The 5 Most Common Job Search Mistakes, According to Ramit Sethi

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  • Mass applying to job postings with generic resumes is ineffective and frustrating.
  • Don't settle for the first job -- or salary -- you're offered.
  • Never underestimate the power of networking, even if your network is small.

But is his bias showing?

Very few people like looking for a new job. With the rare exception, job hunting is a grind. It's hours of job boards, dealing with recruiters, sending out resumes, and scheduling interviews. In many ways, finding a job is, in itself, very akin to a job.

It's also completely necessary. The days of sticking with one company for your entire career are long over. Not only is switching jobs one of the best ways to actually advance up the title ladder, but people who regularly switch jobs boost their incomes by significantly more than those who stick it out.

Indeed, finding a new -- and better -- job is a popular piece of advice from all kinds of personal finance gurus. For example, Ramit Sethi, of I Will Teach You To Be Rich fame, has built his advice around increasing income instead of cutting your budget to the bone. As such, he offers extensive advice on how to get a new job with a higher income.

In a recent Twitter thread, Sethi discussed some of the biggest mistakes job seekers make while looking for that elusive "Dream Job."

1. Hitting the job boards without a plan

According to Sethi, the first mistake is choosing to scour the job boards without a solid plan. As he puts it, "When people go to a job search site, post a resume, and wait, they delegate their career to an algorithm. This is demoralizing and ineffective."

A surprising number of companies now use computer algorithms to scan applications and narrow the field. These simplistic processes tend to look for keywords on resumes and cover letters, not unlike search engine algorithms trawling websites and social media pages. Those with the right keywords get moved to the next level -- and those without the right keywords may never even make it to a human's desk.

Sethi's ultimate solution is to rely more on networking than job boards. But don't discount the job boards entirely.

The trick to the modern algorithm-based application processes is to avoid shooting out a hundred copies of the same old resume and cover letter. Instead, tailor your resume and cover letter to each job. Include keywords and phrases from the job posting to help your application appeal to the algorithm; make it work for you instead of against you.

2. Staying inside the box

Sethi says another common mistake job seekers make is sticking with what they know -- and often hate -- instead of branching out. As he says, "Most people have serious tunnel vision when looking for a job. What if I told them that there are 10x more job titles that are relevant to them? What if they knew they needed to branch out to find their dream job?"

On this one, he's 100% right. The skills you have were likely honed for your last job -- or your degree, if you're a fresh grad -- but that doesn't mean that's the only job to which those skills can be applied.

You don't need to stick to looking for jobs with the same exact title as your previous role. You don't even need to stick to the same industry.

Most job-related skills are transferable. Did you spend a lot of time in retail? Guess what, you probably developed pretty decent communication skills, including solid conflict resolution experience. Were you the team lead at a fast food joint? That's management experience, friend.

Consider the aspects of your previous job that you enjoyed the most. Then, look for jobs that will let you do more of that. Chances are good you already have skills that can be applied to the new role, even if it's not the exact job you were doing before.

3. Taking whatever you can get

According to Sethi, "Average Applicants believe 'I should just be lucky to have a job.'"

This is a serious problem shared by a large number of U.S. job seekers. Years of high unemployment and eroding workers' rights have led many of us to believe companies are doing us a favor by consenting to use our labor.

The last year or so of low unemployment and increasing awareness of workers' rights has seen some improvement on this score. More and more people are waking up to the idea that they, their time, and their skills have real value.

Sethi encourages people to really identify what they want out of their careers -- and their employer. Every interview should be as much about you interviewing the company as it is the other way around. And don't forget to negotiate! Whether it's higher pay, more time off, or the ability to work from home, know what you want -- and ask for it.

4. Overemphasizing the wrong things

Another major mistake job seekers make, in Sethi's opinion, is focusing too much on "things that don't matter." In his view, that includes resumes and cover letters. "Focusing on resumes is the equivalent of trying to save $10,000 by only cutting back on lattes. With the right approach, your resume and cover letter simply become a formality — the cherry on top."

This calls back to Sethi's idea that networking is the root of all great job searches. And, to an extent, he's not wrong; if you can network your way into the right circles, resumes and cover letters do become significantly less important, if not entirely negligible.

However, he's also not entirely right, either. For many folks, the good old job-board-and-resume route still works great. That said, refer back to the advice above: Generic, mass-submitted resumes aren't going to do you much good. Tailor your resume and cover letter to each job, emphasizing how your skill set and experience meet their needs.

5. Failing to network

With this last mistake, Sethi brings it all around to his ultimate point: networking.

The way he frames it, " aimlessly submit their resume through job boards. If you ask about other approaches, like using their network, they say, 'I don’t have a network.' This final pitfall leaves the Average Applicant feeling defeated. After all, what usually happens after spitting out a bunch of generic resumes? Well, for most people: NOTHING."

Once again, Sethi emphasizes the futility of the generic resume and job board. And yes, as noted, he's right about the generic resume. But his hatred of the job board seems a bit excessive.

Of course the age-old method of networking can be a great way to find a job. Networking (and its relative, nepotism) are cornerstones of the U.S. job market. Knowing the right people has always been, and will always be, an effective career tool.

But not everyone has an exploitable network in place. And there's only so far an existing network can get you if you're trying to switch careers or industries. In the end, finding a job isn't always a one-method process. Reach out to the people you know, if you can. But be sure to spiff up your resume, too.

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