How to Avoid Getting Hired


Jobs aren't exactly pouring out of every corner of the market right now. Whether you need a full-time job, a part-time bill payer, new clients for your business, or a second job, the market is tight even for the most qualified candidates. This means that in order to be considered for a job now, more than ever, you have to stand out from the crowd as a stellar candidate.

My company is in the process of hiring two new employees. I promote these jobs through my own social networks, and receive lots of inquiries and job applications in the process. I have to admit, even I have been astounded at just how little effort people are willing to make to get hired. I'm assuming that people actually want to earn money and have a career, so why be so half-assed about it?

It's good to have a nice resume that is free from spelling errors, but there's so much more that you have to do right now to show how psyched you are about the job. Here are some examples of shoddy application tactics that I have come across in the past week alone. If you want to ensure that you don't get hired, please use these tactics.

Pass Up an "In"

My company recently decided to hire a new salesperson and a new customer support representative. I was in charge of writing up a job posting and helping to publicize it. I received a LinkedIn message from someone I have done business with, asking about the customer support position. He spoke passionately about his desire to help customers and his experience running a business. He seemed enthusiastic and ready to get started. Unfortunately, he lacked the technical skills required for the position.

That said, I know he's a smart guy who can sell stuff, so I mentioned the sales job in lieu of the highly technical job, and asked if he was interested. Silence. Not having heard back 7 days later, I followed up over LinkedIn. After 2 more days of silence, I figured that the LinkedIn messaging system was wonky, and sent him an email asking if he had received my messages. A few minutes later, I got a reply.

"Thanks for your messages. I've been really busy with my job and stuff. I'll guess think about the sales job and maybe get back to you."

Oh, yes, please go ahead and do so. No, really, take your time. In the meantime, my company is going to hire people to fill both roles. Had you responded with a resume outlining why you would be good for the job, there might have been a chance that, even if you weren't hired for the job, you'd be kept on file, with me as a reference from within the company. But now, there's no way I will ever recommend you for a job here, or anywhere.

Be Slow to Respond

Because the job market still sucks, when companies hire these days, they do so because they really need to fill a position quickly. Some companies (especially larger companies or governments with big HR bureaucracies to contend with) move slower than others, but all companies expect you to respond quickly to them. It's an unfair imbalance that you just have to face if you want to get hired.

So, if you don't want to get hired, take at least 72 hours to respond to any email or phone call from a potential employer. That gives the employer a good idea about how likely you are to get projects done on time. I have experience with this mistake firsthand, as I lost a number of job opportunities by being too casual in replying to hiring managers.

Apply Online and Let It Go

The internet is fun and entertaining. It is also a black hole for job applications. If you apply for a job through an email address, you have at least a slight chance of slipping through to the final pile with a stellar resume and cover letter. But if you apply through a website for a large company, you're that much more of an anonymous entity. All your resume formatting might be stripped away, and you're just another poor schlub looking for work at JCPenney*.

By all means, do this. Whatever you do, DO NOT attempt to make any personal contact at the company you want to work at. Do not go to the jewelry counter at Fred Meyer and chat up the manager about working there. Do not admire the way they do business or compliment them on how professional the staff is. Never send a hand-signed letter personally asking the manager to keep an eye out for your online application.

Just keep plugging your name into the website application. Don't make yourself memorable.

Do Not Provide a Good Cover Letter

Cover letters prove that you read the job posting and are not just blindly sending job applications out. So you should definitely avoid crafting one that calls out the job requirements and how you meet or exceed them.

Show Your Inability to Do Research

It's actually not that unreasonable for an employer to expect hires to know what a company does, or sells. Now, it's not always your fault that you can't immediately determine what a company does, because some firms are notoriously bad at explaining their business on their web sites. For this reason, there's no shame in asking a company to send you more info — white papers, brochures, case studies, so that you can get a better grasp on what they do and how they do it.

So don't do this. Should you get a job interview, show up utterly unaware of what your potential employer does. Also, it helps if you don't remember what the job title was or what your responsibilities might be.

Follow Up Incessantly

A few weeks ago, I was looking around my home, which resembles a tract house in Arizona that has been taken over by homeless squatters. Sighing, I searched for and located a few small businesses in my area that help with home organization. I emailed a few of them, and heard back within a few days for each. I then found myself struggling to find time to meet with them, between work, some vacation time that I had haphazardly planned, and a bit of recovery time after surgery.

One business in particular seemed genuinely interested in earning my business, so interested that the owner emailed me every three days for nearly a month, asking if I was ready to meet.

There's persistence, and then there's stalking. If you want to alienate a potential client or employer, by all means, badger them until they take out a restraining order. Do not stick to a single thank-you-for-your-time note. Go all out and show up at their house for Thanksgiving with the bits of their fingernail clippings that you've been collecting from their garbage bin. They'll be touched that you care so much.

Demand More than the Market Pays

The job market sucks right now. I don't want anyone to be paid less than they are worth, because people (I'm looking at you, ladies), really need to be careful about ensuring that they are asking for what the market should be paying.

But there's also a reasonable limit to what you can expect to make, and that's probably about 10K more than the posted job pay scale, and only then if you are a super star. When a job is posted as paying 40K, the best way to make sure that you aren't hired is to send a compensation expectation estimate of around 90K.

