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Seven exceptions to job search rules

  • Story Highlights
  • Like all rules, exceptions exist to the rigid rules of the job search
  • Break the rules any time it can help you stand out, experts say
  • For more than 5 years experience, a one-page resume may not be enough
  • Negatives about your last job are ok if it helps explain why you left
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By Rachel Zupek writer
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Job seekers shouldn't begin résumés with a weak point just to follow a template format, experts say.

Job seekers shouldn't begin résumés with a weak point just to follow a template format, experts say.

Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't talk to strangers. Look both ways before crossing the street.

These are rules we've heard since we were young -- but like mama always said, rules are made to broken.

Job search rules are no different. Throughout the years, we've had it drilled into our heads that résumés have to follow a specific format; we must dress professionally at all times; and always send a cover letter -- no ifs, ands or buts.

Au contraire, my friends -- like every rule, there are exceptions to these rigid rules of the job search.

"Break the rules any time it can help you stand out in a crowded field of job seekers, which is to say, break them every day," says Kevin Donlin of The "About 95 percent of job seekers follow a 'me too' approach; they are copycats copying the copycats. The smart 5 percent or so of people who market themselves creatively get on the radar of hiring managers -- and get hired faster as a result."

For example, many résumé formats suggest listing education first on one's résumé -- but what if he or she didn't do well in school? Job seekers shouldn't begin their résumé with a weak point just because a résumé template suggests you should, says Jake Greene, author of "Whoa, My Boss Is Naked! A Career Book for People Who Would Never Be Caught Dead Reading a Career Book."

Here are six common job search "rules" and when it might be acceptable to break them:

Rule No. 1: Keep your résumé to one page

When to make an exception: For entry-level applicants with only a few years of experience under their belt, it makes sense to send a one-page résumé. After all, no one wants to read three pages of irrelevant filler.

But, for job seekers with five or more years of experience, one page simply might not be enough to showcase their accomplishments. In this case, it's acceptable to use an additional page to describe your work history and undertakings.

Rule No. 2: Never try for an interview with a company that isn't hiring

When to make an exception: If your dream is to work for XYZ Company but it isn't hiring at the moment you need a job, there's no harm in setting up an informational interview with someone who can tell you more about the company. You'll build your network and perhaps learn of future opportunities at the organization.

Rule No. 3: Avoid sending a résumé with fancy formatting

When to make an exception: While a cardinal rule of job search is to send a simple, uncluttered résumé to employers -- sometimes that just won't cut it. If you're applying to a creative position, say graphic design, you'll want to send a résumé that will set you apart from the masses. For example, send a résumé using a format inspired by the company Web site.

Rule No. 4: Don't apply to a job for which you have no experience

When to make an exception: It's true that hiring managers want someone with the skills, education and know-how needed to get the job done -- but more than that, employers want the perfect fit for their company.

Forty-six percent of executives said they rely heavily on instinct when making a hiring decision, according to a survey by Robert Half International. If their gut says to hire the candidate with minimum experience but an explosive personality over the aloof applicant with years of experience -- they'll usually take the former.

Employers know they can teach you the hard skills necessary for any position -- it's the soft skills like personality and teamwork that will give you a one-up on a more qualified applicant. Go for it, even if you aren't "technically" experienced enough.

Rule No. 5: Develop a pitch to market yourself to employers

When to make an exception: When an employer says, "Tell me a little bit about yourself," most job seekers deliver the same 30-second spiel to everyone with whom they interview. Not only can your "commercial" sound scripted, you don't want to give the generic version each time.

Instead, think about the person you're interviewing with and the job for which you're vying. Cater your response to the situation and the person. If you're talking with a sales manager, for example, talk about your passion, energy, drive and ability to connect with people. If you're talking with someone from HR, expand on your teamwork capacity.

Rule No. 6: Never say negative things about your previous employer in an interview

When to make an exception: While a general rule of thumb is to keep a positive outlook about your previous employment, there might be some circumstances under which you can break this rule. If your negative comments are factual and they contributed to why you left the position, they might be OK to tell a hiring manager.

For example, if an employer asks why you left your old job after only four months and the truth is because your boss invaded your privacy, it's fine to say something along the lines of, "I got along well with my boss but I found him sitting at my desk going through my things every day. I need to work with a boss whom I can have a trusting relationship."

This way, you're being honest about a negative situation but making it into something positive you need from your new manager.

Rule No. 7: Never have typos in your résumé

When to make an exception: Psych! This is actually the one rule you can't break. While you can break a few other résumé rules, including typos is not one of them. Eighty-four percent of executives said all it takes is one or two typos on a résumé to remove a candidate from consideration for a job opening, according to a survey by Robert Half International; 47 percent said a single typo is all it would take to dismiss someone.

Be cautious but confident when breaking of the above rules -- doing so might be the ticket to your dream job.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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