First impressions matter, especially on the job hunt. As many as a third of hiring managers report knowing within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they want to make a hire, and a sour first impression can be challenging — if not impossible — to recover from.
But it’s important to remember that first impressions don’t start with the interview. Well before shaking hands with a hiring manager, you’ve already sent multiple messages about the kind and caliber of candidate you are. And those messages can then feed into a “horns or halo” bias in your interview, according to interview coach Chris Delaney.
“Pre-interview information can create a positive bias resulting in the employer wanting the interviewee to do well,” Delaney explained. “In the interview, the hiring manager, due to the ‘halo effect,’ will subconsciously encourage the applicant, even searching for positive traits to help.”
Conversely, the “horns effect,” he added, is when the “employer is predisposed to dislike the applicant and will subconsciously search for reasons to reduce an interview score.” Meaning? If you don’t want to sabotage your odds of getting the job before you’ve even arrived at the interview, there are certain behaviors you’ll want to be mindful of — and certain ones you’ll want to avoid.
1. You’re blending in.
In a competitive job market, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not clearly communicating what differentiates you from other candidates. That’s something that should be a visible part of your brand well before you reach the interview, advised Kyle Elliott, a Silicon Valley and high tech career coach.
“With the job market more saturated than ever before, it’s critical that you identify how your experiences and skills are distinct from other job applicants,” Elliott said. “After you have identified these differences, articulate them in your resume, on your LinkedIn profile, and throughout the interview process. There’s nothing worse than blending into the job-seeker crowd.”
2. You’re using a stock resume.
Modifying your resume for each job you apply to is, inarguably, a pain. But if you’re sending out the same, uniform resume with every application, hiring managers will notice — and won’t think well of you for it, said Ryan Dalal, CEO of Merge PDF.
“Submit resumes that appear to have been sent to another organization if you want to eliminate yourself from consideration,” he said. “These carbon-copy resumes are not only offensive to companies that are actively seeking candidates, but they also do you a disservice by undervaluing your professional abilities.”
3. You’ve engaged in less-than professional social media behavior.
A good rule of thumb is to not post anything you wouldn’t be prepared to directly discuss with a potential employer, Alex Mastin, CEO at Homegrounds, said. And that applies not only to direct posts you’re making, but your social media footprint at large.
“My advice would be to make sure that anything you post you would be happy to support in a conversation,” he said. “For instance, politics are often talked about on social media, and this is fine, but what you might want to avoid is name calling back and forth with a stranger you’ve never met.”
4. Your resume isn’t ATS-optimized.
“A lot of firms utilize an Applicant Tracking System to keep track of their applicants,” he said. “If your resume isn’t formatted in a way that the system understands, your chances of getting on a recruiter’s list are minimal to none. Don’t make your CV too complicated. Use a simple template, but be sure to add keywords relevant to the position you’re applying for.”
5. Your email etiquette is lacking.
Being haphazard with emails is one of the surest ways to set yourself up for job search failure, Bart Turczynski, Content and SEO Director at ResumeLab, said.
“Being too casual can definitely make your interviewer go into the interview with a negative impression. For example, I’ve gotten emails that start with ‘hey’ or just ‘hi’ and no name,” Turczynski said. “Also, not doing a simple typo check of your email shows the employer that you’re not that invested in the job — at least, that’s how it appears. And lastly, making a bunch of appointment changes can be off-putting. When a candidate repetitively asks for their interview appointment to be rescheduled, it seems like the interview isn’t a priority.”
6. You’re taking too long to respond.
We’re all busy professionals, and immediacy shouldn’t be expected. But if you’re allowing for excessively long windows between responses, it will seem like you’re not that enthusiastic about the role.
“A common mistake I’ve seen is taking days to respond to my email, or even never responding at all,” Mark Coster, co-founder of FairyDigital, said. “Of course, I don’t expect anyone to leave what they’re doing and text immediately, or even within an hour or two. But waiting for days to respond shows that you lack interest in this role and that you don’t value people’s time.”
7. Conversely, you’re over-communicating and following up too often.
Patience can be hard to practice when you’re waiting to hear back about a position that excites you. But take care not to come on too strong, advised Chris Muktar, founder of WikiJob.
“The recruitment process isn’t done in a snap,” he said. “Losing your patience and calling the company numerous times just to follow up on your application is off-putting.”
8. You’re spending too much time applying for jobs online.
Especially at the executive level, if scrolling through online job postings has become a staple of your job search, you’re likely wasting your time. Focus instead on tapping into your network, said Swati Chalumuri, a career and personal finance writer. “Not every job opening is advertised… some positions get filled within the company’s network without ever being advertised. And that’s a reality that job searchers overlook,” she said. “Before you hit job boards and register with hiring agents, focus on your network. Let it be known that you’re looking for a job, and include salary expectations.” And if, in addition to networking, you do spend time applying to jobs online, be sure to diversify where you’re looking.
“You can’t depend on only one or two websites to find jobs,” James Walsh, a career coach and financial advisor, said. “You’ve got to branch out and use at least five or six different websites.”
9. You’re waiting for the “perfect job.”
If you’re stopping yourself from even applying to or entering into conversations around a role because it doesn’t seem “perfect,” that’s a form of self-sabotage worth doing away with, said Chris LaMorte, co-founder of WebChimpy.
“One of the common mistakes that I see people make is they wait for the perfect job to be listed,” he said. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no such thing as the ‘perfect job.’ Therefore, you should be flexible in your skills and not look for just a certain kind of job listing. It will increase your chances of getting hired.”
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