Ten Annoying Tips for the Unemployed

By Mike Schuster  SEP 23, 2009 12:15 PM

Heartfelt advice sometimes sounds like smug suggestions.


It's been more than a year since the job market went from an open house to a gated community, and yet many bloggers, financial pundits, and even relatives -- okay, the majority of relatives -- still don't seem to understand: Most unsolicited employment advice is incredibly aggravating.

Tips for a job search involve someone in an extremely vulnerable state. Looking for work -- especially during a rough economy -- can be an unrewarding, soul-crushing experience, and suggestions for those doing it must both acknowledge and ignore that fact. The best, most tactful advice for someone who has just lost their job is a delicate balance of sympathy and restraint.

But time and time again, a market expert or sister-in-law will weigh in on what you should do to finally get your foot in the door, and the only natural response is the strong desire to put that foot somewhere else.

Last month, Newsday.com posted an article entitled 10 Reasons Why You're Not Getting Interviews. The confrontational tone of the headline is underscored by the writer's -- no name is given in the byline -- condescending advice listed below it. It's also peppered with straight-forward, "no duh" tips that should never be addressed to the millions of people who were laid off after years of employment. Ostensibly, the piece was written as a helpful guide for adults, but it comes off as job training for high school sophomores.

And boy, is it infuriating!

For anyone who has a loved one or associate in the job seeking trenches, it’s paramount that you avoid giving these nuggets of wisdom.

1. "You only focus on the Googles of the world."
Assuming it's common practice for job seekers to solely approach brands with household names, Newsday suggests branching out to companies that may not be well-known -- as if someone looking for a job isn't papering every want ad and Craigslist posting with a cover letter and résumé. At this point, no desperate job seeker is turning his nose up at a smaller-staffed office.

2. "You don't follow directions."
"Each company has a different procedure it asks applicants to follow for submitting employment applications." Is that right? So applicants should read the entire posting before faxing a hand-written resume to the lobby of the building in which the office is? Yeah, that's the reason why you haven't gotten a response.

3. "You need to revamp your résumé."
Do we really need to note that updating your résumé to promote your best qualities is important? Is it necessary to suggest curtailing your experience to the job at hand would possibly be beneficial? Unless a set of specific pointers is given, it's probably safe to assume that job seekers are aware of this and don't need to be made to feel like clueless children.

4. "Your cover letter isn't enticing."
"The best cover letters take select details from the résumé and expand upon them, explaining in depth how your talents and experience can benefit the prospective employer." Mention a cover letter to a 7-year-old. Merely say a person looking for a job has to send one along with his résumé. Without any assistance, that 7-year-old would probably already know the description Newsday has provided.

5. "You don't reference keywords."
For every employer that maybe uses scanning software to comb through the résumés of potential clients, looking for "accounts receivable" or "spearheaded," there's another one who absolutely abhors those buzzwords. The truth is, like every applicant, every hiring manager is different. The best route is to just go with your instincts and what sounds right. 6. "Your application materials aren't perfect."
Proofread for grammatical errors and punctuation, yes. Just like that book report on Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers you wrote in second grade, it's best to go over a professional document once or twice. Congratulations, Newsday. Your readers couldn't have felt more belittled than they do now.

7. "You don't know who to send your résumé to."
Job advertisements tend to have contact information -- a phone number or e-mail address at the very least -- along with a name. By rough estimate, a significant majority of them do -- certainly more than the ones that actually mention the job is a non-paying gig. While personalizing the greeting in the cover letter is a no-brainer, it may be in your best interest to skip a job where there's actually no contact information.

8. "You don't have an 'in' with the company."
Well, there's your problem! You haven't been grandfathered in to a six-figure position by someone who was in your fraternity 15 years ago! Look, probably the first thing one does when they're laid off is to mentally list all the people who could possibly help them out. After the list is exhausted, it's cold calling and blind luck. No one needs to be told they should have someone on the inside pulling strings. Those people don't need any advice.

9. "You don't follow up."
The question should be, "How often do hiring managers follow up with applicants?" Anyone who's looking for work could tell you, responses range from maybe 1 to 2 out of every dozen of résumés sent. Applicants will invariably follow up on the jobs they most want, but it's a crap shoot of ever hearing back. "Follow up on your résumé" is probably not the best thing to hear after you haven't received a response on one hundred applications.

10. "You're not as qualified as you think."
And there it is. The ultimate kick-you-when-your-down blow summed up in a succinct few words. Why reach for middle-management when you're barely good enough for entry level? Why beat yourself up over the job search when you haven't first undercut your capabilities? A job search has everything to do with hope, and Newsday successfully deflated all optimism with its last tip.

The worst part: These bits of hackneyed advice barely scratch the surface. Everyone remembers an instance where their job search wasn't getting anywhere -- when they were at their lowest -- and having to hear a broad suggestion was like nails on a blackboard.

"You really gotta pound the pavement." "Don't be afraid to apply to something outside your expertise." And my personal favorite after I graduated from college: "Refuse to be a statistic." Nothing was worse than hearing that after months of fruitless job seeking.

Fortunately, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, one site offers fantastic, detailed advice on a regular basis: Lifehacker.com. Its specific tips -- avoid looking like a job hopper, know what salary to ask for, stop arriving early for interviews -- are extremely helpful and aren't presented in a remotely smug or condescending manner.

During Monday's David Letterman appearance, Barack Obama mentioned the unemployment crisis could last another year. Let's hope that in that time, experts and relatives take the time to become aware of how their unsolicited advice may sound to a job seeker.

Even though not hearing it might be the best incentive of actually finding a job.
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