Job Hunting? Don't Make These 10 Mistakes

In this job market, there's no room for error if you're looking for work.

What not to do is just as important as following all of the proactive advice you receive.

Don't get tongue-tied on the basics. If you met someone at a cocktail party and they asked what you do, could you answer in one clear, concise sentence? Many job seekers have huge difficulty with this because they're unsure of their identity now that their paycheck is gone. "Well, I don't really do anything now -- I'm out of work." Wrong answer.

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Instead, offer a focused response: "I specialize in marketing for small businesses." "I'm a Special Ed teacher." Or "I work in retail sales."

Being out of work now is not part of your opening line. Your response is focused on what you do -- and then from there, as you engage in chit chat, you'll make it known that you're looking for your next opportunity.

Don't say, "I'll take anything." If you do, you wind up with nothing. No employer wants someone who'll do absolutely anything. Focus on what you're best qualified to do -- and target all of your efforts around that. Instead of asking, "Hey, do you know anyone who's hiring?" frame your inquiries around your unique skills, experience, education and interests. If you ask, "Do you know anyone who's hiring in retail sales?" it's much easier to receive a meaningful response than if you ask, "Do you know anyone who's hiring?" Help people to help you by being clear about what you do and what you seek.

Don't focus on your needs. Too many cover letters and objective statements on resumes focus exclusively on what you, as the job seeker, want. "I want stability, I want growth, I want this much money." All of that is no doubt very true, but that's not what any employer wants to hear. If I'm going to hire you, I want to know that you have the ability to bring value to my organization. I need to know that you understand the needs of my company and you have the skills, education, experience and interest to make a positive impact. Hiring decisions are about the company's needs, not yours. Ultimately you'll have to decide if it's what you want, too -- of course -- but your needs aren't first and foremost when applying.

Don't use one resume for every job. Tweak every resume to the needs of the position you're applying to. Don't assume that someone can read your one-size-fits-all resume and immediately know that your goal is to change fields. You must invest the time to prove that you understand their needs and that your resume is tailor-made for that opening.

Don't go negative. Recruiters shy away from candidates who give off negative vibes by complaining about being laid off, the unfairness of the job market, or their extraordinary frustration with the job search process. On the flip side, there are many candidates who've received the same pink slip, but when they're interviewing, they're positive -- and that positive attitude is contagious. Save your job search pain and frustration for pillow talk -- don't let it seep into your job-related conversations.

Don't spend all of your time on big job boards. The majority of job seekers spend the bulk of their job search time scouring the big job boards, applying to anything and everything that seems appealing. You can do some of that, but it should account for the least amount of your time. Shift the majority of your time to build your personal brand online by engaging in online social networks. Use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Comment on influential blogs in your industry or create a digital resume. Talk to other people instead of simply applying for advertised openings.

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Don't ignore the need to account for your time. If you've been out of work for a year, an employer (and even networking contacts) will want to know how you've spent your time. "Uh, looking for a job" or "Pounding the pavement" won't be impressive, but someone who can speak to volunteering, interning, temping -- anything to show that you're busy and proactive while looking for the right opportunity -- will be more impressive. It's never too late to start today.

Don't show up unprepared. You finally get the call to be interviewed -- no small feat in this job market, so you want to do everything to over-prepare. What does the company do, who are its competitors, and what's happening in the industry in which it operates? Google the people you'll be meeting with to see what you can learn about them. Ask the person who sets up the interview to tell you about the people you'll be meeting, and to share a bit about the culture and dress code. Ask, "What should I know about the people I'll be meeting -- I want to make sure I'm prepared as best as possible."

Review your resume and be ready to elaborate on every line if asked. Review the job description and prepare notes for yourself in advance about how exactly you'd be an asset for their specific needs.

Keep in mind that there are two elements to hiring: the hard skills -- by the time you're calling for the interview, someone has a decent feeling that you may have the skills, experience and education to do the job. What they don't know -- and what's really critical -- is what makes you tick, what ticks you off -- what kind of person are you, will we like working with you every day? And some of this is determined from the second you say hello, and more is determined by asking behavior-based questions: "Tell me about a time you made a mistake." "Tell me what your former colleagues would say about you." Arrive prepared and don't leave without asking about the next steps and the time frame for a decision.

Don't apply for openings at the expense of creating opportunities. Your greatest competition is for positions that are advertised -- and yet, that's where job seekers spend the bulk of their effort applying for jobs. In addition to applying for relevant openings, you should also think about creating opportunities. Come up with 20 companies that you'd love to work for -- and create a specific pitch about what you could do for them, even on a contract or freelance basis.

Bring a brilliant business idea to a manger or business owner, and you'll get an audience. I've hired many people when I didn't have a formal opening because they brought me an idea I couldn't refuse. Small businesses are ripe for this, as are large corporations or nonprofits. The key is having a great idea that you're uniquely qualified to plan and execute. Explain what you know about the organization and why this is the right time and the right idea. Plus, it's easier now to land a part-time or freelance opportunity than a full-time staff position, so you're leveraging this growing trend.

Don't sit around and wait. This is the "spray and pray" method. You apply to 100 jobs and then you pray the phone will ring. It won't. You must follow up with a call to make sure someone knows you exist. Don't call to ask, "Did you get my resume?" Instead, you can say you know there's an opening, you're sure they're flooded with applicants, but you know you're an ideal match, so you want to make sure to get in front of the right people.

Find contact names on LinkedIn, look for an internal referral -- and if all else fails, cold call the hiring manager and recruiter responsible for filling the job. Just don't assume they received your resume. Don't wait for the phone to ring. Make it ring!

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Ask her your most pressing job search questions at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.

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