The perfect opportunity won't just fall in your lap. Improve your chances of landing a job by trashing these 10 common myths. Myth 1 -- Finding a job will be quick and easy. For the majority, it will take serious effort. The length of your hunt will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The job market
- Your location
- Your qualifications
- The amount of time you dedicate to your search
- Your interviewing skills
- The types of resources you use to find openings
The average job search lasts four months, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. To make ends meet, take a part-time job, like working in a call center or restaurant. You never know what future opportunities those jobs could offer. Myth 2 -- The Internet is the best place to look for a job. "One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that job hunting on the Web is some magic elixir that will result in employers lining up to interview you," says Randall Hansen, associate professor of marketing at Stetson University and publisher of "Quintessential Careers." While the Internet should make up one component, says Hansen, it shouldn't be your only strategy. According to a recent study, only about 15 percent to 20 percent of all job openings are publicly advertised in any medium, and only about 5 percent of job seekers end up getting jobs through ads. So, how does everyone else do it? "Networking is by far the most effective job-search tool you can use," Hansen says. To plug into the grapevine:
- Check out the resources offered by your college alumni association.
- Join a professional organization or club.
- Subscribe to a trade magazine.
- Get an internship.
- Find online discussion groups for your industry though such sites as groups.google.com.
- Set up informational interviews with experts in your field.
- Keep in touch with college acquaintances in your major, especially recent graduates.
Myth 3 -- I'll make at least $40,000 my first job. The reality is you may have to start lower on the salary scale than you planned and work your way up. And just because you earn a certain amount doesn't mean that's what you'll take home. For example, a $40,000 annual salary is reduced to about $30,800 after federal, Social Security, and Medicare taxes are taken out. That's not counting state taxes and any money you might have withheld from your paycheck for benefits. Myth 4 -- There's no room for negotiation with an entry-level salary. With some jobs, this may be true. But most employers leave some wiggle room in their offers to new employees. The bottom line: You won't know unless you ask. If there isn't any room for an increase in salary, consider negotiating your benefits, such as vacation time, work hours, signing bonuses, starting date, relocation benefits, etc. You don't want to find yourself a week after you're hired wondering if you could have gotten a better deal. Myth 5 -- The person who gets hired is the one who can do the job best. If you've got the skills, you're a shoo-in. Right? Not so, says Hansen. It often comes down to interviewing skills and your rapport with your interviewers. Your qualifications, education, and experience may get you an interview, but you need to prove why you are the best person to fill the job. Act confident but not cocky. Use concrete examples to illustrate your qualifications. Maintain eye contact and relax. Before leaving the interview, find out how to follow up, says Carole Martin, interview coach and author of "Boost Your Interview IQ." For example, ask your interviewer, "I'd like to stay in touch and follow up with you in a week or two to see how the process is going and where I stand. How do you prefer that I communicate with you, e-mail or phone?" Myth 6 -- A well-designed resume will improve my chances of getting noticed. A snazzy résumé may be a hindrance. Most employers accept résumés via e-mail, but many won't open résumé attachments for fear of contracting a computer virus. Your chance of getting noticed: Zilch. The solution: Create two copies of your résumé. The first one should be a simple version you can paste into the body of an e-mail, sans formatting. That means no fancy fonts, bolds, italics, underlines, or special characters. Keep each line fewer than 65 characters and replace bullets with asterisks, says Kim Isaacs, director of ResumePower.com. The second résumé should be nicely formatted for you to carry in-hand to your interview. (See "The Write Stuff" on page 25) Myth 7 -- What I think of an employer doesn't matter as much as what he/she thinks of me. Don't forget that the employer must pass your screening, too. Think about this: There are 168 hours in a week. If you spend 40 of those at work, you'll pass one-quarter of your week there. You better make sure you like the place. Find out about the boss's management style, the company's stability, and any company problems. Get a copy of the company's annual report, which contains information about its finances. Ask about the challenges specific to your position, what a typical day will be like, and opportunities for growth and advancement. Some employers may introduce you to your potential co-workers either on the initial or secondary interview. Chat with them about the work environment and what they like and don't like about their jobs. If you haven't had that opportunity before the company makes you an offer, ask for the contact info of a couple of people you would be working with. Call them or e-mail them before accepting the job. Myth 8 -- If I plaster the Web with my resume, I'll receive more interviews. The volume of résumés on massive job boards, such as Monster, HotJobs, and CareerBuilder make it impossible to get an employer's attention. Job hunters post thousands of new résumés each day. Sending out your résumé en masse to every employer you can think of isn't a much better approach. On average, a company interviews only one person per 245 résumés it receives. Tailor your résumé and cover letter to target each job you apply for and follow up your résumé with personal contact. Myth 9 -- If a company isn't currently hiring, I can't get an interview. One of the most powerful job-hunting tools is an informational interview. You can arrange an informal interview with people working in your field to learn more about working in the industry, get expert career advice, and build a network of contacts. Myth 10 -- If I don't know what to do after graduation, I should go to graduate school. If you're using it to buy time because you can't make a decision, it could be a waste of time, energy, and money. Peter Vogt, president of Career Planning Resources, suggests asking yourself the question: "Are you going to graduate school for a purposeful reason, or are you falling into grad school to get away from other things?" Make sure it's what you really want. If you're tempted for the wrong reasons, get a job. Breaking away from school for a while could help you gain a greater perspective about your skills, interests, and career goals. Besides, you can always go back later. Tip Great, you've landed a job! Now what? Contact a financial adviser to help you make 401(k) and other benefit choices. USAA is a diversified insurance and financial services organization that has served the military community since 1922. USAA Financial Planning ServicesSM refers to financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency, and its wholly owned subsidiary. USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its affiliates