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October 21, 2014
By Lisa Dare

Years ago when I screened potential interns, I received a glowing reference for a young man … from his father. The father had an affinity with (but not a connection to) my organization; in almost any other case besides being, say, a parent, his recommendation would've been meaningful.

Employers understand when you’re just out of school, you may struggle to find an appropriate work reference. Be creative: Ask a favorite teacher, your supervisor from your first job at Dunkin’ Donuts, or a coach. Just … any person in the whole world besides your parents.

In the interests of entertaining you and helping you avoid the worst job-seeking offenses, I give you three awkward moves real people try all the time. Avoid these at all costs:

The brag shag

There are several variations of this particular move, and all of them will earn you derision from applicant screeners. The first is my personal favorite, the cover letter brag. Perhaps egged on by lots of dubious online advice urging supreme confidence, the cover letter braggart knows exactly why she is the “ideal candidate” for this job. She focuses at length on her many extraordinary qualities, without giving you a sense that she has any idea what your organization is about, or how she’ll deliver results.

The inflated resume brag is another example. Some resumes are littered with glowing—but vague—adjectives about the candidate, like “proactive,” “top-notch” and “results-oriented.” And some just list dubious results. If you increased customer appreciation 1,400 percent (really?!), at least show how you accomplished it and how the results were measured, e.g., “Instituted XXX measures to increase customer brand preference 1,400 percent as measured by a yearly survey.”    

Takeaway: Focus on results and how you accomplished them, and leave the adjectives out of your materials. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

The half-hearted hustle

Not sure you’re into the job, or think you might have a better offer coming down the pipeline? The interview is NOT the time to express this. I once set up a phone interview with my supervisor and an applicant. The young man declined to answer her questions until he established whether the internship was paid, and then said he wasn't sure he should bother to interview right then since he thought he’d be getting a better offer. When the applicant’s other offer didn't come through, he asked for another shot, which made my boss just about fall down laughing.

Another true (and not unusual) story: I originally interviewed for a different position with TEKsystems. I liked the company and interviewers but quickly realized the role was not for me. But I continued to answer all the questions politely and enthusiastically, then told my recruiter I wasn't interested afterward. It wasn't long before a position opened I did want, and having done well the first time, I was the only candidate they wanted to interview.

Takeaway: If you’re sure you don’t want the job, do everyone a favor and cancel the interview. You’re not hedging your bets by going through with it, because expressing anything but 100 percent enthusiasm is a deal-breaker. If you do show up for the interview, give it your all.

The stalker stomp

This person wants the job badly. At first you’re impressed with her dedication and chutzpah. Three emails and two phone calls later, you’re a little wary. After she calls your boss and coworker to beg, you’re starting to wonder about filing for a restraining order.

Takeaway: Expressing interest and enthusiasm is great, but read the hiring manager’s signals. If they mention how busy they are, or that they’re committed to interviewing a wide field of candidates, back off a bit. It’s always appropriate and a good idea to send a thank-you letter, but be careful about following up further. If the process drags on for a while and the hiring manager hasn't said why, feel free to follow up one more time. 

Have your own true stories of false moves from job-seekers? I bet everyone would love to read them in the comments. No names, though! We've all committed an embarrassing gaffe on occasion and would appreciate anonymity. 

If you're looking for an IT job—why not join North America's No. 1 IT staffing firm? Upload your resume into our database or contact a recruiter

Or check out our recent career advice columns:

Career Hacker: 3 principles for effective IT cover letters

Career Hacker: Land your first IT job with hints from hiring experts

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of tech, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.

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