5 Ways to Modernize Your Job Search

Young woman peering inside laptop screen

By Alison Green

If you're still following job-search advice from a decade or more ago, chances are good that you're inadvertently sabotaging your own chances of getting hired. And if you think you're too young to fall into that trap, think again: It's not just workers with decades of experience who fall for this – even 20-somethings fall victim, because they're relying on outdated job-advice guides, parents who don't realize that hiring conventions have changed, or even college career centers that haven't updated their knowledge for the way things work today.

Here are five ways to modernize your job search to compete in 2014.

1. Remove the objective from your résumé. Yes, you may have learned years ago that every résumé should start with an objective, but that advice has long been outdated. Objectives now make your résumé look out-of-touch with modern conventions. What's more, objectives are about what you want, rather than about what the employer wants – and at the initial stage of the hiring process, employers are much more concerned with what skills and experience you can offer than with your hopes and dreams. Plus, most objectives sound stilted and generic anyway. It's been a long time since one did a job candidate any favors.

After you remove the objective, replace it with a profile section – a few sentences or bullet points that highlight who you are as a candidate and what sets you apart. Done well, these can serve as overall framing for your candidacy, explaining to employers the key facts you want them to know about you. In fact, profile sections have gained so much popularity that résumés without them are starting to look a little bare.

2. Don't list jobs from two decades ago. Jobs you held that long ago are unlikely to strengthen your candidacy today, and they can date you and your experience. If you've had an impressive career over the last 15 years, why waste space talking about more junior roles you held well before that? Remember: A résumé is a marketing document, not a comprehensive listing of everything you've ever done.

3. Remove "references available upon request." Employers take it for granted that you'll provide references when they ask for them, so there's no need to announce it up front. This is a convention left over from another time. No employer is going to reject you for including it, but it takes up space better used for something else and, like an objective, it makes your résumé feel dated.

4. Kill the sales-iness in your approach. Job-search advice used to center around tactics that today come across as uncomfortably aggressive to most employers. For instance:

  • Including a line in your cover letter that you'll call in a week to schedule an interview. (You're not the one who decides whether to schedule an interview; once you've expressed interest by applying, the ball is in the employer's court.)

  • Sending cookies or chocolate to the hiring manager, or other gimmicks designed to get your résumé noticed. (You'll come across as if you don't understand professional boundaries, and as if you don't think your qualifications stand on their own merit. Plus, fewer people these days accept food from strangers, so it's likely your food gift will end up in the trash.)

  • Overnighting your résumé to the hiring manager to make it stand out. Pick up any job-search guide from a decade ago, and you'll find this advice still in it. But these days, you're more likely to look like someone who doesn't follow directions – and worse, your materials might not be considered at all, because you didn't enter them into the company's electronic application system.

5. Don't "pound the pavement." You might hear from your parents or people who haven't job searched in a long time that you should show up at the companies you want to work for and drop off your résumé in person. But with the exception of a small handful of employers who specifically request this, this is no longer done and will come across as naive and annoying to most employers. Instead, most job searches these days are done online primarily – looking at online listings, emailing résumés and cover letters, filling out electronic applications and networking on sites like LinkedIn. Of course, you should still connect with your network in person, but the concept of "pounding the pavement" looking for a job has mostly died off.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.