Do Not Form a Respectable Online Presence

One of the first things that potential employers do upon receiving a qualified application is check out the applicant online. The last thing you want is have a presentable resume, some solid recommendations, and a good, sober-looking picture of yourself up on LinkedIn. If you have such an online presence, people might see it, and think that you are (1) sober and (2) worth hiring.

Also, try to think of LinkedIn as something that only white collar professionals use. That will limit your ability to pitch yourself adequately in the retail industry.

Make sure your Facebook profile is visible to everyone and prominently features the photo of you from the Pimps 'n Hos Valentine's Day party where you passed out in your cousin's driveway with a Brass Monkey in your hand.

On a related note:

Do Not Google Yourself

There are a few other Andrea Dicksons out there in this world. Not a lot, but enough that I still get weekly emails about how my little Bobby is doing in his Toronto-based Little League team. Nevermind that I've never even been to Toronto, I'm sure my little Bobby (or was it Timmy?) is doing just fine. Little Sammy Slugger, that's what we call my kid, the one I've never met, because his mother is another Andrea Dickson. (Despite repeated emails to Kanata Little League to find out what Billy's mother's email address is, I still get the occasional payment request from Canada).

Fortunately, as far as I know, there haven't been any Andrea Dicksons that have been arrested for anything particularly gruesome, so I've been pretty lucky (pity the other Andrea Dickson who tries to get a writing job somewhere only to find that people think she's a sub-par writer for a personal finance web site, amiright?). But not everyone is so lucky — my mother happens to share a name with someone who gets arrested for meth production every few the same town. And she works on the civic guild, so they all get a laugh out of the arrest notices in the local paper.

Anyway, the point is never to Google your name and make sure that there aren't other people out there giving YOU a bad name. If you, heaven forbid, actually Google your name and find out that there is another, let's say, Mike Hunt out there whose name is less than respectable, whatever you do, DO NOT point potential employers to your LinkedIn profile.

What LinkedIn profile, right? You don't use that silly web site! MySpace forever, man!

Have you seen people making egregious job application mistakes recently? Have you made any of these mistakes yourself?


*This is not a knock of JCPenney — I adore JCPenney.

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Guest's picture

When you really want something, you don't have to go the extra mile. How hard can it really be to show sincerity and interest in something we want for ourselves? Looking up a company's background, making a cover letter, it's there. Hundreds of resources are out there and it's all for our taking. We just need to have the initiative to pursue what we want.

Guest's picture

The only section I have difficult with is following up personally after submitting an online application. This can be a sign of a desperate person, and if you are, Im sorry, but they dont need to know that. HR can take an excruciatingly long time to review and to answer back, it goes through many levels of people. Keep in mind that, yes they may miss your resume on the first pass, but if you are too eager, or perceived as an annoyance, that too could cause trouble!

Andrea Karim's picture

Yes, I actually think it's kind of a fine line in terms of following up. Someone recently asked my advice on how to follow up on a job in which they hadn't heard back one way or another - we painstakingly crafted a friendly letter thanking the HR rep for the opportunity to talk, and lo and behold, the company responded! They had just been really busy.

But I'd advise to never follow up more than once.

Marla Walters's picture

Excellent post, Andrea, as usual.

Here's another one for you. My HR department today heard from the MOTHER of an applicant, inquiring as to why her child had not been hired. Can you say, "red flag"?


Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, that's terrible, Marla. I can't even imagine how the HR person must have dealt with that... I mean, I'm sure that they were polite, but yeesh!

Julie Rains's picture

Great tips, and no one would ever equate you with "sub par."

The thoughts on researching companies are on target. I'll add that it is wise to look at LinkedIn profiles to get a feel for the background and preferences of your interviewers.

One of the reasons people may not do the obvious is that they have not narrowed down their prospects and find researching every employment possibility overwhelming, or they have done the research in previous attempts and then encountered the lamest interviewer so it doesn't seem worth the effort. Vetting employers, even in the midst of a so-so economy, is still a good idea.

Andrea Karim's picture

I can understand how difficult it can be to really get a good grasp on every company that you apply to - fortunately, as you mention, it's only really necessary during the interview process. If you're landing too many interviews to adequately research each company, then you still must be doing something right!

Guest's picture

I shredded some old applications for my boss from years ago and noticed odd or outrageous information on a few. One applicant responded to the application question" Tell me more about yourself" with "I like to eat." Well, who doesn't? Another one, who did not get hired, stated she was needed a certain day of the week off so she could earn lots of tips as an erotic dancer at a strip club. This was for a conservative company with extensive background checks for new hires.

Guest's picture

Good article, in general. However, I very much doubt that you need any kind of online social networking in order to get a job regardless of blue collar/white collar. Many professionals I know, including managers, executives and CEOs have zero public online social networking other than occasional Twitter feeds in order to follow others ...

If you do have online social networking that does show on Google or otherwise shows up (adversely) in search engine results, then yes a LinkedIn profile or something like it would be useful.

Guest's picture

Unfortunately for my son, his name is the exact same name as someone who brutally murdered his parents a couple of years ago in a well-covered media case. Their mutual name isn't that common and the murderer is the same age as my son too (21). I tell my son to be sure to highlight his middle name and that he is Canadian (the murderer is an American). Still, I wonder if it has cost him jobs when people Google the name! It is very unfortunate for him.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, that is too bad! My mother actually shares the name of a well-known drug addict who is ALWAYS in the papers - in the same small town. They spell their first names differently, but still, I'm sure some people have read the police blotter in the local paper and thought, "Well, I never pegged her as a meth dealer."

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