If you're searching for jobs and not getting interviews, or getting interviews but no offers, you might be tempted to blame it on the bad job market. And the market is often the culprit--but in many cases, the problem is the way you're approaching your search. These days, a job search can take a lot of work, and if you're not putting in the sweat, you might not see the payoff.
Here are some signs that you're being lazy in your approach to your hunt.
1. You only apply to jobs you find online. While plenty of people get hired by responding to online job postings, if that's all you use, you'll be up against an enormous amount of competition. Your odds of getting interviews will go up dramatically if you use your network to mine for personal connections to jobs you want.
2. You send the same basic cover letter to every job you apply for. If your cover letter is generic enough to work for every job you apply for and you're not customizing it each time, you're missing out on one of the most effective ways to grab a hiring manager's attention. A good letter needs to be adapted for every application, because it should talk specifically about why you'd excel at this particular job, not just any job.
3. You don't prepare much for interviews. If you're not spending at least several hours preparing for an interview, you're selling yourself short. You should spend time reaching the employer, but also practicing your answers to likely interview questions and coming up with thoughtful questions of your own. Doing this can dramatically change how well you come across in an interview.
4. You don't prep your references before giving them out. It's courteous to let your references know when they should be expecting a call about you. Plus, by touching base with them before they're contacted, you can tell them what you'd most like them to emphasize about you for any given job.
5. You're not even sure what your references would say about you. If you don't know, it's time to find out. Call up your references and ask for an honest assessment of how positive a recommendation they can give you. And if you're worried you're getting a bad reference from a former employer, see if you can negotiate something more neutral. It's often easy to get a bad reference toned down if you ask politely.
6. You're not helping others. One of the best ways to build and reinforce your network is to help the people who are in it--by connecting them with potential opportunities, sending them articles they might find interesting, or introducing them to contacts with similar interests. Not only is this a kind thing to do, but it means that your network is much more likely to be there for you when you'd like to ask for something yourself.
7. You don't send thank-you notes after a job interview. You might think a post-interview note is an unnecessary nicety, but sending them can make a mark on an interviewer who is on the fence about you. Make a point of always emailing your interviewer within a few days after the interview to reiterate your interest in the position and refer back to the conversation.
8. You're only interested in a job, not in finding the right job. Caring only about getting a job offer and not thinking critically about how happy you'll be once you're in the job is a good way to ensure that you end up with a job that makes you miserable. Take the time to look for jobs--and managers and office cultures-- that are truly right for you and screen out the ones that aren't.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.