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How Smart People Sink Their Careers in 15 Minutes

I started my career as a CPA, but two decades later, I’ve started no less than a dozen financially related businesses and employed hundreds of people.

Nothing is more exciting than finding the right person for the right job, and watching them prosper for both themselves and their families — and nothing is more depressing than seeing smart people make silly mistakes that keep them either trapped in low-paying jobs or even unemployed.

I never made a list of those mistakes, but now I don’t have to. This summer, the jobs site CareerBuilder did it for me — and for you. Below is that list, with comments from both CareerBuilder and myself…

1. Don’t customize your resume

CareerBuilder polled more than 3,200 full-time workers, and found 54 percent don’t target their resumes to employers.

CareerBuilder says: “Employers can spot all-purpose resumes from a mile away. Tailor your resume to match the job description by inserting key words used in the job posting that match your experience. Not only will this catch the eye of the hiring manager, but it can move your resume to the top of the pile if an automated tracking system is scanning resumes for potential candidates.”

I say: When I was first applying for jobs after getting my Master’s Degree, it was still common to mail paper resumes in clasp envelopes. Customizing a resume was time-consuming and expensive, so it wasn’t really expected. Not so today. I’m amazed at how many job applicants don’t customize their resumes. Here’s what that tells me as a boss: You probably won’t work hard at my job if you won’t work hard to get it.

2. Don’t get a name

Do you open your cover letter with, “To Whom It May Concern”? sadly, 84 percent of job seekers “don’t find out the hiring manager’s name and personalize the application.”

CareerBuilder says: “Applying directly to the hiring managers increases your chances of getting noticed and shows you’ve gone that extra step and invested time in getting to know the company.”

I say: A caveat here is, spell the name right. I’m quite thankful for my unusual last name, because any job applicant who can’t spell it — when it’s not hard to find online — tells me a lot about them.

3. Don’t write a cover letter

Amazingly, 45 percent of job seekers don’t take a few minutes to write even a few sentences.

CareerBuilder says: “Cover letters allow a candidate the opportunity to sell themselves beyond the typical listing of work experience and skills in a resume. Use a cover letter to introduce yourself and showcase your credentials in a relatable way.

I say: I’ve hired writers and accountants, among may other positions. Obviously, you’d expect a writer to pen a compelling cover letter, but even the accounting applicants should. It’s an opportunity to promote yourself in ways a resume can’t. A resume is a list, but a cover letter can be a pitch. Tell me why you want this job over another. Tell me how you decided to follow your current career path. Tell me who you are.

4. Don’t say thank you

I’m not sure why, but 57 percent of job seekers says they don’t say a quick “thanks” for the job interview.

CareerBuilder says: “This can be one of the most important steps in a candidate’s pre-hire journey as it enables you to reiterate why you’re the best fit for the job. Most recruiters and hiring managers expect a thank-you note in some form or another (email or handwritten), so neglecting this action will make you stick out like a sore thumb.”

I say: These days, a handwritten note would be memorable, but even just a short, simple email that says, “Thank you for taking the time yesterday to interview me” says you’re not only thoughtful, but you follow up.

Avoiding these mistakes before your next job interview will add literally minutes to your life. Those just might be the most productive minutes of your year.

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