Job Application Mistakes That Could Cost You Your Dream Job
Has this ever happened to you?
You spot a job posting that seems to describe exactly who you are. Everything about it appears to be perfect for you. You write up a lovely letter pouring your heart out to the company and polish up your resume with the most powerful adjectives you can think of.
Finally, with a pounding heart and butterflies in your stomach, you click “send”.
Days go by and you hear nothing. You’re certain that you will get a response, although deep down you begin to worry a little.
“You got this in the bag!” You tell yourself. After all, you have most, if not all, of the things they’re looking for.
But in the end, you get nothing but silence.
I’m sure you’ve wondered about that. Sadly, nobody ever bothers to tell you what went wrong.
Well today, I’m going to shed some light on what mistakes you likely made on your job application that robbed you of your shot at landing that dream job. Because I know how demoralizing it can be when you get so excited over something seemingly so perfect for you and you end up feeling like you’re talking to the wall. Ugh!
What Do I Know About Job Application Mistakes?
I’m glad you asked!
I’ve been working in human resources for the past 5 years and recruiting people is part of my day-to-day tasks. After having reviewed thousands of job applications and resumes, I have a pretty good idea of what makes the cut and what doesn’t.
My hope is that by sharing with you the mistakes I see job applicants make all the time on their applications, you won’t make the same mistakes next time.
I want you to succeed.
So without further adieu, here’s my list of 15 job application mistakes you need to avoid if you want to land that dream job.
- 1. Forgetting to check spelling and/or grammar
- 2. Not including keywords in your cover letter or resume
- 3. Not paying attention to the privacy setting on your social media
- 4. Over embellishing your resume
- 5. Not Showcasing your skills and achievements right away
- 6. Going overboard with the graphics
- 7. Not formatting your documents correctly
- 8. Information overload
- 9. Not following instructions
- 10. Contacting the hiring manager without a solid game plan
- 11. Applying multiple times
- 12. Not personalizing your application
- 13. Trying too hard to stand out
- 14. Not doing your homework on the company and its industry
- 15. Talking negatively about previous work experiences
15 Job Application Mistakes You Need to Avoid
1. Forgetting to check spelling and/or grammar
There’s nothing that pains me more than having to toss a perfectly good applicant in the “no” pile because of too many spelling and/or grammar mistakes in their application.
One or two small typos on a resume are understandable (unless the job requires an extremely high level of attention to detail), but anything more than that just makes you look sloppy.
So before you hit send, review everything at least 3 times and if you can, have someone else proofread it once more for you.
Be sure to check that you’ve named the company correctly in all your documents. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve received cover letters from job applicants mentioning a completely different company. Oops…awkward!
Yeah, that’s a hard one for any company to overlook.
2. Not including keywords in your cover letter or resume
Nowadays companies use sophisticated systems to help them filter, track, and manage applications. Oftentimes, if your application doesn’t include the keywords they’ve set up for the job posting, your resume won’t even end up in front of them.
How can you pick out which keywords to include in your cover letter and resume?
Go through the entire job posting and look for any descriptive words that describe the role and its requirements.
Words and phrases such as “adaptive”, “detail-oriented”, or “excellent communication skills” should give you a good idea of where to start. You’ll want to pepper these keywords throughout your application in a natural way, and not “stuff them” everywhere without a clear purpose.
3. Not paying attention to the privacy setting on your social media
HR reveals the 15 most common mistakes job applicants make in their resumes.
It’s no secret that recruiters scrutinize over job seekers’ social media. It’s considered public information—if you make it public, that is.
If all the posts you put on all your social media accounts are very “employer-friendly”, then you have nothing to worry about.
But do you really want a potential employer to look at the pictures of you having a good time (maybe too much of a good time) on a night out, or know the “complicated” status of your relationship, or read that profanity-filled rant you gave on your profile months ago after a particularly hard day?
