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Congratulations, you made it through the Mayan apocalypse!  Sadly, that means you’ll LLHeadshothave to get a job.  And just because you survived December 21st doesn’t mean you’re free from sabotaging your own job search and blowing it up worse than Chicago in the second Transformers movie.

Since graduation, I’ve been continually involved with recruiting – first while working for a large strategy consulting firm, and now as a manager at a healthcare insurance company.  During this time, I’ve seen plenty of things that make me shake my head (Can I really see that 2 am bar photo on Facebook?) but have also impressed me (Paper thank you notes? Nice touch).

But since you probably already know how to avoid the big mistakes or charm me with small gestures, let’s focus on the more subtle (and more common) challenges I find with candidates.  I’m calling these the Four Horsemen of the Job Search Apocalypse, four traits you should avoid to keep your job hopes alive:

Horseman #1: Anonymity

In this competitive market, the odds of you finding a job by flying solo or just pressing “Submit” are pretty low.  Getting an offer requires meeting and talking with everyone you possibly can, from recruiters to entry level employees to partners.  In your job search, it’s easy to minimize the importance of talking with people – avoid that trap.

Why? First, you never know who might have a job opening and networking may uncover a hidden opportunity.  Second, conversations can give you a better sense of a company’s business and culture, important considerations and talking points as you go through the process.  Finally, you never know who’s going to influence the hiring decision – even the most junior staff member may weigh in.  And if I’ve interacted with you and like you, there’s a better chance you’re getting a “Yes”.  But if I only know you through a general email or a resume in my system, you’re not getting any advantage.

Horseman #2: Timidity

First impressions count in any job and I’m looking for people who exude confidence.  Put another way, if you’re not confident with me, how can I trust you to represent my company to our executives or clients?  Give me a firm handshake, look at me in the eye, speak up, and show some resolve when we talk.

Also understand that if I’m hiring, I want to talk with you and learn about your background, no matter how intimidating I might sound or my title might be – how else am I going to find great talent?  But if you’re not comfortable talking with me, I’m not comfortable hiring you (note, however, you can fake confidence if you have to – I usually can’t tell).

Horseman #3: Cockiness

Don’t be timid, but don’t be cocky either – confidence should only go so far and drifting over that edge can be just as dangerous.  Don’t try to wow me by using obscure industry terms or telling me about your outrageous work experiences because I’ll see right through that.  Instead, just have a conversation that shows me you know something about my company and are interested in what I do.

The other key is to understand that you don’t need to know everything – to a certain extent, it’s important to acknowledge there’s a lot you don’t know.  As an employer, I don’t expect you to come in as an expert – in fact, I want you to be very coachable.  If you come in fresh, that means you’re open to new ideas and I can help you develop into a strong employee.

Horseman #4: Lack of Preparation

Congrats, we’re talking face-to-face or you made it to the interview!  You will immediately be disqualified in my book if you haven’t done any research or shown any interest in my company or industry.  If you haven’t put in the time or preparation for this chat, how do I know you’re going to put in the time or preparation to do the job?

On top of that, I get really excited about my work – our conversation is much more fun when we can talk the same language.  And please have questions ready – if you’re not curious about the position or company now, how can I expect you to make an informed decision if I give you an offer?

Enough doom and gloom, let’s focus on what you should do:

– Put yourself out there and talk (not just email) with anyone and everyone – you never know where the next job lead or information might be, so have that elevator speech ready

– Be confident and show me that you’re a mature adult that I’ll want to put in front of my boss or a client

– BUT, show some humility, know what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to admit you want to learn

Research the companies and industries you’re interested in – just a little preparation could go a long way

Do these take time?  Yes.  Are some of these unnatural?  Absolutely.  But the job search is a microcosm of this strange and awkward world, so get accustomed to it and don’t be afraid to fail (or be wildly successful) by putting yourself out there.  Rather than torpedoing your chances by making these mistakes, be more like Optimus Prime and let’s “face this future together.”

Louis is a WCAS alum and product strategist at a Fortune 50 healthcare company, where he analyzes consumer behavior and develops products to help people stay healthy.  You can read his thoughts on helping people make better healthcare decisions at  one-ounce.blogspot.com, or contact him with any thoughts or questions at Louis@LouisJLevine.com

About Where The Wildcats Are
University Career Services’ alumni blog series “Where The Wildcats Are” features the career experiences and advice from Northwestern University alumni of all ages and stages. Learn where your fellow Wildcats are post-graduation and how they reached their career goals. Are you a Northwestern alumni interested in sharing your career development process with current students? Email careerservices@northwestern.edu and include “Alum blogger” in the subject line.