as someone who is not easy to work with. What’s more, the recruiter may take what you’re saying and consider how you’ll adjust in this new role: What happens if you don’t like your new boss?

Even if you left your previous job on bad terms, try not to dwell on those experiences in the interview. Focus on what you learned and how you plan on moving forward (hopefully with this new organization!).

Mistake #5: Not paying attention.

If your interview is taking place over the phone or via a video conferencing software, you may find yourself easily distracted by the environment around you. Hiring managers can tell if you’ve checked out during the conversation or if you’re looking at your phone or other tabs on your browser, even when you aren’t in the same room.

If this is something you’re concerned about, make sure to find a space free from distractions that will help you stay focused during the interview.

Mistake #6: Not emphasizing your interest in the role.

Of course, we all have our own visions for our career and needs (financial and otherwise) that affect our choices. But if you’re interviewing for a role, then there must be something that sets it apart from all the other jobs you could have applied to.

Hiring managers want to know why you've applied to work for their organization, and how you will add to the overall culture. When preparing for your interview, don’t forget to underscore this point so there’s no question that you want the job.

Other mistakes to avoid

Mistake #7: Ignoring social media.

Social media faux pas can be embarrassing, but they may also cost you job opportunities. To find out what Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo are telling the world about you, search your name on a friend’s computer or use an incognito window. If you find something that you don’t want potential employers to see, look into tidying up your digital footprint before applying to your next job.

Mistake #8: Selecting bad (or fake!) references.

If you don’t consider who you want to act as a reference ahead of applying to new jobs, let this be a wake-up call: candidates are rejected about 10–20% of the time after a reference check is conducted. 

Your reference list should consist of former managers or co-workers who can speak to your skills and experiences in a positive light. For this reason, it’s best to ask references how they feel about speaking on your behalf before you share their information with a potential employer. If they don’t feel like they can support your candidacy, they’ll likely tell you in advance so you have time to ask someone else. 

Overall, it’s best to steer clear of applying for every job listing you find. Taking the time to read role descriptions and make sure the positions you’re applying to are a match for your background and interests can save you—and others—a lot of time and unnecessary stress.


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Susan P. Joyce profile image

Susan P. Joyce

Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and former Visiting Scholar at MIT's Sloan School of Management, Susan is editor and publisher of and Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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