Six Ways Not to Get a Job

Off-the-Rack resumes and networking only when you’re looking for work are just two examples of what not to do.

By Dona DeZube | November 2008


If you want to know all the stupid things people do when job hunting, ask Ed Navis. He’s been reading resumes for two decades as a human resources consultant to mid-size companies and non-profits. Here are the top six mistakes he sees job hunters make.

Networking only when you need a job, and only with people in your field.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to dig the well. If you’re an introvert, try reaching out to online social networks to meet real-world contacts. That’s what Tina, a young woman downsized from Bear Sterns’ back office did, Navis says. She posted messages on www.craigslist.org and www.meetup.com, asking if anyone wanted to meet for coffee to talk about careers.

“She wound up networking into a much better position with someone whose brother was a hiring manager for tech people,” Navis says. “She continues to meet with people once a month because she knows networking is about giving.”

Posting your resume online and labeling it ‘anonymous.’

Some unscrupulous headhunters will do anything to get a client or a candidate. “They post bogus resumes on the job boards and label them anonymous,” Navis explains. “If I’m a recruiter and JPMorgan wants me to hire a senior IT person, I’ll access the competing recruiter’s anonymous resume and tell him about the position. The competing recruiter then tries to steal that client and fill the position. Most recruiters will not respond to an anonymous resumes because they’re worried you’re really a recruiter.”

Using an off-the-rack resume to land a custom job.

Resumes are like suits. Who would wear something off the rack if the custom suit cost the same? Re-write your resume each and every time you send it out, tailoring it each particular job.

Skip writing a job objective and instead use a career summary that explains exactly how your prior experience fits the current opening. “I already know that your objective is to get the job, otherwise you wouldn’t have sent me the resume,” Navis says.

Use bullets in your summary. When you list your jobs, expand on what you said in those bullets. “If (the employer is) looking for someone to do XYZ, put in a summary that says how and where you did XYZ,” Navis instructs.

Form example, if a job requires managerial skills, say: “I have seven years of managing a multitude of sales teams with as many as 26 members.”, Saying “I am a great motivator” isn’t enough.

Navis cites a colleague who was a C# programmer in the back office of Lehman Brothers. The colleague’s idea of customizing was to change his resume’s objective. “When he  changed it to a professional summary with bullet points on what the client was looking  for, he started getting interviews,” Navis recounts. “And now, he’s an IT manager for a small hedge fund in New York.”

Applying for jobs for which you’re not qualified

“If you have to make up or over-inflate your experience to meet my needs, please don’t apply for the job, because you’re not qualified,” Navis says. “I’m looking for someone who’s done it.”

Recently, Navis ran an ad for a client needing a vice president of sales with 10 years of experience as manager/director, and an MBA. “I’m getting resumes from people who took a course called You Can Sell Anything,” Navis says. “You wonder why you send in a  resume and never hear back? Because I’m too busy reading garbage. If you’ve ever sent out a resume for something you’re not qualified for, you’re the reason why.”

Believing that people expect you to lie on a resume

Navis recently worked with a former JP Morgan IT help desk professional who’d been lying on her resumes for the past 15 years. She inflated the number of calls she handled each day, inflated her title to say she was director of the help desk, and said she worked on projects that no help desk person would be called upon to do.

“Human resources people talk to each other and we have our own networking,” Navis warns. “Someone will say, ‘I just hired Mary Smith, she was a director of your help desk at Bear Sterns. And the Bear Sterns person will say, ‘Mary was never director.’ And, HR people know that help desk directors don’t take calls.”

At Navis’ urging, the woman created an accurate resume. “Three weeks ago she started sending out a truthful resume and she’s gotten four solid interviews, and she’ll be able to choose the best offer,” Navis believes.

If you got arrested for drunk and disorderly in college, confess, briefly explain and then change the subject. Don’t lie, because you’re going to get caught when the company runs a background check. “If you got arrested 10 years ago for a stupid mistake, I can live with that,” says Navis. “If you said you had no convictions, that’s a lie you told today and I can’t live with that.”

Giving vague responses when asked about previous experience.

A company needs an experienced SOX accountant. They ask you how you set up controls at your last company and you start telling them you’re great with SOX, rather than getting into specifics. Or, you’re an IT professional who lists every program you’ve ever seen in your entire life on your resume. Either way, you just flunked the employment test.

“I want to know when you used the skill and what were the obstacles you ran into when you used it,” Navis says. “If the interviewer says to you: ‘Are you good managing people?’ say to them: ‘Let me tell you about a time I managed five people on this project. I had this personality and that personality and here’s how I handled it.’ If someone asks you how are you at selling to institutional clients, tell them about specific clients. If you can’t provide that level of detail, you shouldn’t be applying for the job.”

Dona DeZube writes about business and careers from her home base in Maryland.

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