8 Dangerous Assumptions That Can Cost You the Job of Your Dreams

“We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything,” writes Don Miguel Ruiz in his bestselling book “The Four Agreements.” The third agreement he discusses in the book is “don’t make assumptions.” He writes, “The problem with assumptions is that we believe they are truth. We could swear they are real.”

The process of looking for a job is rife with possible assumptions—about job requirements, company culture, what happened during the application and interview process and even what you believe you can achieve.

Ruiz suggests that that the antidote to assumption-making is asking questions. “Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and we believe we are right about our assumption; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.”

We might believe that the job is wrong, the company is wrong or we got some bad advice. “It is always better to ask questions than to make assumptions, because assumptions set us up for suffering.”

Here are eight assumptions about job search and how you can keep them from holding you back.

1. Don’t Assume You Need to Check Off Every Qualification Listed in the Job Description

Hiring managers and recruiters usually put requirements and desired qualifications in the job description. Feeling like you have to meet every bullet point listed will prevent you from applying to many jobs that you’re probably qualified for. Wendy Nolin, business and career coach at Change Agent Careers, counsels her clients to evaluate the overall requirements necessary to do the job versus the full list of desired qualifications. “Most job descriptions include ‘must have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ qualifications,” she said, “and they know you’ll need to learn some things on the job.”

When you read job descriptions, ask, “Does my experience meet the most important requirements? Is this a job that I could do with a little bit of training?” If the answer is “Yes,” apply. The recruiter will be the one to ask you questions later.

2. Don’t Assume Everything You Hear About A Company Will Be True for You

“You can never assume that one person’s opinion is true—whether it’s about the company, a team or an individual,” Nolin said. Like all assumptions, this one is particularly important to question. Ask what specifically the person didn’t like and find out who you else can talk to. Consider each person’s agenda. Do they have a chip on their shoulder because they got passed over for a promotion? Look for patterns in the answers you get. Also do research on review sites.

“You might get along with someone that a few other people don’t like,” said Nolin. “You might be the perfect person to work on that team.” So go ahead and apply, and see for yourself.

3. Don’t Assume That Because You Don’t Hear Back it Means They Don’t Like You

There are a myriad of reasons you might be rejected for a job, and none of them are about you. For more on rejection, read our article “Don’t Take Anything Personally”.

4. Don’t Assume You Nailed or Failed the Interview

I once walked out of an afternoon of interviews certain I had the job. I was fully qualified and thought the interviews had gone well. I received a rejection email two weeks later. Adrienne Chang, associate marketing manager at Simply Hired, assumed that she didn’t get the job when she interviewed with us because the hiring manager seemed cold. It turned out that the hiring manager was using a “bad cop” interview technique. As with all forms of rejection and acceptance, you can’t assume you know what‘s going on behind the scenes. Don’t let an assumption about your performance in an interview keep you from following up. 

5. Don’t Assume the Salary Offered is All You Can Get

Nolin strongly advises her clients to negotiate when they receive an offer. “They expect you to negotiate,” she said. “If they want you and need you, they are usually willing to pay more—often 10-15 percent more than the initial offer.” Don’t assume that the company has the power—YOU are the one who is wanted, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

6. Don’t Assume that A “Best Place To Work” is the Best Place for You

Some people focus all their efforts on getting into a popular company, assuming that their life and career will be perfect once they get inside. Many Simply Hired employees used to work at some of those companies. There are pluses and minuses to all working environments, most notably between companies that employ thousands of people versus those that employ a few hundred or less. Do as much research as you can to find out why you would like working at a certain type of company. In the interview, don’t be afraid to ask your hiring manager to point out some unique things about the culture.

7. Don’t Assume That the Career Ladder is Right for You

When I was in my 20s I assumed that I would be a manager by 30 and a VP by 35. When I reached age 30 and was still an individual contributor, I was disappointed in myself. As Ruiz notes, this was an assumption that set me up for suffering—and the suffering was unnecessary because I was doing fine.

Nolin frequently counsels people who got lost on the career track and burned out by age 40. They’ve made the assumption that they’re nobody without a title. “There’s plenty of room in the world for individual contributors, managers and CEOs. We need them all. We can’t have all managers, CEOs and entrepreneurs.”

Ruiz suggests that the antidote to these sorts of assumptions is asking questions of yourself. He writes, “maybe you need to stop lying to yourself about what you truly want.” It may not be what other people or society tells you.

8. Don’t Assume You Can’t Have The Job You Truly Want

There are many stories of people creating jobs for themselves, either as entrepreneurs or within companies. Nolin coaches clients who want to move to a different type of role to write a job description for the desired role. “If they propose it as a business problem and position themselves as the expert to solve that problem, there’s a good chance the position will get created.”

“Find your voice to ask for what you want,” Ruiz writes. “Everybody has the right to tell you no or yes, but you always have the right to ask.” By not assuming an automatic “No,” you might just find a big fat “Yes.”