The Truth About Job-Hunting Myths

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 12, 2006

People believe some weird things.

Like telepathy, astrology and ear candling. That it takes seven years for your body to digest chewing gum. Or that the devil can steal your soul when you sneeze.

They also believe some strange things about job hunting. Here are some of the most common -- and most damaging -- job-seeking myths that young workers fall for:

  •  Long resumes are impressive. No. In fact, they are ridiculous for someone younger than 30. Excessively long resumes are consistently listed as a pet peeve in surveys of hiring managers, and yet people keep submitting 'em. Hiring managers barely have time to scan most of the resumes that come their way, much less read them line by line. Even if you get Margaret Atwood to ghost-write the thing for you, recruiters aren't going to make it to the second page. Find a way to edit those internships, extracurricular activities and classes into a clean, readable one-page document.

  • The Internet is the best place to look for jobs. Sure, if your idea of "looking" for work is reading ads for jobs that you probably won't get. Online listings are just a tiny fraction of the jobs out there. Other, often more fruitful sources for leads include professional associations, specialized job fairs, your professors and career counselors, and places where you have been an intern.

  • Entry-level salaries will be sufficient to pay back student loans. After all, the lenders would not have let you borrow all that money if they weren't certain you would be able to pay it back with your post-graduation paychecks, right? Afraid not. Student loans are an exception to the general lending principles that limit people to borrowing according to their earnings. The gap between how much college students expect to make when they graduate vs. their likely earnings, as well as the difference between how much they think they will owe when they're done and what they really wind up owing, continues to be frightening.

  • An MBA always brings big bucks and promotions. Of course, education isn't usually a bad thing. But before you put the time and money into getting a graduate degree in business, have a specific goal in mind for life post-MBA, and make sure that particular credential is really necessary to get you there. In particular, run the numbers and see if the expected boost in pay is worth it. Look at your particular situation, not just averages.

  • There's no point in applying for jobs in the summer. Or Christmas. Or whatever time you imagine hiring managers get to slack off. Filling professional jobs isn't like selling houses. The market isn't seasonal. People quit and get promoted year round. When they do, they have to be replaced -- even when recruiters would rather relax by the pool. So find another excuse for your own procrastination.

  • If you don't like your boss, you should quit. I used to believe this myself. After all, life is short, right? Sure it is, but the tenure of really bad bosses is often even shorter. People move on. Sometimes you even get promoted to their job when they leave. Even if they stay, all hope isn't lost. If you really like other aspects of a job, make the effort to learn to work with your obnoxious boss. Every job will require you to work with people whose personalities or work habits don't suit you. The earlier in your career you learn to work around them, the better off you will be.

  • It's illegal for an employer to . . . Honestly, you can insert just about anything here and you'd be wrong. U.S. employers have a lot of leeway in hiring, firing and promoting people, as long as they aren't discriminating against specifically protected classes of people, such as for race, gender, religion or age (this applies to people 40 and older, not teenagers or 20-something college grads). Mere "favoritism," while demoralizing, is not illegal. Neither is a boss being an equal-opportunity jerk. Likewise, no laws in this country require employers to provide health insurance, paid vacation or sick leave, paid parental leave or regular raises. Some union contracts provide these protections, but even those are increasingly rare.

    Not as rare as a four-leaf clover, of course. But for those who have one, they could very well prove a more reliable source of good luck.

  • © 2006 The Washington Post Company