10 Ways Not to Land Your Dream Job

Sure, you know how to write an assertive cover letter and you have a wardrobe of freshly pressed black and navy blue suits. But, just because you’re doing everything the manual tells you doesn’t mean you aren’t going to make a mistake in your job search. From my other life working in human resources, I give you the ten best mistakes applicants have made in pursuit of a job.


10. Want to include the fact that you taught an adult education course on photography on your resume? Don’t dub yourself “Adult Photography Instructor.”

Language matters. In the age of social media and Google, applicants should understand that lying on their resume isn’t an option. Just be sure you aren’t getting so creative with your wording that you make yourself sound more qualified for porn than a professional environment.


9. “Well, I’m not sure if it’s right for me. Tell me more about it.”

Hon, you called me, remember? The applicant began the phone call with the usual follow-up lingo, but instead of mutually agreeing to move on with our lives, she turned it into an opportunity for a chat. Don’t chat with the HR rep. Their time is money. Want the same feeling? Be the seller, not the buyer in this scenario.

8. Don’t have your mom call to find out if the agency is still hiring because the application is “really long” and you’re “only halfway through it”.

Nothing beat getting a helicopter mother on the phone. “I’m just calling because this is such a long application and I’d hate for her to waste her time if the job has already been filled.” Clearly you don’t mind her wasting her time around your house, broke and unemployed. So, I guess I don’t need to help you share that burden, do I?


7. “By the way, I’ve worked in HR, so I know how all this works.”

You aren’t my friend. As far as I know, you haven’t worked here, either. So, stop trying to get the inside scoop because you aren’t an insider. Worse yet, while you think you’ve ingratiated yourself with the HR rep, you’ve really set an alarm off in their heads. What if I say the wrong thing? Is she going to call the labor department and file a complaint because she misunderstood a simple statement as profiling or discrimination? When it comes to gainful employment, bragging never works in your favor.

6. When you call to follow up on the application you’ve submitted, it’d be a good idea to remember what job you applied for.

“Hey Susan,” the caller began, “I applied for a job and I’d really, really like it.”

“What job did you apply for?” I inquired, intrigued by his stoner tone.

He paused. “D’ooooh, uh, I don’t know,” he explained, angry with himself for harshing his buzz.

A good rule of thumb is to remember what job you’ve applied for. Another good rule of thumb is to make follow-up calls when sober. Or not. Hey, I’m always looking to be entertained.

5. “Well, I applied for this job and, like, gah, are you going to at least look at my resume?”


The “gah” was real. So was my laughter. Sometimes, in pursuit of remaining professional, you must bite your tongue. After finding out what position this gem applied for, I transferred her to the right department with the comment, “No, I’m not going to look at your resume, but they can let you know if they will.” Want your snark to land you a job? Apply to wait tables at a truck stop.

4. Leave a message once. Not 5,000 times.

The truth is that most HR reps don’t have the time to answer the phone, let alone return follow-up calls to applicants. Thanks to the Internet, HR departments have been downsized to bare-bones staff making the most of technology to do the filtering work they simply have no time to accomplish. If you’ve received an email notification that your application was received, trust it. Unless you are willing to actively market yourself, don’t bother making a follow-up call. And if you do, don’t get heartbroken when you don’t receive a call back.

3. “My husband applied for a job that is no longer posted on your website, and he didn’t get a call for an interview.”

I’ve had spouses call on behalf of their significant others, children call on behalf of parents, and parents call on behalf of children. Do. Not. Do. Your. Loved. One. A. Favor. Not only is it downright weird, you’ve also managed to make the applicant appear to be a complete incompetent. And never, ever assume that because you applied for a job you’ll get an interview. Ever. The corporate time crunch does not allow for manners. Hence technology, while efficient, truly allows us to take the “personal” out of personnel.


2. If you do get a live person on the phone, don’t tell them your life story.

You have 30 seconds to pique someone’s interest before they figure out how to get you off the phone. Telling someone how a life event at age 8 inspired you to want to become whatever job it is you’re looking to fill is not going to work. While it’s wise to be unique in a follow-up call, don’t turn your rare opportunity into a therapy session.

1. Want to find the real decision maker? Don’t bother calling the HR department.

Sorry, folks. Just because it says “human resources” or “personnel” doesn’t mean that department does the actual hiring. More often than not, the HR department is the clearinghouse for postings simply to make sure the company abides by labor laws and negotiated contracts. The real decision makers are department heads. Want to follow up? Find out what department the position would fall into, locate the number of the head’s secretary, and give her a ring. Every company has an internet directory, making it fairly easy to find the right person to talk to (if you can get through).

Always throw a dart. You never know where it’s going to land. But don’t throw that dart so far out of the stratosphere that the only place its guaranteed to land is on your own head.



image illustration via shutterstock /  Khakimullin Aleksandr


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