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Don't Make These Job Hunting Mistakes

Résumé, social networking gaffes may work against you in your search

En español | When you get passed over for a job and you're over 50, it's tempting to pin the blame on ageism, or say that you were overqualified for the position or that there was a younger worker willing to work for less pay.

And while all that is certainly possible, it might well be that you made some simple (but avoidable) mistakes.

Here are my top 10 things not to do in your job search.

People waiting for job interview, Tips to avoid job search mistakes (Image Source/Alamy)

Before your interview, make sure your social media accounts don't cast you in a bad light. — Alamy

1. Don't adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward your social media footprint on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The 2015 CareerBuilder nationwide survey found that 52 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 43 percent last year and 39 percent in 2013. More than one-third of employers say they are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about that person online. And nearly half of hiring managers who screen candidates via social networks said they've found information that caused them not to hire a candidate. The biggest turnoffs for potential employers:

  • Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photos or information — 46 percent.
  • Sites had information about candidate's drinking or drug use — 40 percent.
  • Candidate bad-mouthed a previous employer — 34 percent.
  • Candidate had poor communication skills — 30 percent.
  • Candidate made discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion — 29 percent.

In today's job market, you must have an online profile. And it can work for you, if you manage your accounts diligently.

First, upload a current professional headshot (or at least an attractive photo, even if you took it with your smartphone). People want to see what you look like. Smile and sit up straight, with your shoulders pulled back. You might want to visit a hair salon before your photo shoot to tidy up your locks.

Update your personal privacy settings on social media sites such as Facebook. Search for yourself on Google and other Web search engines. You'll discover what others can. Remove anything that shows you in an unflattering light, if possible, or be ready to discuss in an interview.

What you think is all in good fun might not come across that way to a potential employer. Scrub your online profiles before you go job-hunting. Highlight your work experience and education. List your hobbies and volunteer activities, and comment on or post articles you find interesting.

Ask ex-colleagues, previous bosses and past clients in different age groups to write recommendations and endorse you on LinkedIn. It's best if they stress your up-to-date tech skills, creativity, experience and work ethic. And when a younger colleague backs you, it subliminally shows that you work well with someone younger — often a concern for employers hiring an older worker.

2. Don't use a kooky email address. Avoid one like Bluedevil@aol.com or some such moniker that means something to you, but not the person in the human resources department. Choose an email address that's professional and includes your full name, such as johnsmith@gmail.com, or one that includes your own domain name, such as kerry@kerryhannon.com. Avoid an address with numerals, especially if it's something that suggests a birth year, such as Kerry1960@aol.com.

Add a signature to your outgoing email messages that includes your contact information and links to social network accounts such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Employers will look at those links to gather more information about you.

3. Don't job-hunt alone. Ask for help and advice. "Networking, as I like to say, is just one letter off from not working," Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com, told me with a laugh when I interviewed him for my book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. It's all about whom you know that can get you in the chair for a face-to-face meeting.

When businesses are looking for candidates, they lean on employee referrals, according to a report commissioned by iCIMS, a provider of software that aids in the recruitment, hiring and training of new employees.

When an employee refers someone, that candidate is hired roughly two-thirds of the time. Why? Referrals tend to fit in faster with the company culture, are happier in their jobs and reduce employee turnover – both a money- and time-saver from an employer's perspective.

Search for contacts you know who work at the company where you hope to land a job, and tell them that you're applying for a position. Ask if they can put in a word for you or give you any advice. LinkedIn and your college alumni office may help you find connections.

Most people are happy to help out if they think you would be a good person for the job. Sixty percent of employees canvassed said they had referred at least one person for an open position within the company where they're working, according to the survey. Meantime, the higher the person referring you is on the corporate ladder, the better your chances are of getting hired, according to the findings.

4. Don't get fancy with your résumé. Avoid a splashy layout or special effects. Choose a traditional font, such as Times New Roman, in 9- to 12-point size, and use black type on white paper. Other highly readable fonts to consider are Arial, Calibri, Cambria and Tahoma.

In addition to creating the paper version of your résumé, pull together an electronic document that you can send via email and that lands without any odd formatting issues. The text should be flush with the left-hand side of the document, and you'll want to use an easy-to-read font. Email it to yourself to check how it looks before you send it along.

