10 job hunting mistakes you should avoid

Over the last month, I have been interviewing a lot of candidates for various open positions – software product managers, directors of business development and project managers.  During the course of looking through resumes, interviewing candidates, I have come across many mistakes that candidates are making. Given this, I thought it is worthy of a blog post.

Now, here are three caveats.

Caveat One: I realize that I am slowly moving into the previous generation, given the young generation (sometimes referred to “Gen Y”) that is coming into the workforce. However, professionalism is independent of which generation you belong to.

Caveat Two: I have not worked in large companies which have large HR departments which use resume databases and do keyword searches to find candidates. I have predominantly worked for smaller companies where the hiring manager is the one leading the recruiting effort, who does not use any complex HR tools and where hiring decisions are made very quickly.

Caveat Three: I am a software product management guy and have worked only in software companies. So what I state here are all based on what happens in software companies.

So here are “my” top 10 job hunting mistakes based on my observations this past month. These are of course one man’s opinions based on my experience. I have listed them in the order of applying for a job to the interview to post interview.

Applying for a job

1) Emails with no content but just an attached resume: Look, just because you applied for a job, it does not make you a qualified candidate. Given the unemployment climate, every job posting gets a ton of resumes. Believe it or not, recruiting these days is not a “process of selection”, but a “process of elimination”. I see candidates replying to job posts with nothing but a resume. Think about it – does the candidate expect the hiring manager to open the resume, read through all of it and decide if you are a fit? No, very unlikely. Compare that to a candidate who responds to a job posting with a nice email which highlights what s/he has accomplished and why s/he is a great candidate for the open position and attaches the resume to the same email. Whose resume do you think I am going to open? If you don’t have the time to tell me why you are the best fit for the position, it only tells me one thing – You are outright lazy!

2) Lengthy cover letter: This is the other extreme. You write a long letter of multiple paragraphs of how skilled and qualified you are for the job. Sorry, hiring managers typically do not have the time to read the verbose email. Personally, what I am looking for is your elevator pitch that is short and sweet – I love bulleted lists (max 5) of your key accomplishments and why you think you are qualified, because it is easy for me to quickly scan and read such lists.

3) Cover letter as a pdf: Hope you are seeing a pattern here. Don’t make the hiring manager do an extra step to find out who you are and what you bring to the table. Having to open the cover letter pdf file is a friction point. I only want to open one file, which is your resume. I am looking for reasons why I should do this. I should not have to open a pdf file to read your cover letter to pique my interest in you. Put it in the email and reduce the work that a hiring manager has to do to find out about you.

4) Resume file name that makes no sense: You can call me traditional. But I pay attention to your resume to understand how well you pay attention to details. I have seen resumes sent to me that have had file names of

  • “John Doe Universal Resume.pdf” – Here is what this tells me – you have one resume and you are carpet bombing by sending your resume to all the jobs out there and hoping that one will somehow fit your skills.
  • “JohnDoesalesAXY-II.doc” – Here is what this one tells me – you have different versions of resume (not bad, you should tailor your resume to the job you are applying), but do I as a hiring manager need to know that you have multiple versions and you have some cryptic coding system to track your resume versions?

Come on folks! Resume is your marketing material, period. I am the buyer and you are the product. As far as I am concerned, your product name is your name. I do not name my resume anything other than “GopalShenoy.pdf”. What I typically do is create folders for each employer that I apply to and have the version of the resume sent to an employer in the appropriate folder. This way, I can have multiple resumes all named “GopalShenoy.pdf”.

5) Resume file format: This one is not a mistake per se, but I see candidates sending in their resumes either as Word documents or pdf files. If you are applying via a recruiter, they will demand a Word document because they want to put their information on top of the resume so that the hiring manager knows that the resume came via the recruiter. But if you are applying directly to a job posting and there are no requirements on how you should submit your resume, I will strongly urge you to use nothing but a pdf file for two reasons:

  1. Your resume is your product brochure and represents your brand. No one should be able to make any modifications to this brochure. You own it, period. No one can modify your resume if you send it in as a pdf file.
  2. Pdf file is portable and looks  professional and printing a pdf file is wysiwig. If you send your resume as a Word file, the format is not guaranteed to be portable between Windows and a Mac (Yours truly made this mistake and learnt it the hard way).

At the Interview

6) You are not professionally dressed: Look, more and more companies do not have a dress code. For example, at Gazelle we are very informal where most of us wear shorts and T-shirts (and even flip flops) to work. But this does not give you as a candidate the “green signal” to be not professionally dressed when appearing at the interview. If you are not sure, ask about the dress code before the interview, especially if you will be going to the interview from your office and are planning to be back in the office. As a hiring manager, I have proactively asked candidates to not bother wearing a suit. But unless you have been advised about the dress code for the interview, play it safe. Wear a suit – your candidacy should not be affected because you were professionally dressed. Think about it a sales call – you are presenting the best product you have – “You” – so make sure it is presented in the best possible light.

