No Phone Calls Please! And Other Rules You Should Break

by Laura Gassner Otting, President, Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group

(This article has been published by


Job seekers constantly second guess themselves about what to do at each step of the process.  My clients often bemoan, 'If only I could talk to a live person, I could just tell them how great I am!'  And, why shouldn’t they?  This article debunks some of the most infamous job seeking myths.


No Phone Calls Please means never call!


The average recruiting firm or human resources office has more than one fax machine and more than one printer.  The odds of your paper reaching the right desk, or the right interviewer are far less than perfect.  If there is a job that is absolutely perfect for your skills and experience, and you haven’t gotten a call about it, there might be a good reason why.  Try calling after hours and leaving a 10-20 second voice mail message describing your excitement and your match; if you seem right, I would dig through my resume stack to find you.  If you don’t, I won’t.  You’ve lost nothing.


Resumes must be one page.


Anyone who has ever done any hiring will tell you that they’ve never once stopped reading an interesting resume at the end of the first page.  In truth, we headhunters tend to skip around for the information we want, i.e., current position, schooling, numbers expressing scale of accomplishment, etc.  Keep your resume to one page until you’ve had a decade of real experience under your belt, then expand as necessary to tell the whole story.


Cover letters are about you.


Imagine a stack of cover letters and resumes, with each one proclaiming that the writer has “the skills and experience for the job opening.”  With a pile of 200 resumes on my desk for any one job opening, the cover letters that stand out discuss the needs of my client’s organization and the particular challenges facing the incumbent, and then how the candidate’s skills and experiences directly correlate.  Indeed, it’s always these cover letters that get my clients most excited, and propel their candidates faster and further in the hiring process than their “insert job here” counterparts.


All available jobs are listed in the classifieds.


If you aren’t networking, you aren’t really looking for a job.  I tell my job seeking clients that they should spend at least three quarters of their time talking to their networks, and only one quarter answering blind ads from newspapers or online sources.  Advertised jobs are wonderful, but they don’t nearly scratch the surface of what might be out there.  Besides, wouldn’t you rather get into the candidate mix before the onslaught of resumes?


Changing careers is impossible; Only apply to do things you've done before.


Most people will have at least four or five careers in their professional lifetimes.  Consider arranging your resume with a functional introduction above your otherwise chronological history if you would like to do something different.  As long as there are transferable skills, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stretch your wings.  But remember, you may need to take a pay cut or start off in a more junior position while your next employer takes a chance on your new career’s budding flight.


Too old/too young; Always hide your age.


Candidates who remove dates from graduation, or leave off any other identifiable dates, worry me.  Ageism unquestionably exists in the job market; but would you really want to work in an organization that didn’t want to even interview you based on your age?  If you are the sort of person who likes to fight that battle, then by all mean, please do.  However, the sad fact is that the older you get, the harder it will be to find something new, and a failure within an organization that starts off unfriendly to your generation isn’t going to shine on your resume.  Be yourself in the job seeking process and you are more likely to succeed in the job holding process.


Salary ranges are set in stone.


It is one of the most basic lessons in economics:  a thing is only worth what another is willing to pay for it.  If you were paid $75,000 in your last job, it is unlikely that you will be paid $150,000 in your next, regardless of the salary range advertised.  Conversely, if you are looking to earn $150,000 and the range is $75,000, it is up to you convince the employer why they should pay you more.  Consider, however, that employers are often trapped by the salaries of others in peer positions, and raising your hiring salary becomes a bigger question across the band.  Instead, think of creative alternatives, like additional vacation time, a bonus system tied to meeting benchmarks, a laptop computer for your home, or memberships in professional organizations or tuition reimbursement for training programs.


You must accept the offer that is made.


At the point where an offer is made, an organization has narrowed and possibly even dismissed the pool of other candidates.  You are their single choice, they have envisioned you in the position and are invested in you.  If the offer is not up to your expectations, you have every right to go back with a counter offer or a query about why.  You will have to work with these people every day in the new job, however, so don’t haggle over a few dollars, but make sure the offer is one that will keep you happy in the job.


Laura Gassner Otting is founder and president of Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, a niche consulting firm dedicated to strengthening the capacity of nonprofits and their staff, and is available to discuss individual resumes, cover letters, and job search strategies.

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