5 Fatal Assumptions of Job Seekers

Many people are job hunting these days. I have worked with job seekers for many years and have found that these five common assumptions frequently derail a job search.

1. Being open to anything will increase my chances of landing a job.

The search ought to have a focus: you should be targeting opportunities in a certain discipline or function; or you should have identified the strengths you'd like to leverage and then uncovered positions that match these strengths. The resume should convey that focus; otherwise, you can't differentiate yourself from other candidates because you're not really great at anything but rather average at many things.

Hiring managers don't want to spend training and payroll dollars on a so-so candidate, especially in an environment where money is an extremely limited resource and a more qualified candidate is sure to surface soon.

However, it is true that job seekers need to be flexible when pursuing a new position. Depending on your current situation and long-term goals, you should be open to opportunities in a new industry, a smaller rather than larger company (or vice versa), and even a change of locale.

And, it's also true that job seekers snag jobs that are not perfectly in sync with their original targets. In these cases, here's what the hiring manager is thinking:

  • tap into skills that the job seeker didn't realize were valuable (for example, a client seeking a sales position was selected by a state agency for a position requiring client advocacy capabilities, which she possessed from years of volunteering in a similar role)
  • hire "fresh" talent with no preconceived notions of how to approach a new market, reach a different kind of customer, etc.
  • recruit people with a certain background because past, similar hires have been successful

2. No one could possibly possess all of the qualifications required by the employer.

I've seen job postings that seem to be an impossible-to-get wish list created by an optimistic hiring manager. For example, a sourcing position might list the following requirements (this is a partial list of requirements taken from an online job board posting):

  • MBA
  • experience in supply chain management, purchasing, and contract negotiation
  • working knowledge of SAP
  • professional designations, such as a CPM (Certified Purchasing Manager)
  • fluency in Mandarin Chinese

Stay focused on pursuing opportunities that match your qualifications. Build and leverage your professional network. At the same time, consider boosting your skills through classes at the community college or volunteer experience.

So, while it's true that the perfect candidate may not appear for many job postings (or, more likely the company is required to advertise for an opening that is probably going to be filled by an internal candidate who does have these credentials), going for multiple long shots is probably not going to increase your chances at winning a fantastic job.

3. I can elaborate during the interview rather than including valuable information on the resume.

The defense of the extremely brief resume is often that hiring managers won't read a long one. But there needs to be enough information to allow the reader to judge whether the candidate has 1. minimum qualifications and 2. enough talent and proven experience to contribute to the hiring organization. Otherwise, the sought-after interview will never happen.

Even if a resume is two (or even three) pages, a well-designed format that allows quick scanning for critical information can get the document placed in the "maybe" pile for further evaluation. Compelling accomplishments and deeper-than-average descriptions of position duties may actually aid the screening and selection process, ultimately saving time for the hiring manager.

Certain topics though (for example, why you left a job after a couple of months) are best discussed in the interview rather than detailed on the resume.

4. The people who will hire me will understand my resume.

It's true that hiring managers will often have a better, more complete grasp of the industry and discipline-specific lingo that's on your resume than your neighbor or even your best friend.

But the resume will most likely be screened by a recruiter or human resources manager who may not have expertise in your field; and possibly scrutinized by higher-level staff and potential coworkers who may participate in the selection process. So, using understandable language is important to communicating your qualifications to as many people as possible (see my post on online job boards for ways to identify common terms and keywords). To appeal to a broader audience, mention collaborative abilities and team contributions; and emphasize accomplishments that not only helped your department improve but also boosted the company's overall performance.

5. A hiring decision will be made in a reasonable time frame.

One of the most common mistakes is to assume that a hiring decision will be made according to a reasonable timeline and therefore (here's the dangerous part), you should wait before pursuing other opportunities. If you are happily employed and really want a particular position and no other position, then it is reasonable to wait until you learn of the decision. But very often, decisions are delayed for long periods of time for reasons such as:

  • position hasn't been officially approved by the corporate office
  • economic conditions and company's needs have changed since recruitment began
  • no great candidates have emerged with interest in the position
  • hiring process requires multiple levels of approval and rounds of interviewing
  • decision makers have been traveling on business for a few months

Even when hiring managers provide a timeline to a candidate, they very often don't adhere to the schedule. And, in some cases, they choose a candidate but are not able to extend an offer.

Some job seekers seem to have a fear of having to make a difficult choice among more than one employer. But the savvy seeker keeps pursuing any and every opportunity, and even leverages salary negotiations by getting multiple offers. (See How to Play the Post-Interview Waiting Game for more insights.)

What do you think? Have you reversed your assumptions since starting a search?

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Guest's picture

...in this job market. With so many folks out of work, employers *are* finding that left-handed Mandarin-speaking Product Manager who did his doctoral thesis on Inuit family dynamics. Also, number 5 is key to remember. Never found an employer who was working on my employment schedule. Great info.

Guest's picture

Don't send a resume. Reply only to the requirements.

Guest's picture

i like this pointers as they are realistic but i think that it cannot hurt to overshoot once in a while. you never know what may happen. take me for instance, i after high school i got a job that even people that already had families and work experience could not get mainly because i asked. Also my mom got a top managerial job in a reputable company with much lower qualifications that what they were asking for.(they even bypassed phds to hire her), it cannot hurt to dream and run after your goals.

Julie Rains's picture

I didn't really say this in the post (and went off in a different direction) but I do agree that it is okay to overshoot or apply for positions that seem like long shots. What I see sometimes are people who put lots of time and energy into long shots and very little time and energy toward the opportunities that are better matches.

That said, though, I also find that people think it is easier to land an entry-level position anywhere rather than pursuing their dreams. But oftentimes, it isn't. So, I encourage them to go for the dream job and highlight the experiences, knowledge, skills, etc. that match the dream (which they typically have if it is truly what they've always wanted to do, and aren't applying for a position just because it's open). And that passion usually comes through in the interview process, showing the decision makers that he/she will really work hard, continue education in that area, etc.

Guest's picture

Another assumption is getting responses right away from the few applications you send. The chances of job success will increase manifold when you apply for many number of jobs everyday, instead of applying for a couple of jobs every week. Have your resumes on different job boards at a time. If you call one employer today, make calls to two different employers tomorrow, and increase your contacts everyday aggressively.

Guest's picture

Kudos on your helpful article!
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Rather than crowd this email with a bunch of words, attached are two recent articles that talk about PreVerify:
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Guest's picture

Fatal? Really?

Julie Rains's picture

Yes, these assumptions can be destructive and disastrous.