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4 Things Employers Wish Job Applicants Would Stop Doing

4 Things Employers Wish Job Applicants Would Stop Doing

Most job seekers today understand the importance of a strong resume and will spend hours crafting multiple drafts and customizing their approach for each new application.

But no amount of customization or spell-checks can address tiresome clichés, and far too many resumes and cover letters still tend to be filled with meaningless drivel that tells recruiters little or nothing about what an applicant is really like.

You wouldn’t tell a potential employer you are a “highly motivated, results-oriented team player with excellent analytical skills” in a face-to-face interview, so why put it in your resume?

To get to the bottom of some of these clichés, I’ve asked four employers to share their pet peeves, as well as the things they wish applicants would do instead.

1. Talking in the third person

This might come as a bit of a surprise since there’s a lot of advice out there saying that writing in the third person is more professional for a resume or cover letter.

But while it’s true that using “I” or “me” can be seen as unprofessional, your resume should never look like something your mother wrote about you.

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“It just sounds odd for someone to introduce themselves in the third person when the resume or cover letter was clearly written by them,” says Kara Alcamo, director of search marketing at R2integrated.

Saying “John Smith has worked in marketing for ten years,” sounds impersonal and even pretentious.

Why? Because a third-person point of view distances you from the thing or person you are writing about, and considering that you are writing about yourself, that’s a pretty ill-advised thing to do.

Instead, craft your resume in the first person, but leave “I” out of it to prevent it from sounding like an entry in your diary. If you’re having trouble with this, just write it out normally, and then remove every “I” and “my” later on.

Alcamo adds that aside from getting the tone right, it’s important for applicants to think about what the hiring manager is actually interested in.

“Everyone can talk about their great work ethic, but hard examples are more motivating,” she says.

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“For example, I’m currently looking for a paid search strategist, and if someone wrote that they increased conversion rates for a client by 40% with an A/B landing page test, I’d be much more interested in hiring them than someone who just used some buzzwords to describe themselves.”

2. Exaggerating skills and abilities

Sabrina Hartel, Editor in Chief for women’s magazine Red Hot 40, notes that applicants often overstate their abilities, or fail to back them up with facts and examples, which is just as bad.

“The most overused cliché that I’ve seen when hiring a writer is, ‘I can do this,’ even when the person has no relevant experience in their resume or writing samples,” says Hartel.

“As long as I see samples, I would hire a writer straight out of high school. The most important thing for me is to be able to see what I am working with.”

Business owner and recruiter Kenneth Havens says that applicants tend to greatly overstate their experience or abilities, and on a couple of rare occasions, even make them up.

“I once interviewed an applicant who had stated in her resume that she spoke fluent Japanese,” he says.

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“During the phone interview, I explained that the job would require her to speak and understand some basic Japanese, and she assured me that she spoke Japanese quite well.

However, when I switched over from English to Japanese to test her fluency, the voice on the other end went silent. I’ve never heard from her again.”

Instead of exaggerating, which will almost certainly backfire, Havens advises applicants to simply research the company and carefully read through the job requirements to ensure that their particular skill set will be welcomed.

3. Being too vague

Keeping your resume brief is always good practice, but being too vague or general is another matter entirely.

“Applicants often apply with statements such as ‘I like food,’ or, ‘I like to cook,’” but who doesn’t like food?” says Melanie Young, Chief Connector with The Connected Table, a food and beverage marketing company.

“It’s important for applicants to look at the company’s websites and be familiar with their services and programs. Many of the applicants I deal with do not do this, or have no idea of what is involved with working at a public relations firm.”

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Young points out that it can also be beneficial for jobseekers to sharpen their “elevator pitch,” with at least 3–4 specific attributes they can bring to the company. This will help them keep their pitch brief but also ensure that it’s specific enough.

4. Hinting at future ambitions

Many job seekers misguidedly think it will help their cause to demonstrate to a potential employer how ambitious they are by talking about their plans for the future, even when these extend beyond the job and company they are applying to.

But although employers do value ambition in an employee, no one wants to hear that the person they are considering for a position in their company has plans to take over their job or steal away their clients in two years time.

“I often see applications that say things along the lines of ‘I want to own my own agency someday,’” says Young.

“But all that really makes me think is; ‘Great! How long do you plan to work for me? And will you be taking a second helping of my file when you leave?’”

In order to demonstrate that you’re ambitious without causing employers to wonder where your loyalties are, try to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish or improve within the company you want to work for.

Featured photo credit: Image courtesy of hotblack/morguefile.com via mrg.bz

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Marianne Stenger

Writer, Open Colleges

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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