March 2, 2009 -- Looking for work is never easy. And with unemployment at a 16-year high, the available job pool is low and the competition is fierce. That means there's no room for error. You must be a qualified candidate and an exceptional jobseeker. Here's a look at some of the top mistakes to avoid.
Don't wait for an employer to call you. Don't sit by the phone waiting for HR to call. You've got to make it ring by following up on every resume submission. Find an internal referral, which is the leading source of new hire leads at every large employer, using social networks such as LinkedIn.com and Facebook. (If you apply to company XYZ, go to LinkedIn and search for that company, its location and the job title recruiter or HR manager. Most times a name will pop up for you to call.) You can also Google the name of the company, along with the words "recruiter" or "hr manager" and see if a name pops up because that person has appeared in the media or on an industry Web site. That'll give you a starting point to begin the follow-up.
Don't say generic things about yourself. If you've been out of work for several months or more, expect to be asked what you've been doing during that time. Saying you've just been job-searching is not impressive. It means you've attempted something unsuccessfully for quite some time. Even though we're in a recession, that's not a good enough answer. Instead, share a story about how you've spent the time: focus on a volunteer initiative you've taken on, the books you're reading, or the classes you're taking. Have something positive to briefly discuss to account for your time.
Similarly, if you're like many job-seekers, you'll likely tell an interviewer that you're a "team player." That's too generic. If pressed for details, how would you back up that label? The worst response: "I'll say yes to lending a hand any time. I'm always happy to do anything for anyone." That's not necessarily a team player; that's a pushover in the workplace! Instead, focus on a specific example of a time you brought together a group. Or a time when you listened so effectively that you were able to understand — and overcome — the concerns of your department to bring about consensus. Be ready to cite specific anecdotes from your work history. This is where many people get tongue-tied -- so you'll be ahead of the pack with examples at the ready.
Don't fidget, shift in seat, play with hair. Poor body language, such as averting your eyes, shifting in your seat, playing with your hair, chewing gum, or clicking a pen diminishes your confidence. It also distracts from the conversation and makes the other person somewhat uncomfortable. Instead, offer a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, stand and sit tall and always smile. That'll bolster your presentation.
Don't give too much personal information. Whether you're networking or interviewing, don't share your mortgage woes or child care challenges. Focus on your skills and abilities and what you bring to the particular position and the organization, not on what the job means to your personal finances.
Don't be pessimistic. This is true not only in any job-related conversation or interview, but even privately. Even though it seems there's little to be hopeful about given rising unemployment and underemployment, measured optimism is essential as you face each day. Optimism alone won't get you hired, but great skills and pessimism will keep you unemployed. In the search process, camaraderie and character can sometimes trump credentials, so the right attitude is essential.
Don't let interviewer ask all the questions. Even though you'll spend most of your time selling yourself in an interview, don't cede all the decision-making to the other side. You've got to evaluate the prospective employer too.
Two questions you must ask: Why is this position vacant? (Maybe someone was promoted from within, which could be a good sign. Or maybe turnover is a huge concern. You don't want to find out on day one that you're the fifth person in six months to sit at that desk.)
The other question: If you could change one thing about the culture of this department or company, what would it be? (This is a polite way of asking what's wrong with the place without being rude. It will offer you valuable insights.)
Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and the CEO of Women For Hire. Visit her Web site at www.womenforhire.com.