7) Walk into the interview without your resume: This one bugs me a lot. Imagine, if you are a sales person, will you show up at a prospect’s office without a handout about your product? I really don’t care if you have send me your resume or not. I am likely going to schedule my boss or my peers to interview you. Some of them may not have taken the time to print out your resume before they come to talk to you. If I walk in to meet with you and you don’t have a resume with you, you have started off the wrong foot as far as I am concerned. Let me say it again – “Resume is your brochure – DON’T EVER go to an interview without a copy of your resume.

8) You don’t have an elevator pitch: The first question I always ask any candidate I am interviewing is the same – “Can you please give me your elevator pitch and you have one minute”. The answer to this question tells me a lot about you – your communication skills, whether you are capable of highlighting your skills and qualifications in a short amount of time and how all of this is relevant to the job you are applying for. Nail it, this is your chance to make the best impression. You should nail it such that I want to know more. However, don’t make it pompous, be modest. But if all I hear is about the schools where you got educated, about your family, your past jobs etc., you are not making an impression. Don’t get me wrong – I want to know more about you as a human being and I respect you for that. But interviews are professional in nature and you should be talking about how you can help the employer with your skills and qualifications, nothing else.

9) You have no questions for me: I respect those candidates that have a lot of questions for me. This is an indicator of their interest in the job, in the company. This is your golden opportunity to show the recruiter how you think, how you do your research or gather information. For example, if you are a software product manager and are applying for a product management position, I expect you to ask me questions that will help you understand the product management landscape in the company. Listen, interviews should be a two way exchange between you and the company. The company should gather enough information about you to see if you are a fit for the job and you in turn should be able to gather information about the company to make sure this is where you want to work for the foreseeable future. Given this, why would you waste the opportunity to ask questions of me as the hiring manager or others who are interviewing you?

After the interview

10) No thank you email: After the interview is over and you are back home, take the time to send a thank you email to each of the people you interviewed with. If you don’t do this, you are again wasting an opportunity (probably the last one) to refresh the hiring manager’s memory of why you are the best candidate for the job. You want to do this when everything is fresh in the memory of everyone involved. Sending this thank you email does not guarantee you anything, but it will never hurt and it is the right thing to do as a professional.

Thoughts? Do you agree? Do you have other mistakes that you feel candidates should avoid?

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Image: Courtesy of Career Post

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37 thoughts on “10 job hunting mistakes you should avoid

    1. hmmm, just remember, they are not HIS hoops, they are the hoops of the business world. As a hiring manager myself (for a very large tech organization – BTW Gopal it does apply to large organization with resume DBs and keyword searcheable resumes – if someone is not willing to make an effort to get a job that presumably pays well and is a great challenge, why would I even consider you?

      1. Because you wont reply. I am not even sure if someone is reading my resume why should I attempt to tailor it. Indifference goes both ways. I am not advocating anything, but maybe there should be a step between interviews and resume submitting where the hiring agent tries to get more information. An email like I have narrowed down the position to x number of people and you are on that list please submit y to help your case. We look forward to interviewing you. And if they don’t reply it simply makes your job even easier cause it actually shows something about how they respond to getting a task.

    2. I agree whole-heartedly with this comment. To be perfectly honest, the author of this post sounds like a jumped-up twit, looking for candidates that are desperate to please rather than ones that are at the top of their game (and therefore in a position to choose between multiple job offers). And as for petulantly demanding thank you e-mails from the candidate to every person that conducted the interview? – please, fellah, are you seriously looking for candidates that are so down on their luck that by merely deigning to *interview* them you have done them that much of a favour?, or are you seeking a deal whereby *everyone* (the candidate, the employer, and any intermediaries) has reason to be thankful for the outcome of the process and the mutual benefits realised?

      The arrogant and pompous approach to recruitment embodied by this article is guaranteed to achieve only one thing – that the best candidates will self-select and look elsewhere for better opportunities with more a more mutually-respectful employer. Any company stupid enough to allow their recruiting staff to behave in the way advocated above is guaranteed to be left hiring from the bottom of the barrel, after chasing any decent candidates away.

      1. Rachel – as an FYI, I have interviewed very smart candidates and hired them as well. All I have pointed out in this article is how you can sell the only product you have control over – “You” and in all cases selling that product in a very professional way will not hurt especially in the current job market. You choose to disagree, no problem. Thanks for the comment.

  1. This has really been an interesting read and i must say have been guilty of quite a few of those things highlighted…. Thanks Gopal and i sure will take your advice on this…….