5. Don't turn your résumé into your autobiography. Keep it timely, focused and short. Most recruiters will scan it in 20 or 30 seconds, so keep it to no more than two pages. Stick to the most recent 10 to 15 years of experience.

Package your earlier experiences into "one nice, tidy paragraph at the end of your résumé's 'experience' section and omit dates," says Susan Whitcomb, author of Résumé Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Résumé Writer.

Avoid giving dates when it comes to decades-old experience — and only include those ancient jobs if they're pertinent to the work you're currently seeking. There's no need for college graduation dates. Match the experience and skills you cite in your résumé with the precise skills employers say they're seeking in their job posting.

Your résumé should provide employers with a narrative about how you've been successful in earlier jobs. Tell your story with rich details, such as how you reined in costs by a certain percentage, boosted sales by 25 percent or delivered a job two months ahead of schedule.

6. Don't forget to proofread your résumé. This is a deal-breaker for many employers. Make sure your résumé is 100 percent free of grammar and spelling errors. A spell-checker is not to be trusted. Double- and triple-check your document.

Any misspellings or grammatical gaffes suggest that you don't pay attention to detail, or aren't that interested in the job — clearly not something a potential boss wants to see.

Ask someone you trust to read over your résumé for you. A second or third set of eyes can catch things you might miss. If you can't find someone, print the document out, then wait for an hour or more before you review it so that you have fresh eyes. I recommend reading it out loud, too. For me, that's the best way to catch missed words and grammatical mistakes.

7. Don't forget to check all your correspondence for errors. Proofread all your correspondence, be it an email, cover letter, job application or thank-you note. The devil is in the details. This is basic but easy to forget.

Take your time. Pause before you hit the send button. Read your note again, out loud, just as you did with your résumé. (And please, it's never a good idea to send messages via texts or emails on your cellphone, particularly if you have an autocorrect program running.)

8. Don't wait passively at home for the phone to ring. If you're unemployed now, go do something. Try volunteering for a nonprofit organization or do pro bono work in a job that uses your skills.

Join professional groups. Volunteer for events so that you can stay engaged and hobnob with players in your field.

Volunteering for a nonprofit provides an opportunity to network and potentially get your foot in the door with a future employer. It also fills in gaps in your résumé. And you never know, you might just meet someone who will lead you to a job opening elsewhere.

Search for prospects at VolunteerMatch.org, HandsOnNetwork.org and AARP's Create the Good. Seek out nonprofits that need your particular professional expertise through TaprootFoundation.org and the Executive Service Corps. Bridgespan.org runs an online job board for nonprofit positions. Idealist.org has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.

Check with an employer that you're interested in working for — or one in a field that you would like to move into — to find out if it offers unpaid internships for more experienced workers, or if there are part-time or contract positions that can keep your résumé alive. For example, iRelaunch is a company that helps connect individuals who want to return to work after career breaks with employers interested in hiring them. The site currently features 135 career reentry programs worldwide. OnRamp Fellowship is a program aimed at connecting law firms, legal departments and financial services firms with women who have experience in the legal profession. YourEncore, a firm based in Indianapolis, links part-time seasoned workers with corporate clients.

9. Don't overlook your physical appearance. First impressions count. Before you head out on an interview, get in good physical shape. It gives you an energetic, vibrant appearance. Spruce up your hairstyle with an up-to-date cut and shaping. Wear clothes that are currently in fashion. It's worth shelling out for an interview outfit. It never hurts to overdress. Get some fashion-forward specs. A manicure is a good idea (men can skip the polish). Shine your shoes.

10. Don't diss former employers. If you're asked about a previous employer with whom you had a negative experience, be gracious. Smoothly shift the subject away from the past to the present day and future job opportunities.

Never post anything on social media that shows your displeasure if there's bad blood. Nothing good will come from this. When you criticize others, it reflects on your character.

Bonus tip: Don't underestimate yourself. "I encourage my clients to play long shots," says career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and the author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO. "You have to chase the off-the-wall prospects, jobs you've never done but have the skills and ability to perform. Be fearless."

Kerry Hannon, AARP's jobs expert, is an award-winning author and nationally recognized authority on career transitions and retirement. Her latest book is Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies. She has also written Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills. Hannon has spent more than 25 years covering all aspects of personal finance for national media outlets. Find more from Kerry at Kerryhannon.com.

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