After months of unemployment, one of my career coaching clients desperately needed a new job, but she wanted to make sure it was in a field she loved. So, we re-did her resume and LinkedIn profile, wrote a cover letter, talked about potential transferable skills, and reviewed the descriptions of jobs she was interested in.
There was just one problem: After two months, she still hadn’t applied to anything. When we talked about why she wasn’t applying, we realized that she was chasing perfection and it was paralyzing her search.
Don’t get me wrong—you should do your very best when applying to a job. But if you try to be absolutely flawless, you’ll probably get in your own way.
At a certain point, you need to accept that what you’ve put together is good enough. If you don’t, then the whole effort was pointless. After all, it’s hard to get a job if you don’t actually apply.
The longer you wait, the more likely it is that the job will no longer be available. In the beginning, my client listed 10 specific jobs she wanted to apply to. By the time she was ready to hit “submit,” most of the positions on her list had already been taken down or filled.
Finally, wasting too much time making everything “perfect” subtracts from the time you need to spend on a very crucial part of the job search: networking. Instead of agonizing over every detail, you could be attending events, reaching out to contacts, or meeting someone for an informational coffee. These activities will get you much further than an award-winning LinkedIn headline, trust me.
If you’re like my client and can’t help but let your perfectionist tendencies get in the way, here are some bad job search habits you need to be aware of and cut out of your process—now.
1. You Only Apply to Jobs You’re the Perfect Fit For
Here’s the cold, hard truth about job descriptions: Hiring managers are describing their dream candidate—one they know they’re unlikely to find. Because the chances of that person existing and just happening to apply for this specific opportunity are pretty small.
So why do hiring managers do this? It’s more beneficial for them to create a wish list and hope someone who’s 90% there applies than to list the bare minimum and end up with a candidate who’s missing several crucial skills or qualities.
Of course there will be roles you won’t come close to being qualified for. If it’s a nursing role and you never went to nursing school, or it’s a software engineering job and you don’t know how to write a lick of code, or it’s a management position that requires 10 to 15 years of experience and you’re in year one of your first job, it’s not going to happen, so don’t even bother applying.
But otherwise, if you can fulfill a majority of the requirements—say 75% of them, give or take—or you fulfill the most important requirements, you should still try. You may be surprised to find that you have some transferable skills that technically apply to that other 25%. Or that some of the skills you’re lacking may not be a priority to the hiring manager. Or even that the hiring manager values passion over skill set (which can often be taught).
Worst case? You don’t get a callback. That’s not such a horrible outcome.
2. You Sweat the Small Stuff Way Too Much
There’s a lot of advice out there about addressing your cover letter that can be scary to anyone who considers themself super detail-oriented.
And it usually leads a perfectionist down a rabbit hole desperate to find the name of the exact person they’re contacting, a feat that can often take hours (if not be impossible), depending on how niche the role or company is.
But the only rule you really need to live by is this: Don’t start with “To Whom It May Concern.” Or “Dear Sir or Madam” for that matter.
Sure, you want to put some effort into finding the person. But a few minutes tops. Ultimately, it’s only a few words on the paper, and while they’re important, the more important words come after it.
In your cover letter and everywhere else on your application, that’s the stuff you should spend time on—the substance. Like, say, making sure that you’re highlighting how your experience will help you with certain role responsibilities (oh, hello, transferable skills!) and that your passion for the company and position is clear. At the end of the day, proving why you’re a great fit is 10 times more important than nailing a salutation.
3. You Quadruple Check for Typos
You should spell- and grammar-check your application—of course you should. You want to spell the hiring manager’s name right and your name right, and not mess up “its” versus “it’s” (is that just my pet peeve?).
But perfectionists tend to get a little wild when it comes to proofing their materials, spending way too long looking them over for any sign of error.
Here’s the thing. Recruiters spend six seconds looking at your resume. Yes, seconds. Not minutes.
Given that, it’s pretty unlikely they’ll catch minor typos (unless they have super skimming vision). And even if they do, most people understand that all humans—even job candidates!—make mistakes sometimes.
And if you do happen to spot a mistake on your application and it’s driving you nuts, you can always follow up once you realize it—yes, really!
The point is, you don’t want to let your fear of typos stop you from sending in your materials at all. So trust your proofreading skills. If you’ve gone through everything with a careful eye at least once, you’re probably just fine.
4. You Ask Too Many People to Review Your Materials
Your partner. Your coach. Five friends. Heck, let’s ask the Starbucks barista, too!
Having another set of eyes on your materials is incredibly helpful, especially if you’ve been looking at them for way too long and need a fresh perspective. Someone else can catch errors you may have missed and tell you if something is confusing or feels irrelevant to the job.
But when you ask too many people for their input, you waste a lot of time waiting for them to get back to you, and risk losing your chance to throw your hat in the ring.
And many times you end up with too many (often conflicting) viewpoints. Because each person has different life and work experiences—and different context about your life—that can lead to them giving you advice that’s colored by their particular point of view. And trust me—you do not need three, four, or nine different perspectives on this. You’ll never satisfy everyone, and you’ll start to lose who you are in the process.
Stick to two outside opinions, max, and make them people you truly trust and respect. When you find yourself looking for a third person to chime in, just send in the application instead.
You need to believe that you’re a solid applicant and that you’re capable of putting together top-notch materials. (Because you are.) Otherwise, you’ll spend way too much time second guessing yourself.
The job search is already tedious enough. Don’t spend more time on it than you need to, and definitely don’t let the need to be perfect hold you back. So, please, for the love of job seekers and kittens everywhere, hit submit and move on with your life. (Oh, and good luck!)
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic.