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Applying for the Right Jobs

Last week, I talked about how the first thing you should do when you start job hunting is understand your talents and how they show up at work so you can reflect them in your resume, cover letter, and during interviews. This week, I want to continue my focus on job searches and talk about why you should be selective when it comes to applying to jobs. If you’ve been applying everywhere without much success, or if you think that more applications mean a better shot at getting an interview, keep reading.

Okay, so why shouldn’t you apply for anything that sounds good? I mean after all if you apply for five jobs, at best you could only get five interviews. But if you apply for fifty jobs, you could potentially get way more, right? Eh. Not so much.

When you’re applying for anything that sounds good, my guess is you’re not doing a very detailed assessment of each job description. Why is that my guess? Because unless your full-time job IS looking for a job, you straight up don’t have time. And if you’re not paying attention to the details of the job description, I can guarantee you’re not applying for jobs that would be a good fit for you. Sure, a few may accidentally be a good fit just based on the law of averages, but if you’re not taking the time to customize your resume, cover letter, or interview questions, you probably won’t stand out as that great fit to potential employers.

Let me unpack that a bit more. You have limited time and energy, especially if the reason you want to leave your current job because it’s stressing or burning you out. On top of that, most people find job searching stressful and time consuming. And it’s stressful just if you’re scanning job descriptions to see if anything seems good, copying and pasting new info into your cover letter, and going through whatever their application process is.

But in addition to focusing on your talents like we talked about last week, your cover letter AND resume should be customized for each job. I’m talking about matching your experience to the job responsibilities; making sure your resume mirrors the language used in the job description; and doing research on the company so you can both use the same terminology they use and to specifically say why you would be a great fit at their company.

If you’re applying for everything, that’s not going to happen. You’re going to by necessity start putting out a general letter and resume, again with some fancy cutting and pasting – and fingers crossed you don’t forget to change the title or company from the last job. That’s going to decrease the quality of both. It’s also going to mean the chances of you being picked for an interview are less. And if you’re applying for multiple jobs at the same institution using the same resume and basic cover letter, it’s going to be even more noticeable.

You also need to look at each job description thoroughly, because you might not be as qualified as you think – at least from their perspective. It’s easy enough to skim and think, “I could do that!” But if you don’t meet at least 60% of the job requirements, you’re going to be ignored. Actually, you might not be ignored, but rather annoy the folks who are screening applicants. One of HR’s pet peeves is getting resumes from folks with little direct or transferable experience. That means if you decide to apply for another job at the same institution and they remember that, you’re probably not going to be picked even if you ARE qualified.

Another reason you shouldn’t just apply for everything you think you could do is because being able to do something and being fulfilled doing that thing day after day are two separate things. What I’m talking about is fit. I went into quite a bit of detail last week talking about why understanding your talents and how they show up at work is important. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the job and the company are aligned with your talents. I don’t want to rehash everything from last week, but your talents have different needs and values. If they don’t get what they need or the job or company aren’t aligned with your values, you’re not going to be happy there.

When you scan job descriptions and don’t look at how those responsibilities connect to your talents, you’re missing important information. When you don’t take the time to investigate the employer BEFORE you apply vs. right before your interview so it sounds like you researched the company, you can’t find out whether their culture or values are a good fit for you. Again, all of this takes time, so if you’re focused on quantity over quality, you’re going to be wasting your time and energy applying for things that aren’t the right job for you.

As I mentioned earlier, job searching is stressful. Most of us just want it over with so we can go to our new, fancy job. Just searching through listings and filling out applications can be physically and mentally exhausting. But it can also emotionally exhausting. The more jobs you apply for, the more rejections you’re going to get. Especially if you’re not customizing your resume, cover letter, and interview answers in a way that highlights how your talents and the job responsibilities are aligned. It hurts when you get rejected after you interview, but it hurts just as much when people don’t contact you for an interview at all. It can be a blow to your self-esteem to think that so many other people must be better than you. But really what’s happening is that you’re not selecting the right jobs to apply for AND you’re not communicating who you are in a way that catches their attention.

When you ignore how the job requirements mesh with who you are as a person or whether the company culture is a good fit for you, you’re missing out on some red flags for you personally. Those things take work and self-reflection to identify, but they aren’t the only thing you miss when you’re focused on quantity over quality. There are some general red flags you should be on the lookout for as well as you’re more carefully analyzing job descriptions. Let’s just talk about a few common ones.

Let’s start with the list of job responsibilities. If the job description is too vague or has too many responsibilities, that’s a red flag. The first one usually means they aren’t really sure what the person is going to do. That means you’ll probably lack direction from your supervisor and it’s going to be stressful figuring out what you’re supposed to do. It could also mean you’ll end up doing too much, since the role is so ill defined. The second one often indicates that person is probably doing the role of several other positions or a company just has way too much to do and only wants to hire one person to do it all. I think we’ve all seen at our own institutions how bad this can get. Because budgets are tight, when folks leave their job responsibilities just get divided among whoever is left. This can happen multiple times. If that’s why you’re leaving, you don’t want to walk in to that exact situation somewhere else.

Another thing you might miss if you’re just skimming is whether a position keeps getting reposted. This is a red flag for a few possible reasons. It could be they do hire folks and because of the workload, direct supervisor, or other problem, those people leave quickly. Or it could be they’re having trouble filling the position because the salary is too low or because it’s not until the interview process that candidates realize how much this person would really be responsible for. Either way, it’s a problem.

Another red flag is if the salary range isn’t listed. Yes, another pet peeve of HR folks is when applicants call and ask the salary before they apply or are chosen for an interview. BUT if they can’t be transparent about the salary range, it usually means they’re afraid they’ll scare off applicants because it’s so low. I’ve heard multiple stories from people about how they would apply and interview for a position only to find out the salary was so far below what they would ever have accepted. If they’d known, they never would have bothered applying. It makes sense that they can’t tell you exactly what your salary would be in a job description, but if they can’t even give you a ballpark, save yourself the frustration.

I want to touch on one more red flag before we wrap up. You want to do more than a skim so you don’t miss important red flags about work life balance. If the job description overemphasizes flexibility, that’s a sign you’re walking into a chaotic mess. Look out for phrases like fast paced environment, highly motivated, wears multiple hats, or we’re like a family. We’re used to talking about wearing many hats in higher ed, but it’s taken on an unreasonable meaning these days. All of these terms usually equal you running around trying to do too much with too few resources. And since they’re “like a family,” there will be an expectation for you to give and give for the good of the family. That means working late, taking things home, or anything else the family needs. Even if it might have seemed like a good fit based on the job responsibilities, if you’re being asked to sacrifice your personal life or wellbeing, it’s not going to be a good environment for you.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that being more selective when you’re applying for jobs is better than blanketing employers with general applications for jobs that aren’t a good fit and that don’t really showcase what you bring to the table. By all means apply to as many jobs as you find that are truly a good fit for you, but until you’ve done the work to find out, don’t apply. The price is your time, energy, wellbeing, and perhaps the most expensive cost of all – getting a job that turns out to be a bad fit. And if you’re changing jobs because the one you have now is burning you out, the last thing you want is to end up in one that’s as bad or worse than the one you have now.

If you want more information about how to get the job that’s right for you, we’re doing a free webinar “Getting Your Dream Job: Using Your Strengths to Nail Your Interview.” next Monday, February 14th at 1PM CST. Register here -

Have a great week and good luck with your job search!

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