  2. Are you kidding me “don’t send as a PDF.” This is the first time I’ve not heard the opposite. YES your expected to have a PDF reader, your in a work environment and PDFs are a large part of corporate America. Second if “the haste” of a PDF is too much I would not ever work for such a short fused nitpicker.

    1. J – I think there is a misunderstanding. We are on the same page – I said that you should always send resumes as pdfs unless you are required to send it in another format – for example, recruiters I have worked with wanted a word doc so that they can put their letter head on top of my resume before sending it to the employers.

    2. J – What he’s saying is that essentially your cover letter shouldn’t be an attachment, and I entirely agree (or at least it shouldn’t JUST be an attachment).

      Either attach the cover letter as the first page of the resume (probably not a great idea, but it helps for printing), or have it as the body of the email.

      If your cover letter is a stand-alone attachment, then they have no incentive to read it.

  3. From the article:
    “But I pay attention to your resume to understand how well you pay attention to details. I have seen resumes send to me”. So the writer unnecessarily fixates on the file names of attachments as a sign of the candidate “paying attention to details” but cannot be bother to check his own grammar.

    1. If you’re going to nitpick and correct someone’s spelling or grammar you should at least check yours to assure you don’t end up looking like a fool.

      Ally: bothered*

      1. There seems to be a universal truth that you can’t point out another’s grammar mistake without accidentally making one of your own.

        I think our universe likes the irony of it.

  4. I recently hit the job market after a few years and found that most the points you listed are right on the money. As a recent hire at a luxury hotel I can only add one thing that you may have missed.

    Be enthusiastic and smile. I went through three interviews before landing my gig and when it was all done I spoke the HR director and he said that they were passing on people just for not smiling during the interview process. Act as if you looking forward to getting the job.

  5. I like a lot of your advice in this article. But I just feel like I hear a lot of ideas from different sources that tend to contradict each other. While you may like things a certain way, you are just one person. There are many other hiring managers and companies out there that may want cover letters, resumes, etc a different way.

    For example, you mention using bullet points in a cover letter. This seems like a simple way to clearly point out my important skills, but some people may view bullet points as being lazy and not taking the time to write a clear and concise cover letter. It can just be frustrating sometimes when I don’t know what people want.

    1. Danny – I am with you. Look at what I have listed here as directional and adopt them depending on your situation. As I said at the beginning of the post – these are “my” top 10.

    2. Gopal, nice article. The Cranky Product Manager agrees with you 100% on all of these. I’d also add that you should be freakin’ texting or Blackberrying during your interview. Like you, I’ve been a hiring manager at a small-medium company without an army of HR people to help.

      What she finds amusing (disconcerting?) is the bad attitude of some of these commenters. Why so quick to dismiss what Gopal says as “silly” or whatever?

      So, @andrew, you shouldn’t say that a thank you note doesn’t make a difference when I know for a fact that it DOES. It showed to me that a candidate that I was on the fence about would follow up with and THANK MY CUSTOMERS similarly. And I hired him.

      @Resume Format, Why would you dismiss advice to bring a few hard copies of your resume to the interview? I’ve had to interview people when the network was down, and I appreciated the hard copy!

      @Bryan, your comment has an ARROGANT tone. Remind me not to hire you as I don’t want to work with prima donnas.

  6. Gopal.. Very spot on.. amazed at some of the comments you received. First, most of what you wrote is simply just common sense. This is a compliment.

    Second, what you wrote is your opinion and based on your experience. Whether a cover letter should be bullets (my preference) or not, the point is make it easy to read, easy to remember and to the point.

    Come on people, what Gopal is saying is text book stuff.

  7. Decent advice. But this article has a stupid tone. As if the hiring manager is all powerful. Maybe for a job where you have a lot of applicants, but for any decent degree (that has low supply… like nursing, most engineering, etc) the employers are still chomping at the bit for some new talent.

    I like to get a feel of how employers might treat me once I start working during the interview process. If I ever go to an interview and they don’t have a copy of my resume, I ask them why they don’t (nicely of course) and if they don’t have a decent excuse, that is a major mark against them. Of course I have extras on hand, but I don’t enjoy having the prospective employer thinking having my resume present at the interview is not important.

  8. Great tips and two gems. One the multiple resume tip off, which I didn’t realize but, that semi-bugs me as well. It’s a pro and con so, why not just file it correctly? Great point. Second, thank you letters. It may not blow it if somebody really wants you but, with so much bad form out there, it really sets you apart if you send them, just as a sign of respect. If you want respect, show it, hence the dress right comment as well. Finally, grammar by the hiring manager, who cares? Grammar by the applicant, is a complete big deal. You have plenty of time to loosen up and be yourself once you’re in and established and “earned the right” to do so. Until then, button up buttercup. If you use the info to disqualify this job for you, great but, that’s only part of the reason for the interview. Your goal is to hit all hiring personality types (that’s why smiling was recommended) and all of them love details and social skills. And who knows, you might not be right for the job but, that hiring manager knows other hiring managers either inside or outside of his/her company. I’ve seen those referrals get hired a lot. Every recruiter tells you to network, network, network and an interview is a network node for you times ten.

