9 Mistakes That Can Cost You That Next Career Opportunity

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Navigating the job market is challenging these days, but potentially unavoidable. A recent GOBankingRates survey found that nearly 21% of respondents have been laid off in the last year. While pursuing a new role is more competitive than ever, job seekers who know what pitfalls to avoid can improve their odds of landing their next career opportunity. 

Here are nine most common mistakes that individuals often make in their career-advancement search, exploring how each hiccup can affect your professional prospects — and how you can avoid them.

Neglecting Online Presence

In the digital age, employers frequently research candidates online. Neglecting your online presence (especially personal social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat) can be a costly mistake. 

Before you apply for a new role, ensure that your personal accounts are private or locked down. Search for posts that tag you and remove the tag. Hide or eliminate compromising photos of wild nights out or controversial statements you’ve made in the past. 

Once you prep your public social media persona, focus on improving your visibility on professional platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Highlight your achievements, presenting a cohesive professional image across platforms and engaging with other accounts that align with the type of companies and career track you’re interested in pursuing.

Sending Generic Resumes and Cover Letters

Sending out generic resumes and cover letters may seem efficient, but it diminishes your chances of standing out. Companies often receive hundreds to thousands of applications for one role. 

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To better field the large interest that a job opening creates, many organizations have adopted applicant tracking software (ATS) that automatically filters and discards many of the resumes before they reach the hiring manager. Being more selective in applying for roles that are the best fit may be the better approach these days to get past candidate-sorting software.

Patrick Payne, founder of Popcandi, a coaching site to help job seekers, explained: “Tailor your application materials for each position, emphasizing how your skills align with the specific requirements of the job. You might not realize this, but recruiters can see when you are just mass applying to roles. If we see your name against several unrelated roles, it might signal to us that you are not serious about any of them; leading us to potentially reject you for all of them. Be deliberate in your applications and go for ones that you are the best for.”

Since many companies use ATS to scan for target keywords in your resume and cover letter, potentially dismissing you before a person actually reviews your application, improve your chances of landing an interview in a couple of ways:

  • Extract and include keywords in your application documents: Review the job description carefully. Be sure to add some keywords mentioned in the description to your cover letter and resume to be a better match, highlighting how your skills are in line with a company’s requirements. 
  • Use a simple resume format: Format your resume to be easily scannable. You can use an online resume checker that rates its compatibility with ATS and makes suggestions on how it can better pass the software test.
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Regardless of whether an employer uses ATS, provide maximum impact with your resume and cover letter. Many candidates make the mistake of listing job duties without highlighting their achievements. Quantify your impact wherever possible and showcase how your contributions added value to previous employers. 

For example, if you’re proficient at social media, consider a statement in addition to the qualification, such as, “Used my social media experience to create a Twitter campaign that increased engagement over three weeks by 50% via daily scheduled, targeted hashtags and short videos.”

Ignoring Networking Opportunities

Relying solely on online job boards and overlooking the power of networking is a common oversight. Leverage a multifaceted approach, including networking, industry events and company websites, to discover a broader range of positions.

Attend industry events, join professional groups and leverage online platforms to expand your network. Personal connections often play a significant role in landing desirable career opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction — some positions aren’t always advertised. Plus, having a company insider make the introduction to the hiring manager can put your name (and resume) at the top of the application stack. 

Overlooking the Power of References

References can provide valuable insights into your work ethic and character. Choose references strategically, inform them about potential calls and ensure they can speak to your qualifications for the desired position. 

While many employers are limited to contacting references to verify employment dates or previously held roles and job titles, you could ask a reference to write a letter of recommendation to include with your application, that could take the reference further by emphasizing your strengths and achievements.

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Neglecting Continuous Learning

In rapidly evolving industries, neglecting to invest in continuous learning can hinder your long-term career prospects. Stay updated on industry trends, acquire new skills and join groups and associations related to your career track to show a commitment to professional development.

