Make it a habit to avoid these bad job search habits.

Woman sleeping with her head on a balcony ledge
Photo by Hernan Sanchez

I was overconfident on my last job search, back in 2002.

Coming off a good job at in Paris and Seattle, I had just moved back to Israel. A big shock was about to arrive for the entire Internet industry, but I didn't know that.

On the contrary, I thought my prospects were great, and that companies would be lining up to hire a hotshot web development manager from one of the best known e-commerce companies (even back then, when it was much, much smaller).

I could not have been more wrong.

Oh sure, recruiters were impressed by my profile, but it wasn't a good match for the open jobs they had to offer. E-commerce was just beginning locally, and I wasn't going to get full value for my full skill set. I was going to have to adjust my expectations.

Then the dotcom bubble burst and recruiters stopped replying to my email cover letters, in some cases because they themselves had been let go.

As my job search started to drag on,  it was easier to just browse the few new job listings posted on my favorite job sites every morning, and then send out email feelers all afternoon.

It was a very efficient way to job search, but also a really ineffective way to job search.

It took months for me to break that bad habit of spending most of my job search glued to a computer screen.

Sound familiar?

I hope not!

There are so many other bad habits that you might pick up as a job seeker, making your search longer than necessary and making you your own worst enemy at a time in your life that you typically want to end as soon as possible.

For example…

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

On the worst job search habit people ask him about, James told me:

A bad habit I often see people fall into is trying to win a job before they build connections. It's usually best to do it the other way around.

People want to do favors for others they know, like, and trust. People can sense when a job seeker is using recruiters, mentors, and others as a transactional relationship just to get a job.

Develop a genuine interest in the person helping you out and showcase how you can excel in the job once you've built that trust.

You'll notice that some bad habits can also lead to others.

My bad job search habit of only looking for jobs online also led to having the bad habit James describes. As social media didn't exist in 2002, networking online wasn't nearly as common, and I certainly wasn't doing much of it.

That's the first step to breaking these habits: recognizing that you have them.

Which bad job search habits are holding you back?

Here's a long list you can use to check.

James Clear: A bad habit I often see people fall into is trying to win a job before they build connections. It's usually best to do it the other way around.Click To Tweet

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

James Clear's new Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, was released on October 19th, 2018.

Buy Atomic Habits Now

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Over 25 bad job search habits to break

1. Procrastinating

Are you constantly putting off your job search, or even just certain parts of it?

Schedule your job search time to create momentum: either begin your job search sessions with the easiest things you need to do, or the things you most want to do first.

2. Getting distracted

Schedule your job search time, period, and stick to the schedule… but give yourself breaks, time to exercise, time to learn or improve skills, and reward yourself for little wins such as getting positive responses from recruiters. Sleeping well will also help you stay focused.

3. Being late

It's hard to start an interview off on the right foot if you didn't even show up on time.

Scheduling your job search daily will also help break this habit, and always call ahead if you may be late.

4. Staying in your comfort zone

In my job search story, it was easy to drop down in front of my computer every day. If I had known James's advice about networking and made an effort to go out regularly for it, there's no doubt my job search would have ended much sooner.

5. Getting into a routine

On the job, routines are good and help you be more productive as your work towards goals.

On the job search, however, routines can be dangerous because of the chance you'll get comfortable going through the same ineffective motions every day, just like I did.

Between researching companies to target, tailoring resumes, networking and going to interviews, a good job search will have too much variety for you to get into a routine.

Which of these bad job search habits has hurt you most?

General job search

6. Not having a specific job in mind

If you aim for the bull's eye, there's a good chance you'll at least hit the target.

Focus your job search by looking for a specific kind of job while taking into account how job titles may differ for the same roles.

7. Applying to as many jobs as possible

Be picky when it comes to choosing where to apply. Target fewer companies more heavily as opposed to playing the numbers game.

8. Taking shortcuts

Resume distribution services send your resume to a long list of email addresses. This “resume blasting” is nothing more than a kind of spam. It'll raise your hopes when the chances of it helping are minimal.

Another kind of shortcut is to rely on placement agencies. I tried this once and it was a waste of time.

I thought that those recruiters' interests were the same as mine, since they got paid after I got hired. However, being a good candidate for a client of theirs doesn't guarantee the client company will be a good fit for you. The placement agencies will quickly stop forwarding your resumes if they see you rejecting companies.

9. Targeting recruiters instead of hiring managers

What good is convincing a recruiter to get you in the door if the hiring manager won't be interested?

10. Using work or personal email addresses 

At worst, your personal email address will be something embarrassing and unprofessional. At best, the mix of emails in your inbox will constantly distract you.

Your work email address, on the other hand, is problematic on a whole other level, and not just because your employer will discover your job search.

It's just easier to use a dedicated job search email address.

11. Not following up

Recruiters are busy people, just like you. It's very easy for things to slip through the cracks.

12. Following up too much

On the other hand, there's following up and then there's harassment.

Follow up once within a few days. Check in again at least a few weeks later if you're still interested in the role.

13. Spending too much effort online or offline

A lesson I learned the hard way 🙁

Resumes and CVs

14. Describing responsibilities rather than achievements

What's more impressive: managing company sales, or growing sales by over 50% in a single quarter?

