20 costly mistakes you might be making in your job search

In a job market saturated with applicants, a tiny mistake might be all that stands between you and your dream job offer. The good news is that most mistakes are avoidable—it just takes a bit of extra work. Check out the list below to find out how to bulletproof every detail in your job search. 

During the job search

Lack of organization

Sending application after application without measuring your progress or having a cohesive strategy will leave you lost and frustrated. Track the status of each and every application in your job search in one place. A simple Excel file will do. I’ve created a template you can download here

Failing to leverage your network 

According to researchers from MIT and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “referral recipients are more than twice as likely to be interviewed and—conditional on interview —about 40% more likely to receive an offer.” Tap into your network. Most universities have LinkedIn alumni groups based on area of study. You may already know someone who works somewhere you could see yourself at. If you only throw your CV into the virtual piles of resumes on LinkedIn or Indeed, it may be difficult to get noticed. 

Solely focusing on big-name companies

There’s obvious appeal in the Googles and the Apples of the world, but if you’re pursuing big-name firms because they’re all you know, you likely need to do a bit more research. Make sure you know who the up-and-coming companies in your sector are, and see if the culture and opportunities at a smaller firm might better fit you and your goals. Small ≠ bad.

Inactivity on LinkedIn

Inactivity may not lose you points, but interesting, relevant activity can certainly gain you some. LinkedIn is more than an online CVit’s an opportunity to build your personal brand, engage with your audience, and build professional relationships. Connecting with real people over mutual interests is a foolproof way to build your authentic network.

On your CV


Double, triple, and quadruple check your CV. Then have someone else check it. An innocent typo may give off the impression that you don’t care. And someone who doesn’t care about the job is quite unlikely to be offered the job. 

Generic buzzwords 

Are you an innovative go-getter with a results-driven mindset? So are the other 50 applicants. Avoid flowery language that fails to communicate what you can tangibly offer. Hubspot lists the top 10 overused LinkedIn buzzwords in 2020 along with tips on how to make adjustments. Take a look to increase your chances of standing out. 

Exaggerating skills and/or flat-out lying

Job descriptions list a whole lot of skills that the ideal candidate would have. If you can’t check 15/15 skills, that doesn’t mean you won’t get hired. Hitting most will open the door. But getting caught in a lie is a sure-fire way to get placed on a company’s blacklist. 

Overly embellished language 

We’ve all heard the infamous stat that recruiters typically spend less than 10 seconds looking at a CV. Don’t risk losing precious time to someone having to decipher convoluted language rather than clearly understanding how your skillset might be of value to the company. 

job interview

On your cover letter 

Not including one 

Yes, even if it’s “optional.” Put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes. You have two candidates: one put in the extra effort to write a thoughtful cover letter and the other saw optional and left it blank. Who do you think will put in more effort at work?

Regurgitating your CV

The hiring manager is reading your cover letter because they liked your CV. But they don’t want to read the same thing twice. Expand, don’t repeat. Go into more detail about a specific industry-related accomplishment or explain how your experience can solve their problems. They know what your skills are. Tell them how you can put them to use. 

Not tailoring your cover letter to each company

The hiring manager can tell if you are using a one-size-fits-all cover letter, and a lack of personalization can read as two things: 1) laziness, or 2) that you don’t care too much about the job. To be more efficient, construct a master cover letter outline but re-tailor it every time you apply to a new position.

Forgetting to replace company and/or hiring manager name

A simple but often-committed one. Triple-check you’ve addressed the letter to the correct person before hitting send.


If the first thing a hiring manager feels when opening your cover letter is annoyance at its length, you’ve started off on a bad foot. Tell a story, but be concise. Ask a trusted friend or mentor for their opinion if you’ve written a cover letter that’s too long and you can’t decide what to cut down. Tip: aim for ¾ of a page, 1 page max. 

Being a bit too “me, me, me”

Employers want to get to know you, your goals, and your ambitions, but they aren’t interested in your life story. What they really want to know is how you can be of value to the company. Do your research, and use the cover letter as a pitch. Why can you better solve their problems than the other applicants?

Generic writing 

“My name is X and I’m interested in Y position at Company Z.” Introducing yourself by name is redundant when it’s already been seen on your CV in big, bold letters. Not to mention boring. First impressions are critical, so it’s best to avoid wasting critical space with obvious information. Refrain from cliches and replace buzzwords with authentic pieces of your professional story.

During the interview 

Lack of research 

Imagine you’re applying to a consulting firm whose specialization is the oil and gas industry, but you tell them you’re interested in FMCG or entertainment-related projects. “You might want to look for another company then,” is not something you want to hear in an interview.   

Being unprepared for behavior questions

Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a colleague, and how it was resolved.

If you don’t have an answer to this question, you aren’t ready for your interview. 

The interviewer is interested in hearing about how you used your skills to deal with workplace issues. A mistake here is the word we—behavioral questions aren’t built for you to show humility, they’re built for you to provide evidence of your individual ability to deal with conflict and create solutions.

Check out Muse’s list of 30 behavioral interview questions and reflect on past experiences that might demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. (Hint: have 2-3 stories readily prepared that could each answer more than one type of question.) 

Bad-mouthing past bosses/employers

If you speak ill of your past employer, your interviewer will think you’ll do the same of them. Red flag. 

Not asking smart questions

We all know that asking questions at the end of the interview is critical, but if you ask the same questions that the other candidates do, you won’t stand out. Instead of asking, “What does the day-to-day look like for this job?” ask, “What have past employees done to succeed in this role?” You’ll still hear about what the job is like, but you’ll also indicate to the interviewer that you’re hungry to not only work at the firm, but succeed. 


Not sending a quick thank-you note

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes again. You can’t decide between two fantastic candidates. You don’t hear from Candidate A after the interview, but Candidate B sends you a thank you note and expresses their gratitude for your consideration. While they both might be equally interested, Candidate B gave you a great last impression.

When it comes to the job search, a bit of extra prep can make all the difference. Have these tips piqued your interest in the world of talent scouting and development? Check out HST’s Master in Talent Development & Human Resources, which immerses students in the modern world of HR, people strategies, employee wellbeing, and more.


eddie headshotEddie Carrillo is from San Diego, California. He got his bachelor’s degree in economics from UC San Diego and is now pursuing the Master in Digital Marketing at IE HST. He’s a marathon runner, a writer, and spends a lot of time listening to music. Connect with him on Instagram, LinkedIn, or via email.