Zap these myths from your mind

There are plenty of misconceptions prowling around out there. When you're job hunting, here's how to tell the false lead from the right track.

By Carrie Alexander
Sentinel Staff Writer

September 15, 2004

You have been pounding the pavement for weeks but have not secured one job offer. You could be sabotaging your search with myths and misconceptions about the process.

Do you think, for example, that a job interview is a waste of time if it's for a position that doesn't interest you?

Experts say that's not true.

"Anytime you have an opportunity to be interviewed by someone -- even if you think it's not what you want -- go," says Carol A. Hacker, a career consultant and author of Job Hunting in the 21st Century: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Realities (St. Lucie Press, $19.95). "It's great practice, and job-seekers need practice."

Not only that, she says, but the interview also could lead to a different, more desirable job within the company. "You could make such a great impression that they want you for something else," Hacker says. "If you hadn't gone for the interview you would've missed out."

Think of every interview as an opportunity, she says. Ignore those who say you're wasting time.

"I think a lot of these misconceptions are keeping people from getting jobs," Hacker says.

Job hunting is complex, and strategies that worked 20 years ago may not get the same results in today's market, she says. Job seekers must separate myths from realities if they want to succeed in finding employment.

Let's examine a few of the myths prevalent in the job market.

Myth: I won't have the same negotiating power if I am unemployed when I apply for a job.

Although that once was true, times have changed, says Karen Battoe, a career coach and founder/president of Personal Success Systems in Longwood.

"There are so many layoffs going on and so many changes that companies are making, it's just accepted now that people are a product of layoffs through no fault of their own," she says.

Don't panic and take the first offer you get if it's not what you want, Battoe says. Look for a job that takes your career in the direction you want to go. Other offers will come.

Myth: I should look for a job only during strong economic times.

Not so, Battoe says. Anytime is a good time to be in the job market. Even in a slowing economy, she says, "there are still people that are looking for talented individuals. In Management 101, one of the first things you learn is that if you see talent, you hire it. You don't wait until you need it."

Managers know that if they don't snap up a valuable person when they have the chance, that person may accept an offer from a competing company.

Selling yourself means creating a need for you, your talents and skills, Battoe says. "Create your own opportunity."

Myth: The candidate with the highest qualifications always gets the job.

"Jobs are not going to the most qualified individual," Battoe says. "They are going to the person who does the best job of selling themselves. Job hunting is marketing. You package yourself as a product."

Myth: Registering on Internet job boards will net me plenty of job offers.

Using the Internet is an important strategy, but it's not the miracle cure many job seekers expect it to be, Battoe says. Because many people see and apply for jobs posted on the Internet, you will have a lot of competition for these positions.

Another problem is that not all the jobs posted are current or even real. "A lot of times, those jobs listed are out of date," Battoe says. "They have been filled."

How can you tell which jobs are real? Avoid listings that have vague job descriptions. Many of these jobs are posted by recruiters and employment agencies that want you to sign up with their company.

Battoe says that a better way to use the Internet is to search Web sites of companies that interest you. "Nine times out of 10 they will have on their site an employment section that will list the opportunities they have available," she says.

Myth: A cover letter is not that important.

A cover letter is a letter of introduction that can help you stand apart from other job seekers, Battoe says, and that is very important.

"If I read a good cover letter, I'll follow up and read the resume," Battoe says. "A cover letter today is like a book jacket. It entices a person to want to read [more]."

Don't write a standard letter that you send to everyone, Battoe says. Instead, research the company and personalize the letter using information you have found. Explain why you want to work for that particular company.

"I want to feel like you really want to work for me, and not that I'm one of 25," Battoe says.

Myth: Companies don't hire applicants over the age of 50.

"This is a big myth," Battoe says. "The majority of the time that people over 50 are not hired is through [some] fault of their own."

Many companies appreciate the experience and work ethic that older workers bring to the job, she says. But those workers are expected to be up-to-date in how they dress and act.

Also, "take a course and get up-to-date on technology," she says.

Myth: I will be a more attractive job candidate if I lower my salary expectations.

This may or may not be true, Battoe says.

"It depends on your salary," she says. Professionals who have worked for one company for 15 to 20 years and earn $100,000 may need to accept a lower salary to get a foot in the door, Battoe says. "You have to prove your worth."

For job hunters that earn less, lowering salary expectations can backfire by making you appear desperate. Keep your salary demands reasonable.

Myth: I would get job offers if I just had the perfect resume.

"There is no perfect resume," Battoe says. "It should be a document that sells you. It's personalized and customized for you."

Don't copy your resume out of a book, she says.

"They're all going to be different and they should be different," Battoe says. "It has to build an excitement. You've got 30 seconds of somebody's time, to grab their attention."

Companies are not as interested in the past as they are in the future, Battoe says. They want to know what makes you different from every other candidate, and they want to know what you can do for them today.

Keep the resume to two pages, she says. No one has time to read a resume that consists of several pages.

Myth: Changing careers is nearly impossible.

Switching careers does take more effort, but it is not impossible, Hacker says.

"You really need to look at skill sets you have that can transfer from one career to another," she says. "Are you a good problem solver? Are you detail-oriented? Do you have exceptionally good verbal and written communication skills? Those are things that are universal traits that would be important to any employer."

If the skills you currently have are not what are needed in the new field, you will have to get more education or training.

"Often, the best way to transition into a different career [is to] get a foot in the door with an entry-level position and work your way up," Hacker says. "It's a challenge. You have to have a lot of energy and commitment to change careers."

Myth: The human-resources department is the best place to start your job search.

"The primary job of the human-resources person is to screen people out," Hacker says. "Only those that are an exact fit will be the ones that go any further. Rather than focus primarily on the HR department, why not send your resume directly to the hiring manager for that department?"

Research may be required to find the name of that person, she says. Try calling the company or checking a directory on the company's Web site.

"If you send your resume directly to the hiring manager, it will probably eventually get to the HR department," Hacker says, "especially if they feel you will be a good fit for them."

Carrie Alexander can be reached at calexander@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5499.