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Job-Search Subtleties: How and Why to Sweat the Small Stuff

Sweating the small stuff can be the difference between landing a job and remaining on the sidelines. But many people fail to realize that the seemingly little things you do (or don’t do) can make a big impression on potential employers.

 Here are 10 small steps you shouldn’t overlook:


1. Cross your t’s. You wouldn’t think it’s a huge deal to misplace an apostrophe or confuse effect with affect. After all, everyone makes these types of mistakes. The truth is a single resume typo can knock you out of contention. Regardless of the job you want, demonstrating attention to detail is critical. Proofread diligently, run spell-check and ask the biggest grammar geek you know to review your work. (For amusing examples of what not to do, check out our company’s archive of epic errors at


2. Stick to the facts. Most people wouldn’t dream of putting a boldfaced lie in their application materials, but a pinch of resume padding can’t hurt, right? Wrong! The tiniest of half-truths can prove costly if it’s discovered during a background and reference check — which, by the way, more employers are doing. Don’t give a hiring manager any reason to question your integrity.


3. Avoid ambiguity. Review your resume and cover letter to make sure you’re presenting the clearest picture possible. Fuzzy phrases such as “participated in” are red flags. That’s because plenty of job hunters use wishy-washy wording to obscure a lack of in-depth knowledge or experience in a particular area. When describing your work history and expertise, be as specific as possible.


4. Recognize when the job interview really starts. The evaluation process begins the second you set foot on company grounds. Be friendly and courteous to everyone you encounter; you never know who has the boss’s ear. For example, six out of 10 executives we polled said they consider their assistant’s opinion important when evaluating potential new hires. Help your cause by displaying excellent etiquette and making small talk, as appropriate.


5. Keep it real. While you should prepare for a job interview, you don’t want to come across as an overly rehearsed robot. Employers are looking for insights into the real you — not a series of canned answers brimming with clichéd buzzwords. (What does “I optimize value-added solutions” mean anyway?)


Highlight your technical abilities and contributions to the bottom line, but also share relatable anecdotes emphasizing your ability to work well with others. Cultural fit is a key consideration for employers.


6. Go with the flow. Take your conversational cues from the interviewer. Some hiring managers are all business, while others enjoy a little chitchat. Be adaptable and follow his or her lead.


7. Watch more than your words. It’s not just what you say in an interview but also how you say it. Showcase your confidence and engagement by smiling, maintaining eye contact, projecting your voice and having good posture. Nervously tapping your foot, rocking in your seat, slouching, talking too fast and checking your watch can signal discomfort, disinterest or both.


8. Name names. If a hiring manager takes you on a tour of the office and introduces you to would-be colleagues, greet each individual with enthusiasm. It’s a great way to quickly establish rapport. Saying, “It’s so nice to meet you, Martin!” makes a far better impression than, “Hey there.” Plus, stating the person’s name helps you commit it to memory.


9. Put pen to paper. Manners still matter. Send a thank-you note to the hiring manager within a day or two of your interview. An email will suffice, but there’s nothing quite as classy as a handwritten card. Express your appreciation for the opportunity, reassert your interest in the job and recap your top selling points. Write multiple thank-you notes if you met with several employees at length.


10. Help your references help you. Lining up the right professional references is only half the battle. Touch base periodically to keep your allies apprised of the jobs you’re applying for. If you know a particular employer is likely to make contact, give your references a heads-up so they can prepare. Offer an updated copy of your resume and mention the skills and attributes the job requires. The more notice and information you give your references, the more help they’ll be.


By Robert Half International

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at or follow us on Twitter at



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