When I started my very first job, my parents had to sign off on the permit I acquired through my high school—that puts me at almost 18 years in the workforce. Over those 18 years, I’ve been an employer for the last seven and held 13 more jobs, so I have a 360-degree understanding of what many job seekers may endure during their search for employment.
Whether it’s your first job or you’re looking to move on from your current one, it’s important to know how to approach every aspect of the job search—from application to salary negotiation. Here are 21 dos and don’ts to keep you on track:
DO: Build a unique personal brand.
Defining your skills and personality is one thing, but truly building a unique brand increases your chances of standing out among the crowd. Creating and sharing content is just one way to make yourself known as a guru in your field.
DON’T: Search for jobs outside your skill level.
It’s good to have goals in place, but approach them in a realistic manner during your job search. We’ve all been tempted by high salaries and big job titles, but applying to these positions when they’re far outside of your skill level decreases your chances of landing a job.
Look for opportunities within a company that has an opening your talent can fill, but also offers growth for their employees. While you may not start out as the CEO, you’ll have a great place to start working your way up.
DO: Get the right people on your support team.
Having “fans” or job search motivators on your side can help you stay positive while seeking a career change. Keeping these people in the back of your mind during an interview can not only help calm your nerves, but also propel you to speak passionately about your desire to get the position. Look for your “fans” in family members, teachers, coaches, or mentors.
DON’T: Forget to customize your resume.
Flashy colors of paper and fun fonts may make your resume stand out in a pile of black and white, but they don’t help you stand out among more qualified candidates. These colors and hard-to-read scripts may actually turn employers off.
What matters most to employers during the application process is simply you. Your skills, background, and unique personality are what will land you the job.
But it’s hard to fully express these to each employer if you have a standard resume that you automatically send to each potential interviewer. Prove you’re the right person for the position by altering your skills, talent, and history to only those relevant the specific industry you’re applying.
DO: Highlight your qualities.
Yes, interviewers already know you’re motivated and love teamwork. Stop wasting space on your cover letter and time during interviews listing nonspecific traits about yourself.
Rather than simply stating what makes you better than the other candidates, show employers examples of how you’ve proven you have what it takes to excel in their open position. It’s even important to highlight errors you’ve made to show how you fixed them and are willing to improve yourself as an employee.
DON’T: Apply mobily without optimized resumes and cover letters.
Job boards and companies’ career websites are mobile-optimized, so job seekers have a better user experience. If that’s the case, why aren’t you creating an easier way for recruiters to access your information?
Since most job seekers are already searching for career updates on-the-go, it’s important to enhance your resume and cover letter accordingly. Decrease the chance of losing a job posting by keeping your documents on your phone and applying in the moment.
DO: Bring your resume into the 21st century.
Keeping your resume short and sweet does help recruiters focus in on your qualifications, but limiting yourself to the average checklist of previous employer, skills, and education is actually decreasing your chances of showing off to interviewers.
Thanks to technology, allowing employers to get a glimpse of who you are outside of your resume is easier than ever — you just have to let them know where to find you. Adding your website, blog, and social media accounts to your resume takes up a small amount of space and gives interviewers the opportunity to see what makes you unique beyond your listed resume skills.
DON’T: Ditch the cover letter.
Cover letters have gotten a bad rap for reiterating what your resume is already highlighting, but don’t count them out. In fact, if you are using a cover letter to simply restate the skills listed on your resume, you’re doing it wrong.
Cover letters are the perfect opportunity to go into detail about why you’re the best fit for the job. Decide which skills on your resume prove that point. Then, base your cover letter around a story that shows how you’ve put your talents to use.
DO: Make connections prior to an interview.
Every time you see a position you’re interested in, you need to research a company to see what their values are, the benefits they offer, their culture, and with whom you should be connecting. Making these connections could be the edge you need to bring your name to the top of the interview pile.
After researching the company, connect with professionals via social media to give yourself leverage. Comment on their posts to establish yourself as a thought leader or share content to show you have similar areas of interest. No matter how you choose to connect, make sure all of your interactions are meaningful and positive.
DON’T: Blow the first impression.
It’s difficult to wipe a negative experience out of your mind — the same goes for first impressions. Interviewers make decisions quickly. Whether it’s based off the way you dress or how personable you are, it’s crucial to walk in with confidence and a positive attitude.
DO: Prepare for an interview.
You never know exactly what an interviewer is going to ask you. This makes it seem impossible to walk into an interview feeling prepared, but with the right techniques, you may find yourself more confident than ever.
Before an interview, review everything the company is looking for in both skills and personality. Go over previous jobs, volunteer opportunities, and even classes to plan examples of how you’ve demonstrated your abilities. Having these stories planned out will help calm your nerves during the interview.
DON’T: Treat a webcam interview differently than an in-person interview.
Webcam interviews are especially great for remote opportunities but are also perfect for saving employers time and money. Many employees like the idea of embracing the comfortability of their own environment during an interview, but this feeling of ease could cause trouble.
Even though you’re not in a professional office setting, it’s crucial you eliminate any distractions that could take an interviewer’s attention away from you. Dress in the same appropriate attire you would for an in-person interview and make sure you’re in a quiet, comfortable room.
DO: Use informational interviews to network.
For busy job seekers, informational interviews feel like wasted time. But it’s those who take extra time to network and prove their dedication to getting the job who are highly successful in the job search.
Use these interviews as a stepping stone to make even more powerful connections. Keeping these resources in mind may land you an opportunity you didn’t even know was available.
DON’T: Consider every job offer.
Recruiters holding all the power during an interview is a common misconception candidates have. You’re not there just to prove your worth to a company — it’s also necessary to decide if the organization is a right fit for you.
If interviewers are asking you uncomfortable questions or make you feel uneasy in any way, trust your gut instinct when considering any offers.
DO: Ask questions about company culture.
Like I said above, don’t forget to use the interview for your own benefit and decisions-making process. Pay and healthcare benefits are very important, but also ask deeper questions that will answer if you’ll fit well with the established company culture.
DON’T: Post an unprofessional headshot.
If you think recruiters are seeing you for the first time when you walk into an interview, you’re probably wrong. Social media sites and personal blogs make it almost impossible to not form an impression of a candidate before seeing them in person.
When taking a headshot, always keep in mind what you want potential employers to think about you just from looking at your picture.
DO: Use positive and professional language.
Think about the type of team you want to be part of. Most likely, you’re imagining a fun group of intelligent people with positive attitudes who also know how to be professional and get their jobs done. This is exactly the type of image you should portray to current employers and interviewers. Save profanity and useless words, like “um,” for casual conversations with friends.
DON’T: Burn bridges.
No matter the circumstances, you should always try to leave a job on good terms. Close this chapter in your book on a positive note by finishing up all open projects and letting leaders know in advance so they have time to prepare for your departure. You never know when you might need a reference, or if your career will one day take you back to the company.
DO: Approach previous employers.
The term boomerang employee used to be greeted with employers closing their doors, but rehiring employees is no longer a faux pas. Actually, employers are finding reconsidering employees who left on good terms is saving them time and money in the job search process.
Looking to a previous employer for an opportunity doesn’t mean you’re taking a step backward. Open the door for a meeting to discuss what has changed — for both you and the employer — to see if coming back would be beneficial.
DON’T: Sacrifice work-life balance for salary.
Trust me, I know from experience that money doesn’t always equal happiness. We all have different levels of what we’re willing to sacrifice for a certain salary, which is why it’s important to know your limit before accepting an offer.
Discuss your expectations and limits with potential employers to make sure you’re on the same page before passing up other opportunities or quitting your current job.
DO: Be punctual — even after you land the job.
Once you’ve found the perfect job and begin working, don’t slack on the impressions you made during the application process. Living up to — and beyond — the expectations you set during an interview is crucial for starting off on the right foot. This includes the little things, like showing up on time ready to conquer your new adventure.