Do you find yourself looking at job postings and wondering if you’re good enough to apply? Or scrutinizing every last detail of your resume to the point that you hesitate to send it out? Have you found yourself taking poll after poll of your friends and family to get their take on what you should do and how you should portray yourself, only to second guess your instincts every time you hear competing advice?
If any of these sound like you, you’re overthinking your job search, and that’s not going to serve you well. Take a deep breath. It’s time to refocus so you can get out of this thought trap.
First, take stock of yourself and your career. Without considering any specific position, take a moment to outline what you’re good at and what you like to do. You may want to write in a journal, speak out loud, talk to someone you trust (a friend, family member, coach, or therapist), or simply think. When your inner critic pipes up with a negative thought (“I’m really good at editing...but I don’t have any streaming credits, so why would Netflix hire me?”), do your best to silence it, either by reminding yourself that this inner critic is imaginary, or by acknowledging it, and asking it to please stop interrupting your train of thought.
Once you have a strong sense of what you enjoy and what you bring to the table, you can look at job postings. Read them carefully, and assess objectively if you’re qualified. With a recent rundown of your skills fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to look at a posting and answer honestly if you meet the most important qualifications (those that are listed at the top or frequently throughout the posting). If you can do most of the required tasks (and it’s okay if you don’t meet the qualifications exactly -- 4 years of experience for a role that calls for 5 isn’t going to matter if you can realistically do the job), you should apply!
Onto your resume. Obviously, we believe resumes are crucial to your job search. But they aren’t the be all and end all of the process! There’s no such thing as a perfect resume, because a resume is about YOU and YOUR STORY, and human beings aren’t perfect. Your goal with your resume is to convey to the hiring manager what you just conveyed to yourself: that you’ve read the job posting and have enough skills and passion to do the job as listed. Remember that the hiring manager is skimming hundreds of resumes (Keyword: skimming. Not reading every single word like a lawyer reads a contract.), and she’ll prioritize resumes that are easy to read from a formatting perspective, clear, and relevant to the job posting. She’s also a human being with her own opinions and biases, and there’s no way you can anticipate what those will be.
Which brings us to our next point...the peanut gallery. The more people you ask for feedback, the more opinions you’ll get, and that will lead you to...confusion. Maybe your friend got hired at Netflix with a particular resume format, so you’re inclined to copy theirs. But that’s no guarantee you’ll get in at Netflix! Your friend could have applied for a different level of role, a different department, at a time when a different person was working in HR, with a different career trajectory from you, and different referrals. Or maybe your friend tells you a horror story about the time they were rejected from a job for not including their college start date. That’s likely a story about one hiring manager with a very particular set of rules (most people leave their graduation years off altogether), so you can't base your entire job search of one friend's anecdote. The truth is, the only opinions that matter are those of the hiring team -- and if you know them intimately enough to know their particular opinions, it’ll be your relationship, not your resume, that gets you in for an interview. Without that relationship, the best thing you can do is align your resume to the job posting.
If you’re a true overthinker, and the job search hasn't been going well, you’re probably internally screaming about applicant tracking systems (ATS). WHAT ABOUT THE ROBOTS?!?! Our Hollywood imaginations can make it seem it like AI is taking over and out to destroy us when we’re most vulnerable (i.e. job searching), but that’s not the case. ATS is a type of software that reads resumes and helps recruiters manage an influx of job candidates. There are more than 60 prevalent versions of ATS, and you’ll have no real way of knowing which one a given employer uses, if any, and they’re customizable to suit the employer’s needs. The ATS is there to scan for keywords, so if you’re qualified for the job and wrote a resume that relies on plain text (not graphics) and uses verbiage from the job posting, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Plus, it’s always better to stand out from the crowd by getting your resume into the hands of a person directly by using your network. Which is something you’ll be able to do more of when you stop overthinking the job search!
To recap: Apply for jobs that you are interested in and capable of, share your unique story, and show hiring managers how your experience aligns with what you think they are looking for based on the job posting. And that's all you really need to worry about. Stay focused on the big picture -- no one cares if the name on your resume is in black or green or blue -- and you'll have a lot more time to put toward the more important parts of the job search.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan