Getting a job isn't just about having strong qualifications. It's also about being someone who hiring managers want to hire and work with every day. That means they're paying attention to how you operate and whether you understand business norms at every stage of the hiring process, from the very first contact.
There are a few things some job candidates do that function as flashing neon signs of weirdness to employers. Here are eight of them:
1. Sending flowers, candy or other gifts to the hiring manager. Some candidates still think this is a good way to stand out, but there's probably no faster way to make a hiring manager uncomfortable. If you're not qualified for the job, sending a gift isn't going to change that. And if you are qualified for the job, you've now made the interviewer uncomfortable by implying that you think your qualifications aren't enough on their own, but that she might be swayed by some chocolate. It's tacky and ineffective.
2. Showing up without an appointment and asking to meet with the hiring manager. There's a very small number of fields where this can be normal, but in the vast, vast majority of professional fields, it's just not done. Most hiring managers are busy. They set aside specific blocks of time to interview job candidates -- the ones who they've decided they want to speak with. If you show up without an invitation, you look like you're either trying to circumvent that process or like you don't understand business norms.
3. Including a line in your cover letter warning employers not to contact you unless they can meet specific conditions. Some candidates think that they'll save themselves time or show employers that they're serious if they include a sentence in their cover letter like: "Please do not contact me unless you are serious about hiring a driven, results-oriented sales director." Or: "Please do not contact me unless you can pay a competitive salary and benefits." Those are reasonable things to want, but statements like those don't just ward off employers you won't like -- they'll ward off everyone else, too. It's just too negative and accusatory.
4. Applying for jobs from an email account that you share with your spouse. If you want to share an email account with your spouse in your personal life, that's your call. But for your professional life, you need your own. Employers don't want to feel like they're corresponding with two people when they write back to you; they want to speak only with you. And email accounts are free, after all.
5. Offering to work for free. Sometimes job candidates will offer to work for a week or a month for free, in order to prove themselves. This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it's illegal. Minimum wage laws require employers to pay people who do work for them (with some exceptions, like nonprofits). Second, bringing on new employees takes an enormous amount of time and energy for training, among other things. The first weeks are usually a loss for the employer, because they're investing time in getting you up to speed. Most don't want to make that kind of investment in anyone other than the best candidate (who they expect to pay).
6. Reading your answers word for word from notes during an interview. Notes are good, and it's great to bring them to a job interview. But they're just there to jog your memory, not to give you a script to read. Reading prepared answers makes it look like you can't think on your feet -- and for all we know, someone else may have written those answers for you. Interviews need to be real conversations, not rigidly rehearsed performances.
7. Including a photo with your résumé. While there are some countries outside the U.S. where it's normal and even expected to send a photo when applying for a job, it's very much not the business convention here, and you'll look out of touch with business norms if you include one. After all, unless you're applying for a job as a model or an actor, your photo has no relevance to your ability to do the job.
8. Saying you'll do "anything it takes" to get the job. Good employers don't want you to do that. They don't want you to want to do that. Remember: An employer isn't doing you a favor by interviewing or hiring you. You're having a conversation to try to figure out whether you'd each like to embark upon a business relationship -- one that you'd both benefit from. Plus, employers (and other people) respect people who respect themselves. Signal that you're worthy of their respect.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.