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Top 10 Mistakes People Make When Looking for Work

by Jack Molisani (6 December 2003)

Recruiters (both HR and agency recruiters) receive tens--if not hundreds--of resumes a day, each of which must be read, evaluated against current job requirements, processed, clarified and filed. If you want them to help you find a job, help them do their jobs.

One way to do this is to avoid some of the common mistakes people make when they are looking for work or applying for a job.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

The Common Mistakes

Presented in order of chronology, not severity.


1. Not following submission directions

Read the directions! Remember that first impressions last.

Should you send in resume by Email, Fax or Snail Mail? Should it be formatted or an ASCII resume?

2. Applying when you are not even remotely qualified

Don't apply without considering the requirements.

Do apply for jobs that are a bit of a stretch, but at least be in the ballpark!

Don't do "shotgun" applications.

Pay attention to the "must have" vs. "nice to have" requirements.

3. Not summarizing skills vs. requirements

Recruiters get tens if not hundreds of resumes a day. Not all recruiters have the time to read your resume from top to bottom–some just skim for keywords and needed skills.

If you are qualified, the recruiter will write a summary of how your skills match the job requirements before passing it on. However, they are not adapt in your particular professional. Do you really want them to decide if you are a good enough match to pass on?

Be pro-active: send a matrix of the job requirements vs. your skills so they don't have to do it for you. If you don't have one of the needed skills, this is where you say, "I don't have XYZ, but I do have ABC, which is very similar."

Suddenly, you are the recruiter's best friend:

4. Misnaming your resume

Remember, recruiters get tens if not hundreds of electronic resumes a day. Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes. Would you want to receive 100 resumes a day named "resume.doc"?

Name your resume so it can be found easily: for example, "Joe_Jones.doc"

5. Poor writing or formatting in resume

Your resume is the first sample of your writing skill. Programmers can get away with bad writing and formatting, but technical writers cannot!

If you are seeking a technical writing job, remember that documentation managers judge candidates based on their resumes and will disqualify you if you don't apply the same standards to your resume that you do your documentation.

Pay attention to:

6. Misplacing important items

Highlight your strengths. Minimize your weaknesses.

For example, put the most applicable information, experience or skills near the top of your resume. Put less- or non-applicable experience near the bottom.

7. Not keeping your skills current

You should know the latest tools in your profession. If you can really just pick them up in a week, how come you haven't already done so? There is no reason not to stay current.

Working with recruiters

8. Not building personal relationships

Develop a personal relationship with your recruiter. You want someone who will sing your praises to the next person in the hiring process, especially if you are not an exact match or have some other special situation. Plus, when a cool job comes in, who do you think they will call first?

9. Bad manners

It's poor form to mail your resume to 45 recruiters in one email, especially when you display them all in the To: field!

Keep a log of where your resume has been sent.

Don't insult the recruiter. (I'm not kidding. It happens!)

10. Not anticipating and answering questions

Recruiters wonder about oddities in resumes, so be pro-active and explain them.


In conclusion

  1. Follow submission directions.
  2. Build personal relationships
  3. Use good manners and netiquette.
  4. Apply for jobs for which you are qualified.
  5. Include a summary of how your skills match the job requirements when you submit your resume.
  6. Name your electronic resume so it can be identified.
  7. Apply usability factors to your resume like you do to manuals.
  8. Highlight your strength, minimize your weaknesses.
  9. Anticipate and answer questions.
  10. Keep your skills current.

Prepare well for your job and your future

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


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About the author

Jack Molisani is the president of ProSpring Inc., a technical communication and placement firm. He also teaches courses on how to reduce support costs through better documentation and training materials at Cal State University, is a regular speaker at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and WinWriters international conferences, and was the chairman of the year 2000 STC Pan-Pacific Conference.

He can be reached by phone at 888-378-2333 and by email at

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