6 Ways You May Be Misapplying Job Search Advice

Young man plugging his ears

By Alison Green

The Internet has made it easier than ever to find advice on how to interview and find a job – but sometimes job seekers misunderstand common advice and misapply it in a way that harms them rather than helping. Here are six common ways that you might take good advice but execute it poorly.

1. Good advice: Clearly explain what skills you can offer.

How you might misapply it: Just announcing that you have those skills rather than demonstrating them, such as saying things like "I have initiative" or "I'm a skilled communicator" rather than talking about work you did that demonstrates those skills. You absolutely should make sure hiring managers understand what skills you have to offer, but simply asserting that you have them isn't convincing. Show, don't tell.

2. Good advice: Look for opportunities to highlight how your skills and past experience match the position.

How you might misapply it:
Doing this nonstop, so that it feels unnatural and not genuine. For instance, when it's your turn to ask questions in an interview, if you only ask questions with the intent of using them as a way to further showcase your skills, you're guilty of this – and certainly annoying most interviewers. When interviewers spend time answering your questions, it's because they want you to have a chance to learn whatever it is that you need to know to make a good decision about the position ... not so that you can turn their answers about company culture or management style into a chance for a sales pitch for yourself. So while you certainly want to find ways to talk about your fit for the job, don't go overboard.

3. Good advice: Address the job's qualifications in your cover letter.

How you might misapply it: Talking about all 20 qualifications in your cover letter, even minor ones, and even if it turns your letter into a boring, uncompelling laundry list of keywords. To be clear, your résumé should address the most significant qualifications you have, and your cover letter should flesh you out from there. But if an employer lists 20 qualifications, you don't generally need to mention all 20 – just the most significant ones. No good hiring manager will expect otherwise – and sure, there are bad ones out there, but you will turn off the good ones in the process of trying to please the bad ones.

4. Good advice: Explain why you'd be great at the job.

How you might misapply it: Claiming you'd be the best person for the job, even though you have no idea what the rest of the candidate pool is like and don't yet have a nuanced understanding of the employer's needs. You can explain why you'd excel at the job without verging into hyperbole or making claims you can't back up.

5. Good advice: Be confident.

How you might misapply it: Sounding like you have no realistic sense of the challenges of the job because you are so amazing that nothing will be a challenge for you. While employers like confidence, they don't generally like arrogance, cockiness or naiveté.

6. Good advice: Always negotiate, no matter what.

How you might misapply it: Thinking that this means that you have to negotiate even when you're thrilled with an offer. This can especially be misapplied when you already talked about salary earlier in the hiring process, and the offer matches the number you named. If the employer gives you what you asked for, trying to negotiate for more will seem disingenuous and off-putting.
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