The “So What?” resume writing method works best.

15. Using clichés and vague terms

Who isn't a “motivated self-starter” and a “team player”?

The best resumes are specific and to the point. You don't have the space to waste.

16. Wasting resume space on weak points

Everything you put on your resume should have a purpose: either how to contact you, or why the company should want to hire you. Avoid adding any filler. You don't have the space to waste.

17. Not proofreading your resumes

Most job seekers proofread their own resumes, if they bother proofreading at all.

That's not good enough.

18. Recycling your resume

Sending the same resume each time?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every company is different and so should your communications be with them.

Tailor each resume once you've discovered what's most likely to impress them.

19. Rehashing your resume in your cover letters

The purpose of a cover letter is to tempt its reader to look at your resume, and a long cover letter is less likely to do that.

20. Using only one job site for all your needs

It was bad enough that my 2002 job search had me spending too much time online, it would have been worse if that time had been mostly spent on the same job site, closing myself off from many opportunities listed elsewhere.

There so many popular job boards to cross-reference, helpful job search blogs like this one, resume builders and other great online tools for your job search.

Job interviews

21. Not preparing for job interviews

I get it if you feel that you don't need to practice with sample job interview questions (although you should), but at least do some company research before the interview so you can prepare your own questions to ask.

22. Not being yourself in the interview

Some job seekers are so anxious about their interviews that they'll even memorize answers to potential questions, coming off stiff and unnatural, basically putting on an act. And not a very good one.

Of course recruiters will see right through this; they go through more interviews than you ever will.

Just be yourself. If you prepare for the interviews each time, you'll be fine.

23. Being too informal

I've been guilty of this early in my career. Sometimes you can be yourself a bit too much, and you give off the impression that you're not taking the interview or the recruitment process seriously.

With the experience of a few interviews under your belt, you'll start to get a better idea of where the “too informal” line is that you shouldn't cross.

24. Talking about yourself too much

Unlike what many people think, the point of the job interview isn't to tell interviewers how amazing you are and how lucky they would be to get you.

Rather, the point is to convince interviewers how amazing you would be for their company and how you can help them.

It's about them, not you.

25. Bad-mouthing

Especially after a layoff or what you consider an unjust firing, it's very easy to fall into the trap of bad mouthing former employers in frustration, or perhaps a former colleague while telling a story.

Interviewers value critical thinking and the ability to clearly analyze a situation you were part of, but be careful: stick to the facts and keep value judgements and opinions of others out of it.

It just leaves a bitter taste.

26. Unleashing nervous energy

Drumming your fingers, bouncing a leg, playing with your hair… you need to learn to control it.

Easy to say, I know.

Nervousness comes from the pressure you're feeling for the interview. The less you have at stake in an interview, the less pressure you'll feel.

One way to lower the stakes is by continuing to line up more interviews with other companies in parallel, and not putting all your hopes on the most recent company to invite you to their offices.

27. Taking job search rejection personally

Rejection often isn't about you. There are many reasons companies reject you, and many of those reasons are completely out of your control.

Rejection is going to happen. Accept it and move on (here are some great stories of people who did).

If you lower the interview stakes as mentioned above, it will bother you less and become easier to take.

28. Always accepting the first offer

In over 11 years of blogging about job search, I've never heard anyone say they enjoyed looking for a new job. EVERYONE just wants the search to end asap so they can go back to feeling like a productive member of society, among other things.

I get the excitement when you finally get a job offer and are willing to accept it practically sight unseen, because you want it to end. All too often, this just leads you to trading your frustrating job search for a frustrating job.

But should you automatically reject the first offer?


First, learn how to evaluate new job offers.

Next – and now I'm repeating myself – lower the stakes and give yourself more negotiating power by continuing to line up other offers.

Best job search habits that will get you hired

When it comes to job search habits, it isn't all doom and gloom.

There are some terrific, effective, even powerful habits you can adopt that can have a massive, positive impact on your job searches.

I reached out to some of the top job search experts for their top recommended job search habits and they responded in a big way:

bad job search habits 1

bad job search habits 2

bad job search habits 3

bad job search habits 4

bad job search habits 5

bad job search habits 6

bad job search habits 7

bad job search habits 8

bad job search habits 9

And one more from James Clear, on what he would tell his younger self about job search habits:

You are young. Life is long. Your interests will change. There are many things right now that you don't know. As a result of all of these things, you should explore broadly early in your career. Don't limit yourself to one job or one industry. Search widely and experiment with a variety of roles and businesses. Once you have an idea of what is out there, you can narrow your focus to the option you enjoyed the most.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Question of the article

What's the worst job search habit you've been able to overcome, and how did you do it? Tell us in the comments

What others are saying

5 Habits of Effective Job Seekers

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Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Nana

    It’s no wonder employers don’t like procrastinating, being late and distraction. Who likes it?
    The other reasons weren’t so obvious to me. I spend a lot of time writing my resume and reread it all the time, but I always find it not perfect. Maybe the employers don’t like it either?
    Great tips at the end, thank you!

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