Lack of Interview Preparation

Failing to adequately prepare for interviews may be the worst pitfall. During interviews, employers expect candidates to have a solid understanding of the company. Inadequate research reflects poorly on your level of interest, so familiarize yourself with the company’s values, recent accomplishments and industry standing. Research the company, and be absolutely familiar with the job description and how your work experience and skills align. Also, practice common interview questions. Confidence and preparation go a long way in making a positive impression.

One of the most common ways to prepare for a job interview is by learning about the STAR method. It’s a structured approach used to answer behavioral interview questions designed to assess how candidates have handled specific situations in the past. The STAR acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result, and each component plays a crucial role in crafting a comprehensive and effective response. When answering questions, use the following four steps:

  • Situation (S): Begin by describing the context or situation you were in. Provide enough details for the interviewer to understand the background and challenges you faced. Keep the focus on a specific instance from your past experience.
    For example: “In my previous role as a project manager, we encountered a significant setback when a key team member quit right before a crucial project deadline.”
  • Task (T): Clearly outline the task or objective you needed to accomplish in the situation. This helps the interviewer understand the specific goals and responsibilities associated with the scenario. Example: “The task was to shift responsibilities, reorganize the project timeline and ensure that the deadline was still met despite being short one team member.”
  • Action (A): Detail the actions you took to handle the situation and get the task done. This is the core of your response and should highlight your skills, decision-making process and the steps you took to resolve the issue. For example: “I immediately assessed the remaining team’s strengths and weaknesses, reassigned the tasks and communicated with the client about the potential delay. Additionally, I initiated a hiring process to bring in a temporary team member to fill the gap.”
  • Result (R): Conclude by explaining the positive outcomes or results of your actions. Emphasize any quantifiable achievements, improvements or lessons learned from the experience, such as: “Because of these actions, we not only met the project deadline but also improved overall team efficiency by 15%. The client was impressed with our transparency and dedication, leading to an extension of our contract. This experience taught me the importance of proactive planning and adaptability in managing unforeseen challenges.”
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Not Asking the Right Questions

Most job seekers assume that an interview is one-way, with the employer asking the questions and the applicant answering them. However, recruiters and hiring managers expect top applicants to ask insightful questions that show the prospective employee has knowledge about the company and sees themselves in the role. 

Dhanvin Sriram, hiring manager at the AI tech company, Prompt Vibes advises, “Being well-prepared for interviews is crucial. Research the company, practice answering common questions and have insightful questions ready to ask the interviewer.” Some sample questions you could ask include:

  • “If I’m selected for this role, what goals do you expect me to meet within the first six months?”
  • “How could I best leverage my previous project management experience in the new role?”
  • “Can you further explain what you mean by ‘diplomatic tone’ in your job description?”

Ignoring Cultural Fit and Soft Skills

While technical skills are essential, many employers also value soft skills and cultural fit. Communication, adaptability and teamwork are often determining factors in hiring decisions. Showcase your soft skills in both your resume and interviews.

Assess whether your work style and values align with the company culture and emphasize this alignment in your application materials and interviews. If company culture isn’t defined in the job description, look to the organization’s website for the mission statement or workforce description. In addition, websites such as Glassdoor and Indeed offer company reviews from past and present employees regarding the company’s culture.

Failure To Follow Up

Following up soon after an interview should be just as important as the other steps in the hiring process, since failing to do so can convey disinterest. A simple, thoughtful thank-you email expressing your appreciation for the opportunity and reiterating your enthusiasm for the position is a powerful tool to keep your candidacy top-of-mind. Briefly restate how your skills align with the position or mention something the hiring manager brought up during the interview to show your interest. 

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Securing your next career opportunity requires a combination of strategic planning, self-awareness and effective communication. By avoiding these common mistakes, you position yourself as a strong and thoughtful candidate. 

Be selective about the positions you apply for and put more effort into tailoring the applications and mirroring the job descriptions and company culture to stand out. Continuously refine your approach, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback — even if they didn’t hire you — and learn from your experiences in the ever-changing landscape of the professional world. Remember, each interaction and application is an opportunity to showcase your unique value and take a step closer to your desired career path.

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