10 tiny things that can ruin your chances of getting hired

After many months of job hunting, my good friend David Hunt succeeded this week in getting hired into a part-time, seasonal job. Congratulations David; let’s hope for more good news soon!

During his search, he encountered and overcame many of the pitfalls waiting to catch out the unwary. So I was delighted when he sent me his list of traps he’d come across. Most are so small, you’d think they were unimportant, but in today’s jobs market, even the tiniest slip up can cost you the job!

All job seekers desire a quick conclusion to their job search. But the sad reality is that for many, this is not what happens. Today, job searches can easily last from several months to several years. Which means that as well as aiming for a fast outcome, we must also prepare for what may be a lengthy search.

Such awareness means adopting a long term strategy as well as short term focused action. This isn’t admitting we are defeated before we start, it’s simply a wise acceptance of the reality that luck plays a part. But we can still increase our chances of winning if we take sensible precautions and play the long game as well as the short one.

So here are David’s 10 things that shouldn't make a difference but often do. Don’t get caught out!

By David Hunt PE

1. Have a digital file of all your key documents to hand

If you are applying through an online ATS (Application Tracking System), open your resume file immediately after you upload it (so you can see it, and cut-n-paste, in case you have to fill in duplicate information – which is usually the case).

Have cover letter(s) already written: you may have the opportunity to upload one – they make a difference. Have your list of references file open too as some ATS programs require them to complete your application… and then immediately contact them to forewarn them you just gave their information out, to whom, and attach/include the job description, the resume you attached to your application, and any specific things you want them to stress.

If you don’t, you can have the ATS time out before you get everything open, or you frantically write a cover letter.

2. Don’t advertise your medical condition

If you have a medical condition of any type that requires you wear a warning – an allergy, a pre-existing condition, etc. – don’t wear a wrist band medical alert. Invest in a necklace. A wrist band will be visible, and will make people wonder what’s so wrong with you that you need it. And though it’s not legal, it can be held against you. This goes doubly if you have an infuser pump for anything and it’s visible. Again, it’s not legal to discriminate based on a medical condition, but it happens, and it’s undocumented, so it’s not legally actionable. (And an interviewer who was so biased would, doubtless, not even mention it; all they need to do is comment about your not being “a fit” even in internal discussions!)

3. Invest in your network relationships - with snail mail

Go the library once a month and peruse the magazine section. Try and look at trade-related magazines, but also hobby magazines, cultural magazines… basically, at least flip through every one. Why? Two reasons… you are looking for articles to send to networking contacts (actual and ones you’d like to make), and you are looking specifically in trade-related magazines for people at companies to write.

If you know of a person in your network that could use the information in an article, copy it and snail-mail it to them. This does not necessarily just mean work-related. (For example, a person I know is Portuguese and is there part of the time for work. I sent him an article about cork farms in Portugal… as it turns out, he owns a cork farm and really enjoyed the article. This makes an emotional impression, and keeps you in their mind favorably. Same thing for hobbies and interests that you know of, etc.)

Is there an article by someone at one of your target companies? Write them about it. Make it short, sweet, and ask a few questions to try and open a dialog. Do not mention you are out of work; this is a longer-term investment in cultivating contacts at target companies.

4. Polish your public speaking skills

Join a local Toastmasters group to start practicing public speaking. This is especially critical if you are more towards the introverted side of the scale. For networking and for your life and career, you need to be able to talk with people in a public setting, and give presentations. (I always loved the “Table Talk” events: you are given a topic for which you’ve not prepared or rehearsed, and then you need to talk for 60-90 seconds about it!)

5. Look for other people you can help

If someone approaches you because they’re also looking for a job, don’t blow them off. Try – as best you can – to help them. It’s good karma, and they’ll remember you for it. Over time, you will develop a reputation as someone who helps others.

6. The cleanliness of your car says more about you than the marque

Clean your car’s interior. Hiring managers have been known to go out to “scope out” your car while you are busy with other interviewers. If you’re political, get bumper stickers off (if you can). And if you have time, go through the car wash too.

7. Remember you are interviewing them as well

If a company can’t give you a list of the people with whom you’ll be meeting ahead of time, that’s a red flag about their organizational ability, as well as how they view you as a candidate.

8. Show appreciation to everyone involved

As you write your “Thank you” emails and/or notes, be sure to include the person who set up your interview. Odds are they were not on the interview schedule but, as someone whose involvement in the process was critical, reach out to them as well. It can’t hurt, and may help in making a better impression as they will likely forward it to the decision makers.

9. Protect your interviewers’ noses

Yes, you need to be subtle with any scents like cologne or perfume if not forgoing them altogether. But also… lay off the garlic, onions, carbonated beverages, beans and broccoli. And while it’s perfectly fine to need a bathroom break, try to eat a lower-residue diet for 24 hours. (Remember that smell is the only sense hard-wired into the brain unfiltered; if it registers in their nose, they will be consciously aware of it and its visceral and emotion-based response.)

10. Eating Etiquette

If invited out for a meal:

· Don’t go for expensive; they’re watching.

· Don’t be picky when ordering. I.e., “I’d like the ‘X’ but can you leave ABC out, substitute ‘this’ for ‘that’…”. If there’s a dish you really want but it has something you can’t eat, after ordering – explain. (E.g., eggplant will put me in the hospital for 2-3 days… but occasionally I’ll order a dish with eggplant, minus the eggplant, and then explain I have an allergy.)

· Don’t season the food until you’ve tasted it (I read this is one screening technique an executive uses and it’s a deal-breaker for them).

· When presented with multiple utensils, start outside and work your way in.

· Elbows off the table – and other etiquette.

· At most one glass of alcohol, but best to abstain. This is not the time to try and match someone drink for drink!

Hope these are useful thoughts for you in your job search.

© 2015, David Hunt PE

David Hunt is a Mechanical Design Engineer in southern New Hampshire. Currently employed part-time, he is looking for a full-time professional that allows him to design new products and shepherd them to stable production. His LinkedIn profile is: www.linkedin.com/in/davidhuntmecheng/; he blogs at davidhuntpe.wordpress.com and tweets at @davidhuntpe.


  1. Thanks Neil. Going to tweet and post and such!