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September 26, 2011

Job Seekers Beware: Red Flags To Avoid

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Job Seekers Beware: Red Flags To Avoid

By David Schepp, Business Journalist

Searching for a job is never easy, but in this economy the challenges facing job seekers have never been greater.

The U.S. economy simply hasn't been growing fast enough to create the number of new jobs necessary to meet population growth, let alone significantly reduce the unemployment rate. Faced with continued stiff competition within the labor market, job seekers would do well to reduce the number of missteps that can prevent them from being considered for any available positions.

Even the most qualified candidates can remove themselves from consideration if hiring managers aren't able to quickly discern whether they are a good fit, says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com.

One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is failing to pay attention to details.

"Always proofread everything that a recruiter might see, including the obvious -- your resume, cover letter and emails, as well your social-media profiles," says Lee. He adds that sloppy grammar is frequently reason enough to eliminate candidates from consideration.

Discrepancies can be another red flag for recruiters.

Differences between resumes, applications and social-media profiles raise questions in hiring managers' minds about whether an applicant is lying or just sloppy.

One way to cut down on the number of discrepancies is to create a spreadsheet that includes past jobs, degrees and awards that can be referred to when job seekers are filling out applications.

Beyond lack of attention to detail, avoid these other "red flags" that job seekers should do to better their chances of securing an interview and landing a job:

  • If you are unemployed, volunteer for a worthy cause, take a class or seek freelance work to show employers that you are still engaged in the workforce.
  • Customize your resume and cover letter to match the job description or you may not get past the applicant tracking system, which is set up to screen out candidates who do not match keywords listed in the job listing.
  • If you have lengthy gaps between jobs, briefly explain them in your cover letter.
  • In each correspondence with hiring managers, keep a formal and professional tone, using a person's surname until they indicate they don't mind being addressed more casually.
  • Use your social media pages to market and brand yourself -- and remember that there is no privacy on the Internet.
  • Avoid a cutesy email handle -- sign up for an email address that shows your professionalism.
On that last point, etiquette-expert Jacqueline Whitmore says many people don't realize that email addresses, as well as social-media sites, voicemail and other similar services, in effect, create a personal brand -- for better or for worse.

"Something as minute as your voicemail can be a significant factor in swaying a person's hiring decision if it isn't professional," says Whitmore, author of "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work."

With stiff competition in today's job market, the odds may already be stacked against you, she says, "so don't give employers any more reasons to not hire you."

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. Schepp holds a Bachelor's of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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