When we consider that the purpose of a job search is to land a job, it is strange to see job seekers taking actions that hurt them more than help them. I did these actions too. When I first thought about selling myself as something other than my job title, my worry was: “I know I can do the job, but how can I show them that?”

I read books on job search, almost every resume book ever written, and it all has the same advice: show the company your value and how you can help them.

That is is solid advice. And the advice I also give.

But, you’re reading this because you have tried that and it isn’t working. Or you need something better than the usual “connect what they say they want in the job advertisement with what you have on your resume” advice. You’re at a different level.

In the job search world, that advice is basic. It is what everyone should be doing at a minimum. It can be filed under, “things that should be common knowledge but aren’t”.

But honestly, most people have more to offer than just what the job ad says, and a perfect resume usually isn’t the solution.

Companies rarely hire people jus because they connect the dots

Companies rarely hire people just because they connect the dots between the ad and their skills.

Awesome employees do more for companies than what is expressed in a job ad. But you know that. Beyond trying to hit the mark on your resume there are three things you might be doing that are self-sabotaging your search.

The three most common forms of job search self-sabotage, and how to avoid them:


  1. Blanding in (aka Blending in so much you just become bland)

A job search can be intimidating, especially when it has been a while and the old ways of landing aren’t working anymore. When this happens instead of embracing your strategic advantage, you get scared and try to blend in.

When you focus on only the specific asks of the company, you miss the opportunity to stand out and be remembered. It makes you look like every other person who has applied and lowers your chances of getting hired.

If you are a dynamic person who will improve a company by being there. It might be through inciting a culture change, creating new systems, or raising revenues, whatever it is — they need to see how you do that differently than anyone else.

If you are unsure about if they are going to like “the real you”, it’s tempting to skip over your uniqueness and just speak to their points. But you need to go deeper.

How to stop sabotaging your job search by sharing your strategic advantage:

  • Identify your top accomplishments. This takes some effort, but spend some time remembering and documenting specific career achievements. Collect those and look for common themes and skills. This is your strategic advantage. Try the Career Stories Method to find your strengths
  • Model this differentiator. It is not enough to say you have certain skills, you have to prove it. You can get proof of this by asking people to write recommendations for you on LinkedIn. You can also create a content strategy that models your skills.  
  • You can talk about the value you bring that the company doesn’t ask for in the job advertisement. But communicate how they benefit from it.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand out. Standing out based on your strategic advantage is not bad in a job search. Standing out because of a poor attitude, reputation or desperate follow-up calls should be avoided. Ideally, you strategically layer your search strategy so that you get their attention before a job is even posted.

This means intentionally putting yourself out there, but for a good reason.

  1. Following your network, but not network science.

When you’re launching a career transition or search, most people reach out to close and recent connections in their networks and leave it as that. The problem with that is those people have the same information and close contacts as you do. No new information or perspective is getting in.

This means you don’t get access to the hidden job market or new information that most often leads to landing new jobs.

Being in a job search is an uncomfortable feeling, especially if you are unemployed. The idea of reaching out to people you haven’t spoken to in over three years can add stress, but it is worth doing anyway. In fact, it could make the difference to land quicker than planned. (If you want to read more networking science, I suggest getting David Burkus’ Friend of a Friend. There are great resources here: 

If you are embarrassed about being unemployed or to ask for advice, I encourage you to drop that right now. Random bursts of unemployment happen all the time, don’t let pride stop you from moving forward. People can’t help and connect you to opportunities if they don’t know you need assistance.

How to stop sabotaging your search and take action on reconnecting with your network:

  • Drop the idea that you need to do this solo. Admit to yourself that most people land jobs because of their network, often their old network.
  • Make a list of 30 people you haven’t spoken in over three years
  • Plan out a strategy on how many you will connect with per week. Book that time in your schedule
  • Create a tracking system (can be as simple as a notebook) to note follow-up dates, and suggested activities.
  • Rehearse your connection script. Remember, you aren’t asking them for a job, you are reconnecting and asking for advice. Ensure that you build in time to listen to their life update and you aren’t just focused on your needs.

3. Assuming recruiters, HR, hiring managers, etc. don’t know what they want

A common misperception of some job seekers is that the person who is in charge of the hiring is not smart enough to understand the role. You need to drop that now. Even entering into a hiring process as if you know more about the company and the role than the people who work there is arrogant.

Failure to land a job is not on the hiring person. It is on your ability to share why you are the best candidate for the role.

From your perspective, or even if you heard it from an insider, you have an idea of what the company needs to improve itself. You can propose that to them. But there are often other criteria you cannot see as an applicant. That might include:

  • The personalities of other people on the team
  • Strategy plans that haven’t been released yet
  • A pending sale or downsizing
  • A major expansion
  • An incident that happened to someone with your personality & skill level

They are the ones running their organization in their own way. You may have ideas that could help them, but if they have decided how they like to run things and your work style or strategy runs against that, they aren’t stupid. They get to make the call about how they run things.

How to stop sabotaging your search and take action on assuming hiring people don’t know anything.

  • Ask questions to get a clear idea of what the organization needs help with
  • Come armed with ideas, but also an openness to hearing their objections and situation. Work towards collaborating instead of trying to push an idea at this stage.
  • Watch your tone in the interview and cover letter. Write and communicate with them assuming they are intelligent. You don’t need to dumb anything down.

Drop the self-sabotage

A behavior change in these three areas can have big results in your search. Not only will you increase your chances of landing a job quickly, but you’ll have confidence in what you bring to the table. You will know you are doing everything you can to land an ideal job.