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6 Fatal Mistakes Job Seekers Make

If you make any of these flubs, you may be rejected for a position you deserve

By Paul Bernard | October 19, 2012
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Paul Bernard is the founder and principal of Paul Bernard & Associates, an executive coaching and career management consulting firm based in New York City.

When you’re looking for a job, especially after 50, it’s important to know what not to do. As an executive coach for more than 20 years, I’ve found that many older job seekers make one or more of the following six mistakes, often with serious consequences — preventing candidates from being hired or leading them to take jobs they shouldn't accept.
 
Mistake 1: Falling into deep despair after losing a job. Rather than viewing the chance to find a new job as an opportunity, many who are newly out of work cling to negative mantras: “I’m too old.” “No one will ever hire me.” “How could they have done this to me?”
 
This self-pity frequently sends a job hunter into a state of paralysis. A better approach is to convert any negative energy into a fierce determination to get back into the workforce as quickly as possible.
 
Mistake 2: Jumping at the first job that comes along. I’ve seen this happen time and time again: An unemployed job applicant gets an offer and immediately grabs it. Unfortunately, the new position is sometimes a bad fit. As a result, the new employee either hates the job or winds up losing it.
 
To avoid this error, spend time really nailing down what you want and need from your next job. How much should it pay? What type of work would motivate you? What sort of boss and corporate culture would make you happiest? Where do you want to be in five to ten years? Are you and your family prepared to relocate?
 
One client of mine waited until after he accepted a position as the creative director of an advertising agency to tell his wife, who was born and bred in New Jersey, that they would soon be heading 800 miles west to Chicago. She refused to move, and he then had to decline the offer.
 
Mistake 3: Taking a reactive approach to finding a job. Don’t spend more than 25 percent of your time searching for a job by answering ads and talking to recruiters who contact you. Those tend to be low-payback efforts. Instead, take a proactive approach. Spend at least 75 percent of your time networking — online and in person — with people in fields you want to work in. These days, most good jobs come through personal networking. Use LinkedIn to contact people in your network, and ask them to put you in touch with others; then arrange informational interviews. If you belong to a trade association, go to its conferences to meet prospective employers.
 
One of my clients was just hired as a human resources vice president. The secret to his sucess: While job hunting, he thought of himself as his own sales manager. Every day, he sold himself to both past and new contacts. After more than 75 face-to-face networking conversations, he received two job offers and took the one he preferred.
 
Mistake 4: Being sloppy, unprofessional or old-fashioned in written and online communications. An HR officer recently told me that if he sees a resumé with a single typo, it goes into the trash. Keeping that in mind, do a spell check on every resumé you send and every professional email you write, and double-check the names and titles of everyone you contact.
 
Make sure to avoid one common faux pas: addressing a man as a woman or vice versa. If you’re writing to someone named Robin or Lindsay, for instance, be sure you get the gender right.
 
If your email address is one that doesn't sound professional, like knicksfan@yahoo.com, replace it with an address that’s more suited to the work world. An email address on the order of firstname.lastname@gmail.com will do just fine.
 
Mistake 5: Showing up unprepared for the job interview. Never go to an interview unless you’ve done your homework. Start by doing a search in Google News for recent articles about the company where you're applying and its industry.
 
If the company is public, you must, at a minimum, review its annual report. If you’re interviewing with a private company, get the scoop on it by using Factiva, Hoover's Company and Industry Reports or an online business database easily accessible with a library card, such as Predicasts PROMT. To learn about the corporate culture of a large company, run a search on Vault.com or Glassdoor.com.
 
If you’ve worked for many years at a Fortune 500 company and you’re interviewing for a position at a start-up or a small business, be prepared to talk about how you’ll make the transition into a new culture.
 
Mistake 6: Failing to follow up appropriately. Some people who haven’t looked for a job in years don’t know today’s etiquette when it comes to following up after an interview or networking conversation.

You should always send a brief, gracious thank-you note immediately following the meeting. Email is fine, but a handwritten note is better, since it sets you apart while showing good manners.
 
If two weeks have passed after an interview and you haven’t heard anything, follow up with an email briefly restating your interest in the position and saying that you look forward to hearing the decision. Emailing more than once every two weeks, however, is a sign of desperation. Don’t be pesky.
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