As I sat down to write to you, I was feeling frustrated. So much so that, after questioning why, I changed my mind about what I wanted to share in my message today.

I had a, “Wait, what?” moment for several days in a row talking to people about what they’ve been doing so far in their job search. Simultaneously, I am seeing very few people doing the things that will actually open doors, get them interviews, and lead to offers. Which is the point, right?

I’m talking about giving too much attention to things that matter very little in a job search, while ignoring the specific actions that could truly make a difference. So, I guess you could consider this message my way of shouting “STOP IT!” through cyberspace!

Stop what specifically? I’ll tell you…

STOP spending hours writing and rewriting a single cover letter so that it’s “perfect.” If the letter is taking you more than 10-15 minutes, you’re spending too much time on it (and you may not be focused enough on a specific role in your search).

INSTEAD… Write as many bullet points as you can that highlight your specific qualifications for the job you want. Go beyond what is on your resume. Plan to edit and add to this document regularly. Then, write a standard cover letter. Then tweak this standard letter for every application, choosing from your bullets while focusing on key words from the job posting and quantifiable accomplishments.

STOP fretting over the “right” answer to the often ridiculous questions on online application forms. If you find yourself pondering over whether a question means “x” or “y,” or you are trying to imagine what answer will get you through the process, you are overthinking it.

INSTEAD…  Accept that these forms are a huge hassle and annoying. Then, answer each question as honestly as you can. When in doubt, go with your gut. If your true answer rules you out, you don’t want to work there. If they catch you in a lie (and you should expect that they will) you’re toast anyway.

STOP endlessly consulting with friends, family and acquaintances regarding your resume (unless they are actually hiring managers or recruiters in your field). You’ll only cause yourself confusion over their often conflicting advice. In trying to do everything they suggest, your resume will reflect that confusion!

INSTEAD… Look at the LinkedIn profiles of 5-7 people currently in the role you want. Look at how they describe their work experience and the language they use. Choose a few people and reach out to them to see if they would be open to chatting about their experience, then ask what skills got them the job. Integrate the skills they highlight (assuming you also have them) into a format that is simple (no tables, no graphics!). Then test the resume by sending it back to them for feedback.

What each of these things have in common is an underlying assumption that if only you could get the “right” documents, or the “right” answers, you would get a job. That’s just not true. What will get you a job is targeting employers and persistently making connections at those organizations. Then, having meaningful conversations that allow you to demonstrate what you offer and address any questions or concerns.

This is what’s working now – give it a try! It’s way more satisfying (and successful) than spending time overworking a letter that was fine when you started!

Ever wonder how to land the job of your dreams?
Find out how with 10 Habits of Successful Job Candidates!