The 4 worst pieces of advice for job seekers

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I usually try to write my articles in a positive and upbeat tone but I must say this: it drives me nuts when I hear the bad advice being given to job seekers. Here are, in my opinion, the 4 worst pieces of advice job seekers hear.

1. Red is a power colour

I almost passed out when I heard someone give this advice to a job seeker recently and I’m surprised that this advice is still out there. Is there value in being professionally dressed for an interview? Absolutely. But there is no power colour, power suit or any such superficial details that will give a candidate any kind of edge.

When interviewers meet with a candidate, they’re evaluating the totality of what the person brings to the table. Experience is critically important as well as the answers the candidate provides, the fit with the team and the company culture etc. No hiring manager has ever said “You know, they don’t have the experience, but something about that red tie… let’s hire them!”

2.  Tell them you have another offer

When I was a recruiter, I was surprised when a candidate would try to speed up the recruitment process by faking another job offer.

Let me clarify: if you’re in an interview process and you do receive an offer from another company, it is courteous to advise, especially if you plan on accepting it and withdrawing your candidacy. This leaves a fair chance to the remaining candidates. This is not the situation which I am referring to.

What I am referring to is bluffing in an effort to force the company’s hand. Generally speaking, companies meet several candidates before coming to a decision about a shortlist or a finalist.

It’s happened to me quite a few times that a candidate would call before the projected follow-up time and explain they received another offer and had needed our decision. When I explained that we had other candidates to meet and were not ready to make a decision, so go ahead and take it, they were magically able to get an extension from the “other employer” while still on the phone with me.

Make no mistake: this is lying and leads to automatic disqualification. Employers won’t hire people they can’t trust. Do not take this advice if someone suggests it.

3. Offer to work for free

Another piece of advice job seekers get is to offer their services for free in an attempt to prove their worth and eventually get hired. This advice are short-sighted for a few reasons.

First, in this age of corporate scandal and social media no company wants to be caught with an unpaid employee and risk the public relations nightmare of the implication that they have a practice of forced labour.

Secondly, no company wants to put themselves at risk of having their intellectual property or information systems compromised. When companies hire an employee, they do a thorough background check and have employees sign an offer letter as well as a confidentiality agreement and have the required guidance related to the usage of their information systems. In addition, they are required to keep all such documentation in their archives. It’s too easy to make the argument that the company put themselves at risk by opening their doors to a non-employee for any period of time and the company would be liable for any losses.

Finally, time is money. When a new employee is hired, managers and colleagues take on the added responsibility to train and onboard the employee until the new person is productive, which is typically a period of anywhere between one and three months. There is little added value for them to invest their time in someone who is not an employee and may never become one.

So while on the surface it would appear to be a great offer that job seeker is making, the cost for the company in terms of risk and time far outweighs the benefits.

4. Go back to school

Be cautious if someone gives you advice to return to school. If you don’t know what you want to do or you want to skip steps and start as a manager, going back to school is a costly endeavour that probably won’t not fulfill your aims.

Let me be clear: there is nothing inherently wrong with higher education and returning to school to improve career prospects. It’s wonderful to expand the mind, learn new subjects and learn a new way of thinking. There are certain careers where going back to school is required, such as being a doctor or a lawyer for instance. If someone wanted to transition into these fields, then obviously a degree is necessary. Also, if you work in business and you aspire to more senior levels, then yes, an advanced degree could be beneficial.

Returning to school is an investment on many levels: from a monetary perspective, from a time standpoint, and it requires a firm commitment, especially if you have young children.

Examine your motives carefully. Every career has bad bosses. Every career has stress. Every career involves politics. Every career has the potential for disruption. Returning to school will not “give” you a career: you’ll still have to go out and get it once the degree is completed.

If you’ve been considering going back to school for a while now, you owe it to yourself to get some exposure on the subject before taking on the hefty tuition. Start by taking a class or a workshop first and speak to people in the industry.