Throughout a job hunt, candidates are expected to compete with other applicants for a position. A hundred resumes are submitted to each role, and as a result the competition to stand out as the cream of the crop is heated. But too many candidates approach this competition the wrong way and end up falling into the generic candidate trap.

The generic candidate trap involves a series of actions taken by job seekers that result in failing to stand out to employers. It involves falling back on bad habits for the sake of quick applications. And it stems from the idea that quantity is more important than quality in any job hunt.

But that’s not true in the slightest. The candidates that are the most successful in finding a role at a company they love are the ones that lead a laser-focused search. They know that they can sacrifice the overall number of jobs they apply to for the sake of a handful of ultra-catered, research-driven applications.

Take a minute to think about whether you’re falling into the generic candidate trap:

  • Have you applied to hundreds of jobs in a short span but heard back from none of them?
  • Do you copy-paste your cover letter from a template and just edit minor details?
  • Is the average time it takes you to apply to a job five minutes or less?
  • When is the last time you read a company’s blog and scoured their careers page before applying?
  • Do you start your cover letter with “To whom it may concern” rather than with a person’s name?
  • Do you have only one version of your resume that you don’t adjust from one application to the next?
  • Do you simply glance at a job description rather than read through it in detail?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen into the trap. As a result, your applications suffer and you stack up poorly next to your competition - other, equally qualified candidates that are putting more effort into each application.


Candidates that fall into this trap mistakenly believe that they should and will be judged solely on the depth of their experience. But companies that only judge candidates on those merits end up making a lot of bad hires. Hiring is much more intricate than just picking the person with the best skillset. It involves a lot of soft-skill and cultural factors that can’t be measured with a simple discussion of work experience or college degree.

Hiring the right candidate rather than the most experienced candidate means that often hiring managers sacrifice experience for things like cultural fit, attitude, and chemistry. You may have a deep background and seem like a perfect skills fit for a job, but you may not land that job if you don’t look like you’d be a productive and collaborative member of the team and the company.

Hiring takes time, costs money, and results in lost productivity for both the team and the hiring manager. But it’s important to make the right decision and consider multiple factors. A poor cultural fit can result in an early firing. A poor skills fit can result in the need for extra training. A hire that doesn’t get along with the team can result in drama and low job satisfaction. And all of these things cost money and productivity in the long run.

In the end, it’s easy to get out of the generic candidate trap. Don't let yourself cut corners, start doing plenty of research and paperwork customization for each application, and you'll immediately feel a difference in the quality of your presentation.

The reality is that most applicants fall into the generic candidate trap. There’s a reason why an initial resume screening whittles down a pool of a hundred or more applicants to just the top ten or twenty. That screening process eliminates candidates that clearly didn’t read the job description. It scrubs out candidates that are clearly not qualified for the job and didn't put in the effort to stand out.

Fall out of the trap, make it easy for hiring managers to see you as an individual, and you'll have put yourself that much farther than everyone else.

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