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Is Your Job-Seeking Behavior Proactive or Just Plain Desperate?

Is Your Job-Seeking Behavior Proactive or Just Plain Desperate?

If you’ve been unemployed for a while, you may be feeling a little desperate. But letting that feeling show during your job search can be the kiss of death. So what exactly distinguishes desperate job search behavior from proactive behavior -- and how can you avoid the former?     

“When candidates are feeling desperate, negative or cynical, the employer can smell it a mile away,” says Ford Myers, author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring. “Desperation is a total turnoff. Instead of opening more doors for the job seeker, these behaviors close doors to new opportunities.”

We asked hiring managers and others to share their experiences with desperate job seekers and offer tips on how to avoid crossing the line.

Blatant Self-Promotion

A 2009 La Salle University graduate got a lot of media coverage by handing out his resume to people passing in cars in Philadelphia. Bad idea, Myers says. “Don’t spread a resume around like confetti,” he says. “It will give the impression that you’re begging for any job. And what sort of hiring manager wants a candidate like that?”

Instead, Myers advises job seekers to approach their search by changing the conversation from “I need a job” to “I can solve problems for your business.” Stymied job seekers would be wise to step back and take stock of their true value in the working world. “This boosts the confidence of candidates, and positions them to behave more professionally and appropriately,” he says. “If job seekers are unable to identify and articulate their value, a good career coach can help prepare and package them for a much more effective search experience.”

Extreme Follow-Up

Jeff Vaught, president of Transition Essentials, a career consulting firm in Orion Township, Michigan, remembers being hounded by a desperate job seeker a few years ago. “Only a few hours after setting up the interview, the candidate called to confirm,” he recalls. “And then again at midnight that same day, leaving a voice mail that they were ‘too excited to sleep.’ It didn’t end there, though -- they also called again at 7:30 a.m. the next morning.”

Vaught canceled the interview and didn’t reschedule. “The lack of common sense of appropriate business etiquette made it difficult to imagine them working for the company,” he says. “The desperation raised a lot of red flags.”

A better approach would have been to make one follow-up call to confirm the interview -- ideally, first thing the morning of the appointment. “That would have shown a better sense of etiquette as well as a concern for my schedule,” Vaught notes. “Overall this would have shown an individual who was being professional and enthusiastic about the position without crossing the line to desperation mode.”

Crazy Talk at the Interview

When you do meet potential employers, be mindful of how you present yourself, cautions Richard Laermer, CEO of New York City-based RLM PR. “Language is everything,” he says. “People act as though they are being cute, and so they say what they think we want to hear instead of what distinguishes them from the crowd. It’s all the adorable ways folks say ‘I’m so perfect for you.’ I can’t take them seriously.”

Here are some lines Laermer has heard over the years:

• “If you hire me, I’ll do anything -- and I mean anything -- to make this work!”
• “It’s true that every journey starts with a cute pair of shoes -- and I have that pair!”
• “My whole life has been leading to this job. Let’s do it.”
• “I’m a future star -- why shouldn’t you have the advantage first?”

What he does take seriously, though, is straight talk. “If you know why you’re good, show me, don’t tell me,” he says. Provide quantifiable examples of how you could help the business meet goals. “Those who explain themselves in a cool and deliberate way get my attention,” he says.

Toeing the fine line between being proactive and seeming desperate can be tough, but staying on the proactive side is crucial to job search success.

“It’s a fact that assertive rules the day, and especially in hard times,” Laermer says. “But, man, some of the things people [do] to get attention are shocking. And I wonder who taught them that. You can already see how much training they’re going to need to get into shape. Why would we call them in?”

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