Tournament of Bad Job Searching

Jake Livengood creates a bracket for the new Ph.D. seeking a position.

April 6, 2015

My bracket is busted!

You may have heard this from discouraged coworkers and friends around this time of the year as college basketball tournaments wind down. (Or you may have ignored this as a non-basketball fan). Some seem to be obsessed with completing brackets. College basketball’s March Madness leads to millions of people filling them out for each year's tournament.

The tournament madness doesn't stop with basketball. There is a tournament for almost everything now -- from the Tournament of Mammals (go pygmy marmoset!) to the Tournament of Internet Memes (go Grumpy Cat!).

I decided to join in on the fun and create a Tournament of Bad Job Searching. Sometimes I learn from how not to do things, and this uses a similar approach. The winner of this tournament will be crowned as the worst choice in job searching. A number of tips can be learned from this process (i.e., do the opposite of the bad choices).

The field was competitive. Job searching is tough, so that can lead to a lot of bad job searching teams. As with many tournaments, only a select number made the final cut. The bracket/tournament was divided into four regions: (1) interviewing, (2) résumés and cover letters, (3) networking and (4) the online search and social media. Each region has 8 seeds, resulting in 32 total teams with the highest seed being the favorite from each region. However, as with any tournament, upsets are always possible.

Let’s check out the field, which I created based on experiences with job seekers and employers.

Interviewing Region

  • Failing to show fit with the organization.
  • Speaking negatively about a past employer.
  • Not knowing when to stop talking.
  • Lack of research about company or organization.
  • Underdressing.
  • Arriving late.
  • Poor eye contact.
  • Not turning cell phone off.

Résumé and Cover Letter Region

  • Wrong company in cover letter.
  • Sending same version to everyone.
  • Including every accomplishment and experience.
  • Misspellings.
  • Not highlighting related activities and leadership.
  • Assuming one right way to write a résumé.
  • Margins smaller than half an inch all around.
  • Accidentally using more than one font (I'm talking to you, copy/paste feature).

Networking Region

  • Being pushy or like a used car salesperson.
  • Thinking networking is only for business students or industry positions.
  • Ignoring campus services (career center, alumni relations).
  • Asking for a job during an informational interview.
  • Assuming only extroverts do it well.
  • Not sending a thank-you note.
  • Missing out on secondary connections.
  • Assuming everyone does informational interviews.

Online Search and Social Media Region

  • Questionable social media posts.
  • Social media arguments.
  • Not following directions with online applications.
  • Only relying on online applications.
  • Not having a LinkedIn profile.
  • Not tailoring invites on LinkedIn.
  • Not optimizing LinkedIn profile for keyword searching.
  • Ignoring privacy settings on Facebook.

I have completed a bracket for how I think this tournament might play out. Deciding between two bad choices was tough. I completed my bracket with these guiding thoughts: Which of the two created the greatest potential challenge or harm? Which supported being more proactive? Which would give the best (and worst) chances for job searching success?

You can join in as well. To print and fill out your own bracket, click here. Let the debates begin!


Jake Livengood is assistant director of graduate student career services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Global Education & Career Development.


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