Between parents, friends, colleagues, and common “wisdom,” there’s no shortage of sources you can get advice from when you’re applying to jobs. The problem is, however, that not all of that advice is good advice. While our friends and family often mean well, the labor market changes rapidly enough that one job hunting best practice is no longer relevant a couple years later. And sometimes, advice-givers are just plain misinformed — I once had an acquaintance tell me that I shouldn’t even consider applying to a particular job without a graduate degree, which a recruiter for the position later confirmed would have been completely unnecessary.
So if you’re really looking for tips that can help you get your foot in the door at a new job, don’t rely too much on well-meaning friends and family — leave it to the experts. J.T. O’Donnell, Founder & CEO of career advice site Work It Daily, shared some of the most common misconceptions amongst job seekers, and what the truth of the matter really is.
1. “You need to stay at your company at least X years before you find a new job.”
Once upon a time, employees were expected to stay at their companies for years on end lest they risk looking flakey or unambitious. But today, the rules have changed. Millennials change jobs an average of four times in the decade after graduating from college, about double the rate of Gen Xers. And this happens for good reason — new jobs tend to be the quickest way to advance in title and salary. Besides, if you’re truly unhappy in your current position, you shouldn’t force yourself to stay — life is too short to be miserable at work.
“I still hear parents saying that you need to stay at least three years to earn credibility. But no, you don’t — not if it’s not working for you,” O’Donnell shares. “You need to go find your cadence and your stride and if it’s not happening [at your current company], you’re not helping them. You’ve got to find your own thing.”
Now, that’s not to say that you should necessarily quit a job you’re unhappy at without anything else lined up first. But if the main thing holding you back from exploring other opportunities is that you haven’t been there long enough, don’t worry. If you’re the right fit for the job, recruiters aren’t likely to write you off based solely on your previous tenure.
2. “If you want to find a job, you need to apply to as many companies as you can.”
You may have to apply to more than one company before you find the perfect fit, but that doesn’t mean that more applications directly translates into more opportunities. When it comes to applying to jobs, the key to success is working smarter, not harder. So rather than sending out as many applications as humanly possible, it’s better to get strategic and only apply to the companies that you feel are a great fit for your interests and experience. So how exactly can you identify those companies?
“One of the things we have job seekers do is create a list of 10 companies that you absolutely love — the product, the service, whatever it is they do, you absolutely love it. Don’t get hung up on whether you’d ever work for them or not, don’t get hung up that they’re not in your backyard. Just ten companies you love. Then [ask yourself], ‘What’s similar about these 10 companies?’” O’Donnell says.
From there, patterns will emerge, whether that’s companies with great customer service, a culture of innovation, a commitment to helping the less fortunate, or whatever matters most to you. “It gets a lot easier to find employers once you know what those are. And the beautiful part about going to Glassdoor is it tells me similar companies,” O’Donnell adds.
3. “Your resume should only be one page.”
Don’t worry — despite what you may have heard, submitting a resume that’s more than one page doesn’t mean that recruiters will automatically gloss over it. “The reality is that you can go to two pages as long as you create white space. When I see a one-pager but they’ve got half-inch margins, nine-point font, and they’ve tried to stuff everything on the page, it’s awful. So I’d rather see you go to two pages as long as you’ve really created that white space since it’s easier for me to read,” O’Donnell explains.
However, it’s a good rule of thumb to err on the side of concision.
“Under 15 years of experiences is a two [pager], in the rare instance you’ve had a killer career of 15+ [years] is a three [pager]. The exception to that is usually people in academia or science have a lot of papers and things that they have to cite and that can take up some bulk but aside from that… no more than two,” she adds.
4. “Your cover letter should summarize what’s in your resume.”
“In cover letters, people tell [job seekers] to basically summarize what’s in their resume,” O’Donnell says. But using your cover letter simply as a way to repurpose what you’ve already laid out is a waste of your time. “I’m not going to read your cover letter if I know that everything in [it] is what’s in the resume,” O’Donnell shares.
Beyond being redundant, using your cover letter as a resume summary means you miss out on demonstrating passion and culture fit for the company and role in particular.
“The cover letter is your opportunity to tell me how you feel connected to me as a company — I want you to tell me how you came to learn that what we do is different, special, valuable, important. The resume will speak for itself,” O’Donnell says.
This is especially important if you’re still relatively early on in your career.
“[If you] don’t have anything where you can say, ‘Check out my incredible track record,’ what you do have is that emotional connection. And that’s what every company… is looking for. They’re looking for your passion for them,” O’Donnell shares. “They know they’re going to have to train you, so tell them about how you learned that the medical devices they [make] saved your grandmother’s life, or how being in financial planning is what helped your parents pay for your college — whatever the story is that connects you, that’s what you tell those employers.”
5. “Don’t bring up gaps in your work history.”
It’s natural to want to avoid highlighting the parts of your application that aren’t so strong, but addressing issues head-on is a good way to assuage any doubts that a potential employer might have. And while you don’t want to necessarily make it front and center on your resume, recruiters and hiring managers will respect an honest, thoughtful answer if they inquire about why you took a break from the working world.
“What we teach people to do is answer that question using the ‘experience, learn, and grow’ model — what did I experience, what did I learn from that situation, and how did I grow. So if I didn’t do an internship and I goofed off for the summer… and they ask me what happened, my answer would be ‘That was a really great question. At the time, I had the summer off and I opted to not pursue an internship. What I learned from that experience is that I wasted an opportunity to really get some valuable experience for my career, and what I’ve learned is I’ll never do that again.’ That’s exactly what an employer wants to hear,” O’Donnell says.
On the other hand, if you’ve had a meaningful life event that’s gotten in the way of your work — whether positive or negative — you shouldn’t be afraid to proactively bring it up.
“If you were out of work because you took your sabbatical and traveled around the world… that would be noteworthy. If you stayed home and cared for an ailing relative or parent who passed, you may want to say [you were a] primary caregiver,” O’Donnell advises.