Career Myths You Should Ignore

Learn what advice you shouldn’t necessarily heed when job hunting

A person uses a laptop in a camper.

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Not all career advice is gold. Some insights are well intentioned but outdated or misapplied, while others can just be plain wrong. Professional success is never one-size-fits-all. What works for your co-worker might not work for you, and vice versa.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to earn a promotion from the one you have, it’s important to avoid getting bogged down in popular assumptions about what helps workers get ahead.

Here are some career myths that might be holding you back, with tips for what to do instead.

Key Takeaways

  • Networking can be a valuable source of job leads and other support, but it’s only one part of a successful job search strategy.
  • Recruiters are more than twice as likely to hire candidates with a two-page resume than a one-page resume.
  • Cover letters still matter. Only 13% of hiring managers will consider a candidate who doesn’t include a cover letter when required.

Most Jobs Aren’t Advertised

You may have heard that as many as 80% of jobs are filled through networking or referral, not listings on job boards or the like. The problem with this statistic? It’s more than 40 years old.

“Eighty percent of job openings are never advertised,” said Richard Bolles, author of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” in a 1980 interview with The New York Times. “Instead, you have to search for a job through contacts.”

Bolles’ statistic seems to be based on research from Mark Granovetter, a Harvard sociologist who wrote a 1974 book called “Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers.” In it, Granovetter reported that more than 55% of all workers' successful job searches resulted from informal contacts, not traditional job searches. Meanwhile, for job seekers older than age 34, 64% found jobs through connections. In an earlier research study, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” Granovetter found that of the job seekers who used a connection, 27.8% heard of the job from someone they saw rarely, and 55.6% heard about it from someone they saw occasionally.

In short, the 75% to 80% figure is most likely based on research from a time before the advent of job boards, online social networks, or mobile technology. Today, of course, you can apply for a job opening on an employment site, reply to an email from a recruiter, and approve a LinkedIn recommendation from your old boss, all from your tablet while commuting to work.

The best job search strategy is a multipronged approach. To maximize your chances of finding the right job for you, tap your network, search for jobs online, and forge relationships with recruiters in your field.

Your Resume Must Always Be One Page

Whether it’s from a guidance counselor, career coach, or job search expert, you might have been told that a one-page resume is the way to go. But what if you have more experience than will fit on a single page?

Before you start trimming down sections, research suggests that a two-page resume may actually increase your chances of getting hired. In fact, a study from professional resume writing service ResumeGo found that recruiters are 2.3 times more likely to hire candidates with a two-page resume than a one-pager. And even among entry-level candidates, a two-page resume was more likely to lead to an offer.

Prepare two versions of your resume: a one-page version to hand out at job fairs and networking events, and a longer version containing more details about your experience and skills. Remember to customize your resume for each job opening.

No One Reads Cover Letters

Not every hiring manager reads cover letters. Regardless, if a cover letter is required, you'd better write one. Why? Because you won’t get past the applicant tracking system if you don’t. Employers want to see that you know how to follow directions. Beyond that, they’re looking for motivated candidates—not folks who’ll skip part of the process if they can.

If you’re frustrated by the idea of spending time writing cover letters that may not get read, look at it this way: Simply by including a cover letter, you have an advantage over the competition. Research shows that six out of 10 applicants don’t include a cover letter, even when it’s required. That’s a lapse that only 13% of decision-makers are willing to overlook. The rest remove a candidate from contention.

Even if a cover letter isn’t required, it’s a good idea to include one. In addition to giving you a chance to highlight your most valuable skills and accomplishments, a cover letter is an additional chance to use keywords that appeal to applicant tracking systems. This can help you get your application to a human’s inbox.

To identify the best keywords to include in your cover letters and resumes, analyze the job listing. Look for words and phrases that describe the most important qualifications for the job.

You Have To Know Someone To Get Hired

Job referrals are a cost-effective way for employers to find candidates for open positions, but they’re far from the only way to get hired. In fact, a Jobvite survey of recruiters showed that the importance of employee referrals in candidate evaluation has declined from 51% to 31% over the past five years. Factors that increased in importance include certificates, resume format, cover letters, and online social presence.

This is good news for workers who want to be part of a diverse workforce. Research has shown that referral programs can undermine diversity efforts in hiring because employees are likely to refer candidates with backgrounds similar to their own. The unintended effect is to create a funnel of hires who reinforce the status quo.

You can incorporate referrals into your job search strategy, but don’t rely on them. Referrals can be a good source of other valuable career help, including informational interviews, recommendations, and advice.

Do What You Love

If you’re looking for your dream job, consider whether you really want your life’s passion to be centered around your work.

The answer may be yes, and that’s fine. But it’s also possible that for you, paying work is simply a way to keep the lights on while you pursue other interests. If you’re an artist, an athlete, a caregiver, or a world traveler, you may find work that incorporates your interests—or you may find that the best approach is to find a job that pays the bills so you can do what you love during your free time.

Remember, not every interest needs to be monetized. It’s ok for a job to be just that: a job.