When people say successful job hunting involves standing out from the crowd, they’re right, but it's important not to take them too literally. You need to make an impression on a company, without employing desperate or downright unsettling tactics. But how keen is too keen when it comes to applying and interviewing for new jobs? Here’s where you could be overstepping the mark.
Your CV stands out for the wrong reasons
We all want our CV to make an impact in a pile of hundreds or thousands of others, but there’s such a thing as CV overkill. Using jazzy fonts, coloured ink or paper and added gimmicks (such as attaching a box of cupcakes) might not be conveying the intended message.
The exception to the rule is an application for a marketing or advertising job, where your creative presentation skills could bag you an interview; otherwise just stick to a clean, preferably sans-serif font like Arial or Tahoma, in black ink, on white paper. Be inventive with columns and bullet points to break up chunks of text, but stay formal.
Also, beware of reading advice from American websites, where different etiquette applies: Americans tend to include a headshot on their résumés (as they’re called in the US), whereas a hiring manager in the UK would be surprised to spot your photo staring back from the page.
Your cover letter is the length of War and Peace
Nailing a great cover letter isn’t easy, especially when some job descriptions feel more like essays, but your response to those lengthy requirements should be punchy and concise. The person hiring you won’t have long to read your cover letter, so make it easy for them by cutting the waffle and clearly demonstrating the skills and experience you have. A recent survey found nearly 70% of employers wanted less than a page of text to read.
A great cover letter should only be a few paragraphs long, and should show you’ve done your homework about the company. Add a few references to its recent developments, values or some industry news, and you’ll show you’re interested in this specific job, not just any old vacancy.
In that precious remaining text, give precise examples of times when you’ve met the points in the job description, and explain the impact in figures or facts if possible, such as smashing sales targets for the month or attracting thousands of new subscribers to a mailing list. These are also great talking points for a future interview.
You cyber-stalk the staff a little too thoroughly
So, you’ve got an interview, and you want to know more about the people you could be working with. Social media is a brilliant tool for this kind of research, but you can end up being a little too thorough.
By all means, follow the company, its CEO and possibly your head of department if they have professional profiles on key channels (many people have links to their Twitter handles on a website’s ‘staff’ page, and creative industries may link to Instagram), as you can gently interact with them there. But don’t request to connect to your interviewer on LinkedIn – it’s a little too personal.
What’s more, don’t start following someone’s very personal account and liking all their posts. If there’s a clear divide from their professional life, remember you don’t know them on a friendship level. And don’t forget to clear up your own social media profiles, too! Get rid of anything unprofessional that could be searched online by your employer.
You over-rehearse potential interview answers
Being a little too polished could actually count against you in an interview. Yes, you want to feel ready to answer common interview questions, like ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ without selling yourself short, but too much rehearsing will be obvious.
The interviewer wants to start a conversation and get to know you. Don’t make them feel like you’re reciting your lines! In fact, Refinery29 found that a top Google Executive is looking for “the conversation that happens after” you give your answer, rather than the textbook correct response.
This strategy also means you shouldn’t try to shoehorn in that perfect answer to the wrong question – it will be clear you haven’t listened properly. If you need a little more time to work out a response, ask them to repeat or expand the question.
You send a barrage of follow-up emails, phone calls and thank you letters
One quick emailed thank you letter is absolutely fine to emphasise your interest and appreciation, but don’t bombard the company. Email is best, because it’s modern and snappy; send it through shortly after the interview, addressed to the head interviewer and any other staff members who were present, and keep it brief.
Hopefully you’ll be given a rough date of when a hiring decision will be made, but bear in mind this could change – maybe their ideal candidate couldn’t make the interview round, but they still want to see them. Maybe they want a wider pool of interviewees to choose from. If you’ve been told that only successful interviewees will be contacted, there’s no real need to chase up.
However, if you really thought you made a great impression, or you just want some feedback now the deadline has passed, drop them a quick email or phone call just the once. Beyond this, chalk it down to experience and move onto the next job opportunity, knowing you’ve made an impression with the hiring manager but haven’t irritated them with persistent contact.
The right job will be out there. When you do find it, your tactics will help you stand out in the right way.
Polly writes for Inspiring Interns, an agency for graduate recruitment which helps candidates find their next internship. It also provides in-depth graduate careers advice. Search graduate jobs listings across a range of industries, via the website.