Trust me, they will look at everything you’re willing to share. And without knowing the real you, it’s hard to not form some kind of an opinion based on the information you have on social media. So it’s best to keep your social media to yourself and your friends by adjusting that privacy setting.
4. Over embellishing your resume
“Everybody embellishes their resumes.”
This was the reply I got after I confronted a candidate about his resume.
After speaking with his former employer, I found out he had generously padded the duration of his employment there and the nature of his responsibilities.
Yes, I get it. We make things sound nicer with words such as “I was in charge of…” or “I initiated” in order to make a good impression. “I was just a lowly team member who did what I was told” isn’t exactly sexy, is it?
But where it crosses the line is when you exaggerate the nature and scope of your role, the importance of your position within the organization, the level of your involvement and accomplishments in key projects, and employment dates.
You can certainly try but the truth will come out eventually, if not during the interview or reference check, then most definitely when you start the new job.
And it won’t look pretty.
So just be honest. You can temporarily win them over with an over-embellished resume and lose them just as fast, or you can win them over for good with your eagerness to learn and commitment in improving where you’re lacking.
5. Not Showcasing your skills and achievements right away
You got only 6 seconds to make an impression on a recruiter from the moment they open your resume.
What do you want to tell them in 6 seconds?
Where you grew up or studied? The retail jobs you had in college and how much you learned from them? Or where you want to be in 3 years and how much you’ll love it if you can join the team?
The truth is, when I’m reviewing a resume, I’m not even reading those details until I’ve made the decision that the resume is worth pursuing.
Most recruiters do this. That’s just a fact.
I’ll tell you what recruiters want to see the most. We want to see a clear connection between you, the job, and the company. And there’s nothing that conveys that message better than a list of your skills and a highlight of your accomplishments. We want to see if you’ve got what it takes to do the job and fit in here, and we want to see that you’ve got a proven record of excelling elsewhere.
So make an impact right away by putting your best skills and accomplishments near the top of your resume.
Don’t make recruiters hunt for clues that you’re great for this job in those 6 seconds, give it to them directly and immediately. You can show them the rest of the good stuff about you later.You have only 6 seconds to make an impression with your resume. Make them count by putting these critical pieces of information at the top.
6. Going overboard with the graphics
One of the worst things you can do to your resume is over-using colours, fonts, and other text emphasis tools such as bold or italic. I’m guilty of this in the past and it wasn’t until I became the one reviewing the resumes that I realized how terrible this practice was.
A good resume is first and foremost an easy-to-read resume.
It doesn’t matter if you have superb experience and jaw-dropping achievements. If your resume is not easy on the eyes, it’s going to end up in the delete folder.
I can’t emphasize enough that your resume should be simple and easy for your reader to digest. I’ve had to close many resume files after just a few seconds because they were too confusing to read through. What a shame!
Stick to simple, eye-pleasing fonts such as Calibre, Arial, and Georgia. Check out this post from Business News Daily for a list of best fonts to use in a resume.
Use bold and italic sparingly.
Never use all caps unless it’s an abbreviation. You don’t want to sound like you’re YELLING.
And for goodness sake, don’t highlight your texts. If your words matter, they will shine even if they’re not glowing in neon yellow.
7. Not formatting your documents correctly
Similar to the mistake above, not formatting your cover letter and resume correctly will also kill their chances at being read.
I’ve seen resumes with big empty gaps everywhere, bullet points not lining up, and sentences showing different fonts in different sizes. These mistakes are distracting to say the least.
They also suggest that the applicant is either not very thorough with their work or worse—not competent enough with a computer.
So before you hit send, tease through all your application documents with a fine comb. Are your fonts consistent? Do your bullet points line up? Are there big white spaces in your documents?
If it’s allowed, I suggest you send your application documents in PDF. It’s just a much cleaner look that way.
8. Information overload
Remember the goal of your cover letter and resume is to generate enough interest for the company to give you a chance to speak with them personally. It is not to share every detail of your life from elementary school till now.
