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5 mistakes to avoid when applying for a job

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

According to the World Health Organisation the average person spends a third of their adult life at work. Just think about that; that’s as much time as we spend sleeping. So getting the right job is crucial not only to your lifestyle, but also to your health, your well-being, and the shape that your entire life will take. This is not to over-dramatize things unnecessarily. If you ever find yourself in the ‘wrong’ job, you can try and find a new one, but it’s not always as easy as it looks. Finding a job is as much about having skills and education as it is about knowing how to present and sell yourself, and this is where too many of us fall short and fall into making some of the big five mistakes that are commonly made when applying for a job.

1. Copy-pasting the same CV and cover letter

When you send Whatsapp messages to your friends or family to check in on them do you write one message then copy-paste that same message to everyone, from your neighbor to your mum, to your former school friend and your uncle? Whoa no! You tailor the message according to who you’re talking to and the intended message you’re trying to convey. Even if you don’t express it this way, that is what happens, and the same should happen when applying for different jobs. Each organization and role is slightly different, so the message that you need to convey will need to be tailor-made for each specific role and organization.

Take this recent job description we found online “We are a fast-growing organisation looking for a Sales Associate who will maximize revenues by developing long-term relationships with customers, ultimately helping to build the business”. You may know that you’re perfect for this role but if your stock CV describes you as a ‘diligent and hardworking numbers-driven sales expert that expects quick results” then this employer isn’t going to consider you a perfect match for the job, even if you might be. For that job you might want to consider adjusting that tagline to “relationship-driven professional, passionate about driving sales and revenue through long-term engagement with an organization I believe in.” Just imagine how many CVs that employer will have read before they get to yours, and make sure yours is perfect for the role.

Don’t neglect the cover letter, as this is where you can really let your personality shine through and impress with how much you know about the company you’re applying to.

2. Having vocation tunnel vision

You’ve invested time and money in securing a degree. You’ve worked for several years in a stable job. Then suddenly you find yourself job hunting again. Naturally, your first instinct is to turn to the exact same sort of job you had before and look for identical roles. You were an accounting clerk, so you look for an accounting clerk role. You were an admin assistant, so you look for an admin assistant role. But these days, the job market isn’t limited to vocations anymore for many of the most common roles.

Your skills are transferable, and so if you’re organized, diligent and good with numbers, you could potentially turn your hand to hundreds of different roles. Limiting yourself to one type of job is doing yourself a disservice, and locking yourself out from potential new avenues that you could explore. Why not list out all the things that you’re good at, so that when you’re looking for jobs you can tally your skills up to the skills that they’re looking for, instead of just judging based on the title of the role.

3. Not preparing for the interview

It sounds obvious, and it should be because it is a basic requirement for a job seeker. If you expect to perform well in an interview, you must prepare to do well. Interviewers are only humans, and it is their job to interview you and filter out the bad from the good and the great candidates. If you can’t answer all the questions asked of you, and you don’t seem prepared to answer questions about your studies, your history, or your skills, then they will be able to tell, and there is very little chance that you’ll land in the ‘great’ pile.

Do your research on typical interview questions and brainstorm some answers, or get some friends or family to perform mock interviews on you for practice. Your answers shouldn’t sound rehearsed but you should sound prepared and confident, and definitely informed.

4. Going In Blind

The only thing worse than not preparing to talk about yourself is not preparing to talk about the company you’re applying to work for. When you walk into the interview room you should know everything there is to know about that organization (or at least everything that is publicly available). It is only in doing this that you can adapt your answers to the specific company, and ask relevant questions when you get your chance to ask questions.

The person opposite you has a job to find the best possible candidate for the job, and part of being the right person for the job is wanting the job and taking the selection process seriously. If you can’t even describe what the company does, or you don’t know about the recent merger or growth spurt they underwent, then you will not be taken seriously and may automatically and unwittingly disqualify yourself from the process.

5. Aiming for the stars and barely hitting the ceiling

Many potential employers will ask one of the most telling questions, and it is one which you must be extremely careful about answering. When they ask how much you would be looking to earn, their ears will prick up to see what kind of person you are. If you ask for Kshs. 500,000 monthly for an entry-level position you’re likely to be laughed out of the door. The same is true if you come from a role where you were earning, let’s say, Kshs. 20,000, and you apply for a job and say in your application that you would expect to earn Kshs. 100,000. It doesn’t sound realistic and it will make you look overly confident at best, and at worse delusional. Do your research on what sort of salary to expect for the role you’re applying for, and be ambitious but realistic so that you keep yourself in the running.

If you look out for these five common mistakes and dutifully avoid them next time you’re job hunting, you’ll be on the right path. However, there are many other best practices to be aware of when putting your best foot forward to secure the job of your dreams.

Written by Claire

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