Today I had a phone call from a past client, a lovely capable woman who is currently unemployed. She left her job because of serious bullying issues that management refused to address. Rather than "make a fuss" she chose to leave a workplace that she found stressful and unhappy.
Her dream is modest – to have a job that enables her to prove her worth and to be given further opportunities for responsibility and some training so that she can grow in skills, confidence and value to the company.
She knows what she would love to do but is unable to find work opportunities that lead towards that role. She is not unrealistic and is prepared to work below her level of experience to get a foot in the door. However her work history does not show a steady commitment to a couple of companies. On the contrary she has changed jobs quite a lot, a combination of personal circumstances and leaving work when she found she was unhappy. Yet this woman isn't a quitter. She is determined that she will find the work that suits her, that she suits, and where she can give great value.
This is not an unusual situation. There are many people, hidden from the jobless figures, who are unemployed or underemployed but don't want to be in this situation. Many ask, seeming not to expect a positive answer, "Are there any jobs for over 50 women/men?"
I have analysed her situation, her resume and cover letter, and observed the following 10 classic mistakes being made. Many of them are issues of what to include in a resume to give yourself the best possible chance of getting the job you want. I hope they are helpful to you too.
Mistake 1: Resume Objective
A resume should commence with a summary of what you have achieved, not your objective in applying for work. Frankly the company doesn't care what you want. They want to know if you can deliver what they need and want in the position you are applying for. There are many sample resume sites online so read through some summaries and create one for your own resume which tells them, in 3 or 4 powerful sentences, about your experience and your achievements, blended in with some personal traits that they are looking for.
Mistake 2: Not Adapting Resume For Each Application
In this client's case she has created a great list of her skills, which immediately gives strength to her resume. However she does not seem to be adapting this list to meet the requirements of each job for which she is applying. Your skills tell the story of your capabilities in the workplace to date. Make sure that they are adapted according to the priority given to specific skills in the job description.
Mistake 3: Not Focusing On Achievements
When only duties are listed for each job a resume seems one dimensional. It conveys no sense that the work has been carried out to the best of your ability (which I know is the case for this client).
Even if you feel you were only a tiny cog in the wheel at your workplace, and that you didn't get the opportunity to achieve much, there would be things that you did there that no-one else did or that no-one else had thought of doing. Whenever possible put a couple of achievements for each job.
If you genuinely think you didn't achieve anything look at the list of duties and rephrase a couple of them to make them sound like achievements. Separate Duties and Achievements to make it easier to read and understand, just using something simple like a small italic header for each. Achievements are generally written starting with a past tense verb – Adapted, Created, Organised etc. When you write them in this way you just may realise that you actually did make a difference in that workplace. (That helps with Mistake Number 9 as well!)
Mistake 4: An Unstable Work History
If you have changed work many times address that in your summary and in your cover letter. "Adaptability and the skill to quickly develop rapport within teams has developed from 20+ years experience in health and environment related businesses throughout Australia……" They know up-front that you have moved around but you have implied that this has some advantages that make you a better employee.
Mistake 5: Going Back Too Far
If you have been working for around 25 or 30 years or more you have a lot to share in your resume. The sad truth is they don't want to know about it all. Most potential employers only want to know about the last 10 or so years in detail, with the briefest of outline of previous work.
So what do you do if all the significant work you have done was prior to this? You must include roles which demonstrate that you are capable of doing the job you are applying for, so you have to find a way to do this without listing every job you have had back to when you left school. There are no hard and fast rules about resumes, so be creative in how you share the information. You can simply put a new section header PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT and list the jobs, elaborating on the one which is relevant to the job you are applying for.
What if the job you are applying for is most closely related to one that you did twenty years ago? Try a few different ways of getting the message across. So long as you have included some information about the job and outlined your achievements, you can draw their attention to it in the cover letter, stating that your most satisfying job was some years ago but it was because of your success in that role that you are now applying for this new position.
Mistake 6: Unattractive Resume Layout
Make your resume look attractive, classy and professional. Consider how you can divide the different sections using lines or different styled headers. Again get inspiration from professional resume examples online. The reader of your resume should perceive only what enhances your profile as an employable strong candidate, with no distractions that may encourage them to put your resume on the "don't bother" bundle. This is where I must mention spelling and punctuation which must be flawless in a job application.
Don't ever be tempted to use one of the bright colourful Word templates to create your resume. That screams "Year 9 double period resume class with a teacher who doesn't know much about resumes"!
Mistake 7: Not addressing the correct person in the cover letter
Whenever possible you should address your letter directly to the correct person. Sometimes this is as simple as finding their name on the job description. Often you will have to telephone the company and ask to be told to whom you should address your application. If they just say some generic title "Just send it to the HR Manager" then ask if you may have their name. If the person is not helpful in this area you may even look up the company online and see if you can find their name. However if you cannot find out the name of the person then you can be pretty sure that others won't be able to either, so just use their title correctly and respectfully.
Mistake 8: Not using your network
In the case of my client, she has a limited network in Brisbane and so is unable to reach out to her network to see if anyone knows someone who may be able to help her, with information about who is employing, with inside knowledge of the industry or with an opportunity to meet someone who may be able to help her.
However it is a classic mistake that job searchers often do not speak to people within their network and so miss out on the help that they could offer. I'll write more about that in a future blog post.
LinkedIn is another wonderful way of using your network to find out about job opportunities and to make connections with people who may be able to help you. Click on this link if you would like a free copy of LinkedIn: Cracking The Hidden Job Market, available from the top right of my Clarity Career Management website.
Mistake 9: Not believing in yourself
It takes a lot to break the habit of not believing in yourself. It's usually an ingrained habit, but one that you have allowed to grow and take over your view of the world. Only you can change this. No amount of other people who tell you that you are awesome and talented and deserve better will make any difference to you until you decide that you can accept that you do have some good things going for you.
Instead of letting your head be filled with thoughts of your inadequacies, flip those thoughts around and remind yourself of the good things you have done. Instead of dwelling on your failures, look towards the future. How do you want it to be? What is your picture of your life over the next few years? What can you do today to start working towards that future? I'm not meaning to sound unsympathetic to your lack of confidence, but I do know that only you can change that negative thought pattern that is looping through your brain. Here is a very funny, very old short Bob Newhart video which you may enjoy watching sometime.
Mistake 10: Not getting professional assistance
So often I see clients who battled on for a long time trying to get a job without success, never considering that they might be causing the problem themselves. They believe that it is the current job market, age discrimination, the attitude of younger people, their work history….all perfectly valid obstacles in an unsuccessful job search. So they keep on trying, hoping that next time will be the successful application…and getting very depressed about their prospects for the future.
Often it takes a meeting with a trained career professional to see what is really going on. It may be a combination of the common mistakes that I have outlined here, or it may be another problem altogether, but usually it is something that you haven't recognised yourself. You are too close to the situation, as are your partner, your best friend and your mother-in-law, to be able to see it objectively. Value yourself enough to get some professional career management support.
After reading through these 10 common job search mistakes I hope that you will review your own job search strategies.