Be selective with the information you include. Not every job experience, community involvement, or training course will be relevant.
I once came across a resume that had an entire page dedicated to every training course the applicant took in his entire career, and only a few of them were relevant to the position we were hiring for.
The applicant wanted to appear knowledgeable and thorough in this case, but what he didn’t realize was by laying out too much information, he appeared to lack prioritization skills.
Remember you don’t have 20 minutes to tell your entire career story up until now. Stick to only what’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Provide enough information to whet a recruiter’s appetite but not so much that they feel they’ve already seen everything.
Your resume should be enticing, not nauseating.
9. Not following instructions
Before you submit your application, always read every instruction in the job posting.
Sometimes the company will ask you to attach supporting documents in your application, name your documents a certain way, or include specific words in your email subject line.
Other times they will tell you where to send the application to, what information they want you to include in your cover letter, or even require you to respond to a few questions.
Whatever the instructions are, it’s important that you follow them to the letter.
It’s frustrating for recruiters to have to go back and ask job applicants for information they should have already provided if they had just followed instructions. Most of the time, recruiters just don’t bother.
If there are other good candidates who followed instructions, why should they give you a second chance?
Plus, even if you do end up getting that interview, you lose credibility as a self-proclaimed “star-employee” if you can’t even follow through with simple instructions on a job posting.
So do yourself a big favour and double-check those instructions.
10. Contacting the hiring manager without a solid game plan
When the company says “do not call us to inquire the status of your application” in their job posting, they mean it.
I know the silence is maddening and you just want to know if you made it or not, but please. Please. Do. Not. Call.
Do you know how many applications a job posting typically receives? 250, according to Zety.com.
That sounds about right from my experience. When you have multiple openings going on at the same time, the volume of applications can make your head spin. So you can understand the last thing a recruiter needs is job applicants calling and leaving messages asking for a follow-up.
If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to give the company a call, make it count.
Let me tell you two stories to illustrate my point.
One day, I received a call from an applicant. This was the perfect opportunity for this person to make an impression on me.
But guess what he said next.
“My name is __________. Can you please confirm if you got my application for the _______opening?”
Really? You got HR on the phone and all you want them to do is drop whatever it is they’re doing and check whether your application made it through?
I politely explained that I was in the middle of something and would not be able to confirm the status of his application at that time, and he should have received a confirmation email when he applied. He thanked me and hung up without saying anything further.
I received a similar call on another occasion from a different applicant.
This time though, this applicant made a great impression on me. Right away, she told me she was only going to take a few minutes of my time, and all she wanted to do is ask me a single question: “What’s the biggest challenge your company is facing in that role?”
It caught me a little off guard, but I was happy to share my opinions with her. Then she proceeded to tell me how she believes she can help the company deal with that particular challenge and gave a brief example of how she handled a similar challenge in her past experience.
At the end of the conversation I asked her to repeat her name and contact information, and I made a note to review her resume in detail.
What’s the moral of these two stories? If you’re going to call, you better have a solid game plan or don’t do it at all.
11. Applying multiple times
Just because you apply more than once doesn’t mean your application will have a better chance at being seen on the radar.
In fact, applying more than once will likely make the recruiter flag you as someone who’s just mass applying to every job out there. You’ve applied to so many you don’t even remember which ones you’ve already applied to.
Recruiters have enough applications as it is, don’t make their job harder by sending in more than one application.
If you really must follow up, send in another email with some new information and let them know you’ve applied before but want to reach out again. This way they know you’re aware of your application status and that you’re not just sending out applications to every job posting online.
12. Not personalizing your application
Everyone wants to feel like they’re special, including organizations.
Although recruiters know you’re probably applying to a dozen different job postings at the same time, they want to feel like their company is the only one you really want to be a part of.
That’s why it’s important to personalize every one of your application and make it sound specific to the company and its culture. A little bit of research on the company’s website will give you a good idea of its background, values, latest news, and the language they use.
