Job searching is stressful – prepping for interviews, figuring out how to sell yourself while simultaneously having to evaluate whether you even want a particular job or to work with a particularly company, feeling like you’re constantly being judged, and the agonizing wait to hear back from employers. But job seekers often make the experience even more stressful than it has to be, by worrying about things that truly don’t matter.
Here are seven of the most common things job seekers worry about that really don’t need to be stress points at all.
[See: Tips for Surviving a Career Transition.]
Explaining every gap on your resume. It’s true that employers will wonder about large gaps on your resume, especially recent ones. But at some point job seekers started worrying that even very short gaps or gaps from long ago will be a problem, or that gaps for any reason are bad. None of those things are true. Yes, if you have a large, recent gap between jobs, employers may ask you what happened – but if you have a perfectly understandable reason like moving to a different state or dealing with a family health issue, that’s generally going to put any concern to rest. And if the gap is a few months or shorter, it’s unlikely that you’ll even be asked about it.
What to say when a job application asks, “Can we contact your former managers?” Some applications will ask you to list all your past jobs and for each one will ask whether your former manager there can be contacted. People sometimes worry that they need to answer no because the logistics of reaching the manager will be difficult (for example, the person is retired, traveling internationally or just doesn’t have current known contact info). But this doesn’t warrant answering no. The question, “Can we contact this manager?” is about your permission, not about the reference’s availability. So, in general, you should default to saying yes, because saying no signals that you left on bad terms or otherwise fear what the reference will say. The exception to this is when we’re talking about your current manager, as you’ll see in the next point.
Letting your current boss be contacted as a reference. People often worry about letting a prospective employer contact their current boss, because they don’t want to tip off their boss that they’re job searching. The good news is that it’s very, very normal to ask that your current employer not be contacted. Reasonable employers understand that contacting your current employer could jeopardize your job, and they’ll generally respect requests to use other references instead.
[See: The 8 Stages of a Winning Job Search.]
Tracking down the hiring manager’s name for your cover letter. Job seekers are often advised that it’s important to track down the name of the hiring manager to show initiative and creativity. In reality, most hiring managers don’t care at all whether you bother to do that. If the name is easily available, by all means go ahead and use it when addressing your cover letter. But otherwise, “Dear Hiring Manager” is just fine.
Leaving a job off your resume. Job seekers sometimes feel that they’re supposed to mention every job they’ve ever had, even ones that were short-term or irrelevant or one they got fired from. But a resume is a marketing document; you’re not required to list every job you’ve ever held. If including a job doesn’t strengthen your resume, you can leave it off. Of course, it won’t always make sense to do that; if removing a job leaves a six-year gap, it probably makes sense to leave it on even if it’s not related to what you do now. But in general, you get to decide if including any given job will hurt more than it helps.
Explaining that you were out of the workforce because of illness. If you’ve been out of the workforce because you were dealing with a serious health matter, you don’t need to explain all the details. It’s sufficient to simply say, “I’ve been dealing with a health issue that has since been resolved, and now I’m eager to get back to work.” That’s it! Employers are very unlikely to ask for details, especially since doing so can put them into sketchy legal territory.
[See: The 6 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance.]
Coming up with a detailed case to justify asking for a higher salary. If you’re like most people, you probably assume that salary negotiation needs to involve lengthy justifications of why you’re worth more money than the employer has originally offered. But most of the time, that’s really not necessary. Often, you can simply say, “I was hoping you could go up to $X. Is that possible?” or “Do you have any flexibility on the salary? I was hoping for $X.” You may be surprised how simple it is.