Break all the job search ‘rules’

Our client Christopher knew something was wrong. “It just didn’t make sense,” he said. “I job-hunted for six months as a full-time job. I customized my resumes and cover letters. I followed every instruction to the letter. I took over thirty online tests in that time, and I got no interviews.

My background is a perfect match for at least twenty of the hundred jobs I applied for, and a good match for another sixty of them. It’s obvious that the Black Hole recruiting system is broken.”

Christopher is right. You can’t get good people in the door by searching keywords. We can’t convey the power of a person through a mechanical system.

Why would we ever believe that we could?

“I’m fed up,” said Christopher. “I’m cynical. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.” We thought it was a good thing.

You have to feel a visceral reaction to something that’s broken in order to find your voice sometimes.

You have to feel in your bones, “This is not right. I know I’m a good employee. I know I’m employable!” before you find the courage to step outside the lines.

“I can’t do everything you teach job-seekers,” Christopher told us. “I’m a rule-follower from way back. I can do some of the stuff, but not all of it.”

No problem, we said. Do what you feel. It’s your job search. It’s your life!

Chris tried two Pain Letters and got one callback.

“Let’s see if I can break a rule or two on my first job interview in six months,” he said.

When he got into the conversation with the CFO interviewing him, Chris was surprised how easy it was to get the CFO off his script and into a real conversation.

“We talked for two hours,” he said. “The CFO cancelled his next meeting. I expect to get a job offer. Here’s the crazy thing. I don’t know if I’ll take it!”

Chris found his mojo and realized that he has needs in the hiring equation too. Now that he sees the direct correlation between breaking the old, crusty job-search rules and success on his job search, he doesn’t feel he has to take the first offer he gets.

Here are ten rules to break in your job search starting immediately. You have nothing to lose by stepping out of the box and bringing more of your power to every stage of the job-search process.

What can you lose if the old, robotic way isn’t working for you anyway? As FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


1) Break the rule that tells you not to use “I” in your resume. How absurd! Your resume is a marketing document. You are the product. Six or seven uses of the word “I” in your resume will make it a personal document between you and the reader — the person who could easily become your next boss.

2) Next, break the rule that tells you to list your tasks and duties on your resume. Who cares? You’re different from anyone who has ever held any of your past jobs. Don’t tell us about the job description. We can guess from your title what each job required. Tell us what you left in your wake in each job, instead!

3) Now, break the rule that tells you to reply to a job ad by pitching a resume into the Black Hole of an automated career portal. Your chance of hearing back are close to zero.

Write directly to your own hiring manager — the person you’ll be working for if you get the job. Send that manager a Pain Lettertogether with your Human-Voiced Resume,right through the mail.

4) Break the rule that says “No direct contact with your hiring manager,” an instruction that shows up in job ads sometimes. Since when are you responsible for reading job ads? You can stop reading job ads right now. You can send a Pain Letter to anyone you want. You just have to find your hiring manager’s name on LinkedIn, and that’s not difficult.

5) Defy the rule that tells you to report your salary history as you apply for a job. Is the employer going to tell you the history of salaries they’ve paid to other people in the same role? They won’t, so why should you lose negotiating leverage by passing on your private financial details? All they need is a target salary number, so give them that.

6) Break the rule that tells you to go into an interview ready to answer questions like a good little sheepie and then go silent, waiting for the next question.

An interview is not a citizenship exam. You can get your manager off the script and into a real human conversation if you try — and if your efforts are unsuccessful, what does that tell you about the person you’d be working for?

7) Ignore the rule that tells you to hand over your job references before you’ve established that a strong mutual interest exists. Firms that pressure you to fork over your references early may be planning to misuse your contacts for their own purposes, as horrifying as that sounds (and is).

8) Blow past the rule that tells you to spend your energy in a job search pleasing people, from the initial resume screener to the recruiter who never calls back. The title of this story is “Break the Rules and Get a Great Job,” not “Follow the Rules and Take any Crappy Job You Can Get.” That is a different story that I will write the minute Hell freezes over.

9) Break the rule that tells you to wait around for weeks while a search committee takes its sweet time getting back to you. Three business days after an interview is more than enough time to decide whether you’re still in the mix or not.

Leave one voice mail message that says “Just checking in before I close the file, since I’m assuming you’re going in a different direction” and then truly close the file and move on. It’s incredibly satisfying to do, as Christopher found out.

10) Last, break the job-search rule that tells you that employers are in the driver’s seat. That may be true in the general please-someone-hire-me sheepie job seeker talent marketplace but it’s never been the case in the talent bazaar where eyes-open managers hire people to solve real business problems that could otherwise tank their companies.

Liz, what if breaking the rules gets me thrown out of a hiring pipeline?

If that happened, would you say “Oh darn, I wished I had kissed more booty in order to have a chance to work with those people?” Or “Thank God, I dodged a bullet!”?

But I’ve always heard I shouldn’t use “I” in a resume.

I always heard that too. Have you ever compared a Human-Voiced Resume to a standard Darth Vader resume? Which one looks more appealing to you?

I have a friend who got an email saying she was permanently blackballed from one employer because she approached the hiring manager directly.

Please congratulate your friend for me! It’s good to be reminded that not everyone is comfortable with your flame.

How did we all get so sheepified?

People have been sheepifying us since we were toddlers. Our education system starts the process.

Did your elementary school teachers tell you “Listen, kids, if I’m wrong about something or you disagree, let’s talk about it! Tell me what you think. Your opinion is just as valid as mine.”?

What’s the first rule for me to break?

The rule about using “I” in your resume and more generally, any rule that keeps your human heft and power out of your resume or buried under layers of sludge like “Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation.”

Put a human voice in your resume. That’s the first step!

In job search as in life, the only people who deserve your spark and talents are the people who appreciate them. If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you!


From an original post by Liz Ryan on LinkedIn Pulse