The Danger Of Following Instructions In Job Search

Jan 3 2013 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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Today’s job seekers are typically given many instructions …

Is it a smart idea to follow them?

It’s a tough choice for most job seekers. After all, we’ve been programmed from an early age, starting in pre-school, all the way through college/grad school to follow instructions. If you didn’t follow instructions in school, you failed and had to repeat the class (or grade) until you followed instructions correctly.

After all, the entire concept of public schools were intended to make compliant factory workers … who followed instructions. It’s still the underlying concept that drives public education.

We’ve all been brainwashed to follow instructions, especially from those in authority … teachers, HR reps, recruiters. We’re programmed to do as we’re told.

From an employer’s perspective, HR and hiring managers expect that candidates will follow instructions. They know that candidates fear being viewed as not being able to follow instructions – they use that fear to drive behavior. That doesn’t mean that the behavior being driven will help you get the job. It just means that employers usually attempt to drive candidate behavior in a certain way. Candidate behavior is often directed to make the hiring process more efficient for the employer – usually to the detriment of the candidate.

I want to make sure you caught that, so I’ll repeat …

Employers typically set up instructions to make the hiring process more efficient for the employer …

… Not to give you a better chance at winning the job.

Instructions in the hiring process are typically set up to keep candidates away from HR, recruiters and especially keep candidates away from hiring managers. It helps make the hiring process more efficient for everyone involved … on the employer’s side.

At the same time, most hiring process instructions also make the hiring process completely inefficient and ineffective … for you.

Following employer instructions often presents danger to candidates … who have been programmed since childhood to follow instructions.

Here are some specific dangers to candidates who follow instructions:

  1. Distance from hiring manager: HR instructions are designed to insulate the hiring manager from candidates, so the hiring manager doesn’t have to waste time talking to candidates, other than one or two top candidates that the hiring manager wants to “court”. Hiring instructions are intended to place HR as a filter, to keep you away from the hiring manager. Maybe that’s good for the hiring manager … But do you think it’s good for you?
  2. Equal information between candidates: Since hiring instructions set HR as a filter, candidates who follow instructions all get the same information. Good for HR who sets a level playing field … but is this good for a candidate who wants to gain an advantage, increasing chances to land the job?
  3. Inability to differentiate effectively: If you’re blocked by HR instructions from communicating with the hiring manager, you have no way of knowing the hiring manager’s problems and priorities. Since few candidates break the rules, few candidates have any idea what’s important to the hiring manager – so most of you guess … incorrectly. How can you possibly differentiate yourself as the hiring manager’s best choice, if you have the exact same information as everyone else?
  4. Hiring by chance – based on who guesses best: HR processes are extremely efficient to find candidates who meet minimum qualifications – not the best candidates, but candidates who meet minimums. While efficient, it’s random … benefiting candidates who guess the most exact search criteria. Do you want to your chances to be random, or do you want to exert more control over your chances?
  5. Hurts the best candidates most: Hiring processes leave the best candidates buried in the database, because these processes reward candidates who understand/game the process at the expense of the most qualified and best candidates. Candidates who accept random chances have the highest percentage of being buried in the database, while those who exploit the process increase their odds of being seen.
  6. Increases chances of a bad hire: While hiring processes are an extremely efficient way to select candidates, it’s also an extremely effective way to select poor candidates. Since hiring processes and HR rules drive the best candidates to the oblivion of the HR database, hiring managers are also left with lower odds that they’ll find high performing new hires.

Now don’t get me wrong … I’m not suggesting complete candidate anarchy. Job seekers will benefit from following some instructions: Showing up on time, following instructions to get to the interview location, dressing as HR suggests (Suits aren’t always the correct choice of dress).

But other instructions are given to direct candidates, like leading lambs to the slaughter. Just like going through gates leading towards a slaughterhouse isn’t beneficial to animals, neither is following many of Human Resource’s instructions beneficial to candidates. Farm animals don’t have a choice … you do.

So you’ll want to examine the hiring instructions that you’re given. Try to understand the reason behind the instruction – If it seems like there’s a good reason that makes sense to you, it’s probably a good instruction to follow.

But, if it’s to make the hiring process more efficient for the employer, but less effective for you … go outside of the box.

You can learn more about what rules to break and what instructions to ignore in my Resume Revolution! webinar at


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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