If it’s an established, multi-national company, you’ll want to sound more formal. But if it’s a start-up that values dynamism, you’ll want to sound more upbeat.
The point is to speak their language in the way they speak it.
But if speaking their language and adopting their values make you feel uncomfortable, then you might want to consider whether this job is really right for you. As appealing as that job may be right now, if you don’t ultimately fit in with the company and its culture, it will start to suck really quickly.
13. Trying too hard to stand out
I applaud the effort some people put in their resume in order to stand out from the crowd.
Some have stunning, professionally designed resumes, while others really grab your attention with the creativity of their words.
But at the end of the day, it’s the skills, experience, and fit that matter the most. You can wow a recruiter for 1 second with a gorgeous resume or well-crafted language, but if you don’t have the relevant skills, experience, and personality the company is looking for, that “wow” factor won’t translate into an interview.
If not done correctly, it might even backfire on you.
I once came across a resume profile that read “Master of the Universe since 1980.”
It grabbed my attention alright. It even gave me a good chuckle.
But what did I do next? I skimmed the resume as I usually would, and seeing that the person didn’t have the experience and skills we were looking for, I closed the file and moved on. The clever profile didn’t add any brownie points. And to tell you the truth, it hurt his chances. I wondered if he was a serious candidate.
If you want the job, don’t try too hard to stand out in your resume.
Let your skills, experience, and personality shine through with clear words and a simple design. If you don’t have the right mix of skills, experience, and personality they’re looking for, a flashy design and some clever descriptions are not going to make up for it.
14. Not doing your homework on the company and its industry
It’s ok if you’ve never heard of the company before or you don’t have any work experience in their industry. Recruiters understand this. But what makes a bad impression on recruiters is if you don’t put any effort at all into learning more about the company or its industry and just expect them to tell you everything.
Companies want to feel like you take a genuine and keen interest in them. They want to know you took the initiative to find out everything you can about them.
I’m not saying you have to show off how much you know about the company and its industry in your application, but you need to at least have some information at the back of your head in case a recruiter calls you.
One of the most popular questions recruiters like to ask in a phone interview is this: “What do you know about our company and what we do?”
Unless the company is so small and so new that it has zero online presence, you better have some kind of a response besides “um…I don’t know too much about the company.”
And one of the factors recruiters use to separate the top candidates from the mediocre ones is the quality of the questions the candidates ask. The top candidates always ask specific, well-thought-out questions that reflect their research of the company and its industry while the mediocre candidates only ask questions about pay and benefits or don’t have any questions at all.
Like many things in life, a little research and preparation will go a long way.
15. Talking negatively about previous work experiences
Don’t talk negatively about your previous work experience. EVER.
Even if your previous boss and co-workers were major jerks. Even if you feel you have to disclose the sordid details of a work conflict in order to explain why you left the job. Don’t do it.
Keep things positive.
Employers don’t want to take the risk of hiring a complainer who will talk their ears off on what’s going wrong, or a drama queen/king who’s going to over-react to every little disagreement in the workplace.
When you talk negatively about your previous work experience, a red flag will automatically go up in the recruiter’s mind. Trust me, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
You can have the best experience and the most sought-after skills, but I guarantee you when it comes down to decision-making time, that “negative talk about previous work experience” is going to come up and make someone at the table go “I don’t know…that didn’t give me a good feeling.”
As tempting as it is to rant about a spectacularly bad former boss or a co-worker from hell, swallow that thought back. If you don’t have anything good to say about the experience, quickly skim over it and focus on other work experiences that were positive.
If you’ve had a string of negative work experiences, well then you might want to ask yourself why.Don't let these 15 job application mistakes stand between you and your dream job!
So that’s it for my take on the 15 job application mistakes you need to avoid. Do you have any stories of job application mistakes you’ve seen or made in the past that you don’t mind sharing? I would love to hear them in the comments below!
Now go out there and get that dream job!