These Are the Top 10 Common Job Search Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

Wondering which professional blunders can doom your chances of securing that next role? We speak with Lori Shreve Blake from the USC Career Center to uncover those mistakes and more.

Searching for a new job is a stressful, nerve-wracking experience, so it’s natural — and common — to make some mistakes during the process, especially if you have been out of the job hunt for a long period of time.

There are certain professional blunders, however, that can doom your chances of landing your next dream job — errors you should take care to avoid.

To get a better understanding of the most common job search mistakes that people make during the application process and how to avoid them, we spoke with Lori Shreve Blake, senior director of career engagement at the USC Career Center.

1. Using a One-Size-Fits-All Resume

Yes, creating a solid resume takes a lot of work and effort. But if you’re looking for a variety of different jobs or roles across multiple types of industries, you can’t use just one resume for every job post.

You want to make sure your resume specifically addresses the skills the posting requires, proving you’re the right fit for the job. You also want to ensure your resume makes it past any applicant tracking systems, which may filter out applications based on certain keywords, Shreve Blake said.

“Every industry has their own language, their own way of communicating. And if I’m really an insider in that industry, I need to talk the talk,” she explained. “Ultimately, in customizing my resume based on the job description or major functional area that I’m going for, I’m then seen as a more credible candidate and qualified to do the job and do it well.”

2. Forgetting to Proofread Documents

Your resume and cover letter are the documents that represent you before you can even meet the hiring manager. That means they need to be in perfect shape, demonstrating your skills and your ability to communicate. Thus, proofreading is essential.

In fact, you should have a second pair of eyes look over your documents to confirm there are no spelling and grammar mistakes, said Shreve Blake.

“If there are typos, they’re going to think you’re not qualified, you don’t check important documents. They’re not going to move forward because you can’t even present a document that’s flawless and that’s important in any field,” Shreve Blake explained.

3. Skipping a Cover Letter, Even Though It Was Requested

Speaking of cover letters, don’t forget to craft one. Of course, not every job requires you to submit a cover letter, so it’s up to you to check if it’s requested.

If it’s not necessary, you can skip it, but if the job posting asks for a cover letter, then you need to complete one. As Shreve Blake pointed out, not submitting a required cover letter shows you can’t follow simple directions.

4. Not Networking

Any professional will tell you networking is one of the most critical aspects to any job hunt —and most experts (including Shreve Blake) say about 80 percent of open positions are filled via networking.

“Your resume could be the best. Your cover letter could be flawless, so persuasive. But if you don’t do the networking and the hard work behind the scenes, your resume will continue to swim with those other 200 or so resumes sent in for this role,” Shreve Blake said. “When you actually know people, when you’ve demonstrated who you are to someone, it helps you rise to the top of the pile.”

Networking can take various forms. Sometimes, it’s as simple as tapping into an alumni network or reaching out to friends to uncover connections at certain companies. Maybe you message employees at your dream companies on LinkedIn. There are also industry-specific organizations you can join or seminars you can attend that will help you broaden your network.

5. Leaving a LinkedIn Profile Sparse

The reality is, most companies will turn to Google to learn more about you. So, what are they going to find? Shreve Blake recommends conducting a search on yourself to ensure that your online presence aligns with the professional image you want to project to prospective employers.

Pay close attention to your LinkedIn profile, as it’s a convenient window for hiring managers to access your employment history, current skills and valuable connections you’ve made. When your LinkedIn is not up to date, you risk missing out on sharing key information with job prospects.

“Having a half-baked LinkedIn these days, it’s not a good look for anyone,” Shreve Blake said.

6. Limiting Your Search to Posted Jobs

There are all types of ways to peruse job postings online: via LinkedIn, Google, Indeed, Glassdoor, Craigslist, company websites and more. It often feels like a full-time job just to scour these sources for open positions.

Limiting your search to these postings alone, however, can lead to a missed opportunity. It’s possible your dream job just hasn’t been listed yet.

If there is a company you’re interested in working at, don’t hesitate to take the initiative and reach out. By introducing yourself and highlighting your skill sets, you might find the perfect position waiting in the wings, or even the chance to carve out a new role that hasn’t been officially listed.

7. Opting Out of Research

As tedious as it can be, research is a major part of the job hunt process. The research should be conducted at multiple points, too, like when you apply to the job (so your knowledge can be reflected in your resume and cover letter) and before your interview (so you can call out specifics when asked about the company).

Employers can tell if you’re not familiar with their workplace during interviews, and it can certainly work against you. They’re looking for candidates who exhibit a true passion for the company, and your background knowledge helps you demonstrate that enthusiasm. It also reflects your dedication and potential as a valuable team member when preparing for important tasks and projects.

8. Trashing Past Employers

Inevitably, you’ll be asked why you left your past position or why you’re seeking a new job. While you want to be honest about your employment history and your desire for a different role, it isn’t wise to throw a former or current employer under the bus.

You might be seeking a new job due to your dissatisfaction with a company or boss, but voicing your complaints will raise a red flag for hiring managers. If you’re quick to openly criticize an employer, they’ll worry you may do the same about their organization in the future.

Instead, craft answers that allude to your motivations for pursuing a new opportunity while maintaining a diplomatic tone.

9. Not Checking Your References

References are a standard part of any application process, but there are still people who either overlook this step or opt for less-than-ideal references. These individuals can make or break an application, so it’s crucial to select references who are familiar with your achievements and can speak highly of your work.

You also need to choose the right type of references — family members or friends won’t suffice. Prioritize professors, mentors, coworkers, managers and other professionals who can provide insights on your qualifications.

10. Skipping a Thank-You Email

Sending a thank-you email might seem like a small gesture, but it’s an important step. While some may consider it outdated, many others still take note of whether a candidate took the time to express their appreciation.

So, it’s worth sending a thank-you email to any employees who interview you, Shreve Blake said. It communicates you respect them and value their time, and it also provides an opportunity to reiterate your qualifications and strengths by referencing the relevant parts of your interview. Simply put, it’s a great way to leave a final positive impression.

Explore more career advice from USC Online today.