Life & Work Skills

10 Questions You Have About the Job Search—Answered


Job searching is exciting – but it can also feel like you’re at the bottom of a giant mountain looking up.

Finding a new gig takes a lot of work. Plus, with so much contradictory advice out there, it’s tough to know the best way to go about things — meaning you end up with a lot of questions. But they’re questions that you’re too afraid or embarrassed to ask, so they remain completely unanswered.

As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” And, that’s especially true during your job search. We asked our readers what questions crop up when you’re looking for a new position and provided the need-to-know answers.

Now, when you’re climbing that proverbial job search mountain, you can at least feel like you have a map in hand.


1. Should I apply for the job if I don’t meet all of the requirements?

There’s no hard and fast rule here — it’s up to you to use your best judgement and discretion.

If a position asks for 10 years of experience, for example, and you just graduated from college, you should continue your search for a position you’re more qualified for. But if your experience is just a little untraditional or your degree is in a slightly different field? Those are small enough discrepancies that you still stand a solid chance of landing the job.

Obviously, the more boxes you can check, the better your chances of scoring that role. But, if you fall short in a few areas, there’s nothing wrong with tossing your hat into the ring anyway — you never know what could happen!


2. Does my resume really need to be one page?

The short answer: yes. Unless you’ve worked in your industry for dozens of years, it’s best to summarize your professional experience to one concise and impactful page.

Doesn’t seem like enough room? Keep in mind that the average hiring manager only looks at your resume for a quick six seconds before making a decision about you.

So, while you might think those additional pages filled with details of your every professional accomplishment and endeavor are working in your favor, they ultimately will just end up in the trash.


3. Can I use the same resume for every job application?

When you sink so much time and effort into polishing your resume, it’s tempting to blanket the whole world in that one document. However, it’s always better to tailor your resume to whatever job you’re applying to.

Different jobs have different requirements, responsibilities, and points of emphasis. Similarly, different companies have different cultures and working styles.

Your primary goal during the job search is to prove that you’d be a seamless fit for both the position and the employer. And that’s going to be hard to do if you use the same generic resume in response to every single job posting.


4. How can I optimize my resume to make it through Applicant Tracking Systems?

Here’s another reason it’s a good idea to tailor your resume: to help you make it through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

We’ll spare you a major technology lesson. But, put simply, think of an ATS as a robot that scans your resume for keywords. If the words appear on your document, you make it through. If they don’t? You’re headed for the dreaded trash bin.

One study found that 75% of large companies utilize an ATS — meaning these pesky robots are actually pretty prevalent. So, how can you optimize your resume to increase your chances of making it past those discerning eyes?

Go through the job description and pull out words or skills that are mentioned a few times or seem extra important. Do they mention “Photoshop” numerous times? Or, have they placed a lot of emphasis on the phrase “skilled communicator,” for example?

Make sure you weave those exact words and phrases — provided you’re honest, of course — into your own resume.


5. How should I address my cover letter?

At all costs, you want to avoid that generic “To Whom it May Concern” line. Instead, do some detective work to see if you can find the name of the hiring manager.

If you can’t, addressing your letter to the leader of your department can also suffice. It allows you to personalize the letter, while still demonstrating that you did your research.

Still stuck trying to find somebody’s name? When you’ve exhausted your options, a simple “Dear Hiring Manager” will work at the top of your cover letter.


6. What’s the difference between a cover letter and the email I send with my application?

As much as you’d love a clearcut answer to this question, it really depends on what the application instructions say.

For example, if the listing specifically asks you to attach a cover letter to your email, then you should just type a brief note in the body of your message and include a formal cover letter as an attachment.

But, if there are no specific instructions like that, it’s more than copacetic to use the content of your cover letter in your email body — which can also increase your chances of the hiring manager actually reading it.

Provided you don’t disobey any clearly written instructions (If they ask for a PDF attachment, do just that!), which way you choose to go really won’t make or break you.


7. How long should I wait before following up on an application?

While you might be itching to check in on the status of your application a mere 24 hours after pressing “send,” it’s in your best interest to wait a little longer.

Generally, you should wait about one week before confirming that your application was received. When you do that, you can also ask about a general timeline for the hiring process.

That length of time is short enough to ensure that you didn’t miss a chance to be in the running due to a technical glitch, but long enough to avoid looking like an overeager pest.


8. How should I respond when asked about my salary expectations?

Cringe. Talking about money is always awkward — especially when you’re pursuing a new job. Say a number that’s too low, and you’ll look like you don’t value your work (and will run the risk of searching the couch cushions just to make ends meet). But, say a number that’s too high, and you could price yourself right out of the running.

Sure, you can delay this question for as long as possible. But, at one point or another, you’re going to need to address it honestly.

To do so, make sure you do some research into a fair salary for this sort of position in your market. A site like PayScale will help you figure out what a reasonable number looks like. You should also consider your current salary (You don’t want to take a pay cut!) to arrive at your desired range.

When asked, you can respond with something direct and simple like, “While my main focus is on finding a role that’s a suitable fit for my skills and expertise, I’m expecting a salary between $50,000 and $55,000.”


9. Is a thank you note still expected?

You might think that sending a “thank you” after the interview is one of those age-old job search formalities that has since gone by the wayside. However, it’s still a good idea to send a quick note after your meeting.

In fact, doing so can increase your chances of landing the job by 20%. That’s pretty good odds for very little effort.

Your note doesn’t need to be handwritten either. 89% of hiring managers say it’s totally fine to send a “thank you” via email. In fact, nearly half of them prefer to receive the notes that way.


10. Should I tell my current boss that I’m job searching?

This is another one of those answers that can vary greatly depending on your unique circumstances. If you and your boss share a really close relationship, you might feel comfortable opening up about your future and career plans.

However, when in doubt, it’s best to keep your mouth shut until you’ve actually accepted another offer. You wouldn’t want to stir up any doubt or drama only to decide to stay where you are for a while longer!


Do you have a question that we missed? Let us know in the comments!