Some job search rules are unbreakable. Catering your application to the position you’re applying for is an absolute must, even if you only make tiny changes. Using an unprofessional email address in your applications will make you look silly -- every time. Following up on an interview with a smart thank you note will always make you stand out.
Then there are the rules that aren’t written in stone. Some rules don’t apply in every case while others are just plain outdated.
So go crazy! Here are five of those rules that you should feel free to break after careful consideration:
Go ahead – include your hobbies
As long as they’re relevant, you can absolutely include your hobbies on your resume or in your cover letter. If you’re a talented guitarist, that might not be relevant to a business development position. It could, however, be relevant to a position that requires creativity, such as an art producer, marketing director, or sound engineer.
When you list your hobbies and interests, make sure to tie them into your experience, the job, and the company. You’ll develop a profile of yourself as a full person, with in-depth knowledge, passion, and motivation. Let employers see a well-rounded you and give yourself an edge over people with one-dimensional resumes.
It won’t work every time, but there are tons of people who have gotten jobs by relating their experience in video games to management or turned their biking habit into a relevant story about why they’d be a great teacher. Think about the skills you have to learn and apply in your hobbies, tie them in with the job requirements, and tell a unique story.
Ditch the formality
Applying to a young startup? You might want to pocket the “Dear Hiring Manager” and “Sincerely” when emailing your contacts in favor of a “Hey Sally” and “Thanks!” In almost all cases, it’s better to include a specific person’s name in your cover letter, and there are times when an informal tone will help you better relate to the person on the other side.
It all depends on the context. Match the voice and tone of the company you’re applying to. Read a company’s careers page. How do they speak to talent? Are they playful or serious? Get an even better idea by reading their blogs, listening to interviews with their leaders and executives, and try to match them.
So if you’ve seen the CEO’s Twitter, you’ve watched the head of HR in an interview, and you’re sure you’ve got their style down, go with a “Yo” as your greeting. Just remember to keep a degree of professionalism – you don’t want to come across as disrespectful or too personal before you develop an initial relationship.
Apply to jobs you aren’t qualified for
This one really depends on the organization you’re attempting to join. Conventional wisdom would tell you that you should spend your time applying to jobs within your domain of expertise or one or two levels away from it. Traditional job search advice would caution you applying to a marketing job as an engineer when the description requires 4 years in marketing.
If you’ve got the core skills and can show an ambition to learn, you might find a receptive employer on the other side by applying to jobs outside your wheelhouse. Hiring managers are always looking for a diverse skillset or for someone that has a wide perspective with which to tackle problems.
The team you’re joining might need someone to just get a job done and have the expertise in hand. Find the folks who will take someone that might take a while to get going -- demonstrate that you’ll put every effort forward in not only catching up with a role but also surpassing the performance of the cookie cutter hires they might otherwise go with.
Ask a co-worker for help
Finding references can be tough, especially if you’re in your first job or your university references are flakey. Most job search advice will tell you it’s a huge mistake to ask your co-workers for a reference or referral. After all, word can spread about how you’re planning to leave, which might result in awkward conversations. All of that can get worse if you don’t land a new job. While we agree with this rule generally, it’s definitely one of those rules that can have tremendous upside if you break it the right way.
Evaluate your relationships at your job. Got a buddy you trust unconditionally? Someone you’ve commiserated with about your employer or someone you just get along with so well? There’s someone you can ask for help. Whether you’re asking for a reference, an introduction, or if that person knows of open opportunities that would be a fit for you, there’s often no one better to help you out in the professional world than a colleague you can trust.
It’s not all networking, networking, networking
Conventional wisdom says you’re a bajillion percent more likely to find a job if you network. And people just love to write about how the online job search is an absolute waste of your time. This is a gross simplification of the realities of the job search: it’s not any one single source of effort that will get you to across the finish line, but an effort across many channels, both in-person and online.
So go ahead and spend a ton of time online scouring niche job boards, following company employees on Twitter, looking for job signals on social media, and discovering those hidden and hard to find opportunities that only a few job seekers will ever see. Build up an online network that you can’t achieve locally by getting involved in digital communities.
Your combined effort across the board is what will get you the job, not any one prescription. Offline networking takes time and limits you to things within your proximity. Taking a serious approach to the online search means you’ll capture new opportunities quickly, can explore opportunities in areas outside your immediate reach, and you might just find a hidden gem of a company or open job that’s the perfect fit for you.
So go out, break some rules, and show some job search #swag.