Getting Focused on Finding Work

Four common mistakes that sabotage job seekers

Finding work is in itself a job. Stiff competition and lengthy unemployment are leaving many job hunters feeling defeated. The job-hunting process has also dramatically changed—especially for those who have been employed for more than 20 years, says Anamaria West, labor service representative of the New York State Department of Labor. “Looking for a job today is a full-time job. Now it’s a process of searching many job sites,” she explains. “The average person spends 30 to 40 hours a week searching.”

West says there are many reasons job seekers come up empty-handed. Here are four of the most common:

1. Dating yourself: This is usually the situation with more seasoned workers. The thought is that years of experience equals relevance in the market. “Many have 30-plus years of experience and want to put this on their résumé because it makes them feel like they have a world of knowledge. Although age discrimination is against the law, hiring managers will do the math.” If an HR manager thinks that a candidate is too old, he or she may be eliminated from the job pool. Unless your experience is relevant to the position, candidates should not chronicle more than 10 years of work history.

If you’ve stayed at one job for 20 or 30 years, candidates should submit a functional résumé instead of a chronological one. “A functional résumé focuses on your skills and experience, rather than on your chronological work history. It is used most often by people who are changing careers.” West also recommends removing the graduation date if it’s been more than 25 years and not using e-mail addresses that give away your year of birth. “The dates may come up during the interview, but at least they can get their foot in the door. This gives them an opportunity to talk through it, rather than have someone prejudge them.”

2. Grammar and spelling mistakes: “It’s hard to believe that so many candidates make mistakes in their cover letters and résumés, yet HR professionals say it happens all the time, and it’s one of the top reasons they don’t call an applicant for an interview.” Other common criticisms include a résumé having too many bullets, inconsistent formatting and alignment, or offering inappropriate e-mail addresses.

3. Lack of clear job goals and objectives: West’s office sees many clients who are unsure of job goals. “They look for any job they can get and tell us, ‘I’ll take anything.’ Well, I’ve never heard of a job title called ‘anything.’ We can’t help you if you don’t know what you want to do.” West says that candidates should spend time thinking about what they would like to pursue. Having an idea helps their office in guiding clients’ decisions. Others have unrealistic expectations, such as not having the necessary credentials to apply for positions that do interest them.

4. Not preparing for the interview: Because most interviews are used as a screening process, your answers should be focused on what you can offer. “You have to almost anticipate their questions. If you have a gap in your résumé, you’d better have a good reason for it.”


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