  9. You are seeing the job application process through the eyes of someone looking to hire. To those of us applying it looks very different. It is after all a waste of time. If I don’t find a hiring manager in a F2F situation who can make me a job, I’m not going to get the job. If I am talking to an HR person, I know I am wasting my time. If I am submitting a resume, it has to do with quotas and unemployment claims. If an HR department wants a resume, it isn’t to hire you. It’s to meet their EEO regulatory compliance issues. If I’m putting my resume in a resume database–shear torture most of the time, again I’m only doing it for the unemployment quota. I wouldn’t put up with that in a real job application situation. The password requirements of resume database websites are ludicrous. I’m never coming back to your site, so why should I care what the password is, and if it isn’t my usual resume database password, I won’t be able to come back. All of this is too much trouble and pretty useless.

    The best way to find a real job is through F2F networking. The internet thing will not get you hired, particularly into a situation that doesn’t constitute a hazard to your career.

    1. David, I don’t know what industry your employment application history is in, but my experience is completely different. I’ve had great success both submitting resumes to companies from online listings and finding good candidates via online listings.

      I won’t argue that F2F using your existing network is a really good approach, but flatly stating that “the internet thing will not get you hired…” is just not universally true. Let’s not discourage the young ones out there too much. 🙂

  10. Great advice! I wish more people would read this! This all seems like common sense, but people do the strangest things… I would never hire anyone who was not professional during an interview, and all of the advice above will make an individual look professional. This is a must do for anyone applying for a new position (especially an Engineering position).

  11. Tailoring your resume file name is very silly. I work in HR and if its a resume I will need to reference after opening the email I am saving the file as a name suitable for my own system, Usually the job number followed by the applicants name.
    What ever the applicant names their resume as, it has little affect on the decision to move forward with an interview.


    Thank you emails for an initial interview is unheard of in my line of work, maybe for some academic positions I can see the benefits in spamming your interviewer’s inbox. If you can’t make a decent pitch for yourself in the interview an email after the fact will do you very little good.

  12. I have mixed feelings on the “thank you” letter advice. If you’re not careful, it can project the wrong message.

    A short email with “it was nice meeting you, thanks for the interview, let me know if you think of any questions you would like me to answer” feels a little less stilted (at least in my industry) and less desperate than a printed letter.

      1. These posts are a little old but am taking the chance that somebody will respond..

        On the “Thank you’ note after an interview, we do not have the hiring manager’s or the interviwer’s email addresses at all times..do we. Not all hiring managers(or interviwers) might pass on their business cards and asking for a business card during an interview might come across as a little pushy..

        The hiring manager/interviewer might very likely need to go back to his/her desk to pick up a business card. Also the next interviewer might be already in the room and this is not a good time to drop in just to give a business card etc.

        What do we do in these cases..comments welcome.

  13. Huh, and I thought skills, experience, talent, and intelligence mattered. I guess they don’t. How many extremely talented people did you pass over because they made the horrifying mistake of not naming their resume to your petty standards? Or not bringing a copy of a resume THAT THEY ALREADY SENT YOU and YOU have the responsibility to bring to the interview. If you don’t bring the resume that you have already been sent, then you are unprepared and it is embarrassing for you. Everyone else out there hiring people has their own unique set of silly quirks and job seekers cannot be expected to meet every one. If you are basing your hiring on these minor points, then you fail. And your business will fail if you don’t look past the fluff and into the substance. It’s ironic that if someone applied rules like these to your writing then you would absolutely fail as a writer. Your grammar is awful and you’ve been corrected multiple times already. And begging to promote your article on social networking sites? Hah, that is very poor form. Try holding yourself up to the same standards you hold others to.

  14. […] 10 job hunting mistakes you should avoid « Software Product Manager by Gopal Shenoy By Steve Johnson! on August 30, 2010 Over the last month, I have been interviewing a lot of candidates for various open positions - software product managers, directors of business development and project managers.  During the course of looking through resumes, interviewing candidates, I have come across many mistakes that candidates are making. Given this, I thought it is worthy of a blog post. via productmanagementtips.com […]

  15. Excellent advice Gopal. I totally concur with your advise and find it very informative hearing from the hiring manager’s perspective. This is invaluable to all job hunters out there. I found it informative about what to include in our cover letters. You go into that indetail. Thanks very much for your post.

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