I am going to guess we have all been given job search or career advice at some point in our lives. Maybe it was your parents urging you to include every job you’ve ever had on your resume or your 80-year-old grandmother telling you about how things were done “back in her day…”. Perhaps the job search advice came from a former boss, a favorite professor, or that LinkedIn connection who’s always commenting on the articles you share. I bet most of that advice was given with good intentions. But the truth is, there are lots of opinions about what to do when you’re searching for a new job, completing an application, or preparing for an important interview. And, unfortunately, not all job search advice is good advice.
To ensure that you put your best foot forward in the new year, we’re separating the good advice from the bad. Here’s the job search advice you should leave behind in 2020 and what you should be doing instead.
The Bad Advice: “Stuffing your resume with lots of keywords will make it easier to get past the ATS system.”
Why It Doesn’t Work: When applying for jobs, your resume is likely to pass through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or similar software that helps organizations filter resumes. While this process is meant to prevent HR managers from sifting through large stacks of resumes looking for that perfect candidate, it can mean that if your resume isn’t well organized and updated it could get eliminated by the ATS.
To ensure that you get the approval of the robot scanning your resume, it’s important to include keywords and phrases associated with the position you’re applying for. That said, keyword stuffing your resume, as this advice suggests, is not a good idea. Applicant Tracking Systems are sophisticated software and they will recognize your keyword stuffing for what it is: an attempt to game the system. If, by some chance, your resume does make it past the ATS, what’s the hiring manager going to think when it lands on their desk? A resume filled with buzzwords and key phrases isn’t going to get you that tech job you want so badly.
What to Do Instead: Target the important keywords and customize your resume for the job so that both the ATS and the hiring manager can tell you are a great fit.
How can you tell what the important keywords are? Review the job description and highlight the skills, responsibilities, and education needed to perform the job well. You can also look for lingo specific to the role or field. Next, work these into your resume in a way that is natural. The ATS isn’t just looking for keywords; it considers contextual information as well. Most importantly, make sure your resume looks great when read by a human. This means clear formatting, a simple font, and no grammatical errors.
The Bad Advice: “Don’t spend too much time on your cover letter. No one reads them anymore.”
Why It Doesn’t Work: Not only is this bad advice, it’s frankly just not true. The vast majority of hiring managers will be looking at your cover letter. Sure, maybe there are a few HR professionals out there who do not see much value in cover letters, but are you really trying to target those few? Similarly, if you’re using your cover letter to restate the points you already made in your resume, you’re doing it wrong.
What to Do Instead: Cover letters allow you to highlight your skills and prove that you’re the best candidate for the job. This means that, like your resume, a cover letter should be written and customized for every job you apply to. Use your cover letter to convey your personality and professionalism while incorporating important details the hiring manager needs to know. This includes how your work experience and skills meet the job requirements, and why you want to be a part of the organization. Last, end your cover letter with a strong statement of interest in the position and give the hiring manager a good reason to contact you. And don’t forget to proofread!
The Bad Advice: “Interviews are mostly a formality. Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes. Just be yourself!”
Why It Doesn’t Work: You may be a great candidate with in-demand tech skills that every company is looking for, but that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to land the job. The interview is the final, and crucial, piece of the puzzle that shows how great of a candidate you are. As a result, how you present yourself matters. Sure, jeans and a flannel shirt may be more “you”, but it’s important to make a good first impression. This is especially true if your interview is over video instead of in-person. It may be tempting to take video interviews less seriously, but in fact, they often require more preparation, including making sure your technology is working and you have a quiet place to do your interview.
What to Do Instead: First off, the same rules apply to video and in-person interviews. Dress for success and present yourself confidently. That could mean planning your interview outfit or preparing a short introduction about yourself. After you have aced the first impression, make sure that you’re ready to answer a variety of questions about your past work experience, tech skills, and interest in the role. As part of this preparation, it is a good idea to review the resume and cover letter you’ve included in your application. Go through a list of common questions or topics you might be asked about and plan out your responses. This ensures you won’t forget important details and helps calm your nerves during the interview.
Finally, do your research on the organization and the role and be prepared to ask questions. Is work-life balance important for you? Ask the hiring manager about work from home opportunities. Interested in learning more about the company’s culture or what success looks like in the role? Ask! Interviews are one of your best opportunities to not only prove you’re right for the job, but to also make sure the job is right for you.