13 job applicant mistakes that’ll turn an employer right off

These job applicant mistakes may seem small, but in a competitive job environment, small mistakes can have big ripples. Read on for some cautionary tales.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

It’s a hard life out there for graduates. Uni doesn’t really teach you how to truly prepare for the big, bad world of work, so you’re constantly having to guess your way through applications. Still, it’s important to take the initiative and prepare for every eventuality.

As someone who’s both been through the grueling job application process AND been on the other side of filtering through CVs and job interviews, I’ve seen a ton of crazy stuff. Here are the worst job applicant mistakes I’ve seen, so you don’t make the same ones yourself.

1. Sending in an unreadable CV

job applicant mistakes

Top tip: if you use a special font it’s likely your employers won’t have it, making your polished CV look a bit crap. If you have a swishy, designed CV, it’s always best to send in a PDF document to avoid unwanted formatting changes.

Ensure your documents can be opened on multiple devices – if the type is too small a recruiter can’t read it on their phones. A really special step would be to email ahead and ask what their preferred CV format is. Who knows? It might even be doughnuts. 

2. Not personalizing the cover letter

job applicant mistakes

Your brilliantly written cover letter ain’t gonna fly when you’re addressing your potential ladyboss a letter headed with “Dear Sir.”

Beyond that, make sure your cover letter is truly tailored to the position you’re applying for. If it’s a freelance gig, don’t write about how you’re looking for permanent employment. That’s irrelevant, and it makes you seem like you won’t take the gig you’re applying for seriously because you’ll be looking for something else.

Again, you could email or ring ahead to find out who you should be addressing. In this case, LinkedIn stalking is perfectly acceptable – your application will be read by a human being, after all. Make sure you have a good think about how your interviewer will react to you.

3. Ghosting your future employer

job applicant mistakes

I run the Debut Student Publisher Network, and I’m not trying to throw shade, but it doesn’t look great when a potential future employee completely ghosts you. If your company is running something like a campus ambassador programme, a student writer programme or an internship, always, always treat it like a pathway to a permanent position.

I’ve had people sign up to be part of programmes and then disappear from sight for weeks. It looks flaky, it looks like you couldn’t give a damn, and it doesn’t endear you to the company. The worst part? When they email you asking for a reference completely out of the blue. I mean, seriously?

4. Having terrible email etiquette

job applicant mistakes

It’s the 21st century, so being too stuffy and formal probably isn’t necessary. But misspelling names, having bad grammar, and using colloquial language will make you look unprofessional.

Employers will think, “If that’s how this candidate emails us, their potential employer, how are they going to communicate with clients and stakeholders?” Never give them a chance to doubt you’ll be kick-ass and polite at your job.

5. Being late for a job interview

job applicant mistakes

Yo, we know s*** happens. The Tube is notorious for signalling failures after all, whatever that means. However, it’s important that if the worst does happen you contact them as soon as you know you’ll be late, and apologise profusely when you finally arrive.

Also important: don’t let it happen again. If you’re late to a follow-up interview that’s usually K.O. to any job prospects you potentially had with the company.

6. Saying your dream job is working for a competitor company

job applicant mistakes

An ex-colleague once told me a candidate came in to my old job for an interview for a staff writer position. When asked what the candidate’s dream job would be, they answered, “Oh, to work for Buzzfeed.” Well that’s awkward, considering we were Buzzfeed’s direct competitor.

You have to present your best self during job interviews. If a candidate appears to be using this position as a stepping stone, why would a company choose to hire them over someone else? Somebody call the logic police, ASAP.

7. Showing up looking disheveled or worse, hungover

job applicant mistakes

Do we even need to elaborate? Just don’t do it. And iron your shirts, please.

8. Not doing any research on the position

job applicant mistakes

Treat us like sharks in the water (OK, most interviewers are friendlier than that, but run with our analogy plz).

Employers can smell any whiff of unpreparedness. Before your interview, lay out the job description and scribble notes all over it. How can you fulfill the requirements? Are there any doubts you think they’ll have? How are you going to assuage your interviewer’s doubts?

Think like your interviewer and have some answers prepared. You don’t want to be caught out by anything, or appear like you’re blagging it.

9. Appearing impersonal and disengaged

job applicant mistakes

It’s all about body language, baby. Hunched shoulders, a soft voice and folded arms don’t usually give off the best impression.

Make sure you work on that posture, make eye contact, and ensure you convince your interviewers you’re the animated, dynamic person they want to hire.

10. Not cleaning up your controversial social media feed 

job applicant mistakes

For the love of all that is holy give your Twitter account an audit. Trust us, freshers photos of a candidate at an ‘anything but clothes’ party is impossible to unsee.

In fact, you should probably give your personal brand a bit of a makeover. For your complete guide to doing so, have a look at our ultimate guide to creating a personal brand.

11. Being a little bit too friendly

job applicant mistakes

Establishing that you have good bantz with your interviewer is a great, rare thing, so absolute kudos to you if you manage it. It is however, really easy to cross the invisible line.

Try to keep swearing to an absolute minimum, if any swearing at all. Don’t go for the fist bumps unless they prompt it. It’s all about maintaining that professional distance for the first few meetings, if you get the job the banter will come, promise.

12. When you’re disrespectful to other members of staff

job applicant mistakes

Here’s a story: someone came in for a job interview at my old job. He was wearing a fancy suit, a nice watch, and looked hella professional. He took one look at me, and said “Darling, could you be a dear and make me a cup of coffee before my interview? Chop chop.”

Next thing you know he was sitting in said job interview with my boss and I while he stammered through why he would be a great addition to our sales team. Needless to say, he didn’t make the cut.

13. Not following up post job interview

job applicant mistakes

I wouldn’t say this is a dealbreaker. A lot of candidates get job offers without following up, sure. However, why take your chances? A polite, non-pushy follow-up email could take your chances of being remembered from 0 to 100.

Give it a shot. You never know what could happen.

Download the Debut app and you could totally grab yourself a summer internship way before anyone else.

Follow Brenda on Twitter @brendaisarebel
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