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January 26, 2009

Avoid These Deadly Job Search Sins

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Avoid These Deadly Job Search Sins

By Michael Stern, Executive Search Professional

Many human resource executives complain that recruiting has become harder in recent years because so many top-quality candidates have taken job-search training or sessions on "how to interview well.

Weeding out superior candidates from those who just interview well is becoming a growing burden for search consultants, HR professionals and senior company executives alike who are under pressure to select the best talent.

However, there is another side to this coin: The seasoned executives who make fundamental mistakes when they apply for a new job.

How many of these deadly sins have you committed?

1) Sending out documents that others can't open, much less read. If a recruiter can't access your letter or resume the first time, they're unlikely to try again. Test important e-mails on different platforms (try sending copies to friends first) before you send them out.

2) Submitting 10-page resumes. No one has the time or the interest to read so much about you, so not only is your effort wasted but may count against you. Stick to the salient points. When appealing to busy employers, less is more.

3) Not inspiring a callback. Calling a recruiter or potential employer and leaving a message with your name and phone number -- but no compelling reason to call you back is a no-no. Let them know a little more about you and your qualifications. Give them a "hook" to remember you by.

4) Trying to create an "in" by saying, "I got your number from a mutual acquaintance." Headhunters and employers are very busy, and many people try to get through our defenses by pretending to know a friend. Separate yourself from the fraud artists by telling us exactly who suggested you call us --and why.

5) Writing long, involved cover letters. Recruiters rarely read cover letters. These cover letters focus on what the writer is best at or excited about -- they almost never approach the conversation from the employer's point of view.

6) Spending too much time on your resume working out appropriate "objectives." Nobody cares. Objectives such as "I am a dynamic and driven marketing executive looking to add value at the enterprise level" are cliche collections -- and they simply don't register with most professional recruiters or consultants who have heard the same thing countless times before.

7) Don't babble. Some candidates, whether through nervousness or lack of preparation, jaw on endlessly in interviews. Make your point and make sure it's of interest to the person you're speaking with.

8) Not knowing how to straddle the line between desperate and uninterested. To preserve their bargaining power, many candidates pretend they're not much interested. Employers are looking for people who will bring passion to the job. Show you're interested. Let a potential employer know you are intrigued by the opportunity they are offering.

If you're clearly the best person for the job, these sins may be forgiven. But if the competition is tight, or you really want this new position, don't undermine your prospects. Get the basics right, and your future will look after itself.

Michael Stern is president and chief executive of Michael Stern Associates Inc. (, an executive search and coaching firm in Toronto, with affiliates in major business centres worldwide.

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