Looking for a Job? Don’t Waste Your Money on These Job Search Expenses

You have to spend money to make money. No one understands that better than the unemployed. From resume-writing services to career coaches to premium job listings, there are plenty of opportunities to spend your dwindling dollars when you’re looking for a job. But when is it worth it to invest money in finding a new gig, and when should you save your pennies?

Some job search expenses are simply unavoidable. You can’t get around paying for gas to get to interviews or paying to park downtown. Other services for job seekers fall into a gray area. Paying someone to help you write your resume might seem like a frivolous expense, unless your current C.V. isn’t catching the eye of employers. Hiring a career coach seems silly until she helps you land your dream job.

But for every reasonable job search expense, there’s one that’s equally pointless. At best, spending your money on these things won’t help you get a job. At worst, it could actually hurt your chances. Here are 11 ways you might be wasting money while looking for a job.

1. Buying gifts for interviewers

Sad man looking at his wallet

Giving your interviewer a gift isn’t normal. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Tempted to send a basket of treats to a hiring manager after an interview? Save your money, and just buy a muffin for yourself as a reward. Buying thank you gifts for interviewers is just plain weird. These presents, however well-intentioned, make it look like you don’t understand professional norms. They might even give the impression that you’re trying to bribe the interviewer. Plus, do you really want to work for someone who can be swayed by an Edible Arrangements fruit basket?

Next: Fancy resume paper is so last-century.

2. Printing your resume on fancy paper


You don’t need to spend a lot of money making your resume look fancy. | John Moore/Getty Images

Back in the day, having copies of your resume printed on heavy, cream-colored paper might have made you look like a serious professional. Now, it just makes you look like a dinosaur. While you can’t ditch the paper resume entirely — it’s useful to have a few copies to bring with you to your interview — it’s perfectly acceptable to print them on regular old paper on your home printer.

“[T]he only time you even need to print your resume these days is when you’re bringing it with you for an interview as a possible back-up copy. And at that point, if what wows them the most is your incredibly fine paper stock, things are not going well,” wrote Alison Green of Ask a Manager.

Next: Why mailing your resume is a waste of time and money

3. Mailing your resume or thank you note


Employers are checking their inbox, not mailbox. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Snail-mailed resumes are a thing of the past, and good riddance for that. You’re wasting valuable money if you’re still stuffing copies of your resume and cover letter in an envelope and paying for the postal service to deliver them to employers. Email and online applications are the norm now. Sending your materials the old-fashioned way not only suggests you’re out of touch, but it also puts you behind the curve. By the time your resume arrives in the hiring manager’s inbox, he might already be interviewing candidates.

The same goes for thank you notes. While a quick note to follow up after an interview is basic courtesy, don’t feel like you must send a typed or hand-written note. Most job experts agree email is fine — and a lot faster.

Next: You don’t need to spend a lot on a professional-looking headshot.

4. Paying too much for headshots

woman holding a camera

You don’t need to hire a professional photographer to get a decent headshot. | iStock.com

Social media is a bigger part of your job search than ever, which means it’s hard to get away with not having a professional-looking photo attached to your profile. But you don’t need to spend lots of cash to get the perfect LinkedIn headshot. That’s not to discount the skills of pro photographers, who are experts at making even the least-photogenic among us look good. But if you’re out of work, you might not have hundreds of dollars to drop on their services.

Fortunately, you can get a decent-looking headshot for not a lot of money. The Muse has tips for making your DIY photos look professional. (Hint: Avoid the crooked arms and weird angles that are sure signs of a selfie.) Or head to a career fair, where you can sometimes get pro headshots for free.

Next: Are premium job sites worth it?

5. Signing up for every premium job site out there

linkedin logo

Use a trail of these websites to see whether they’re worth it. | Carl Court/Getty Images

Whether job seekers should ever pay for premium job boards and networking sites is a hotly contested issue. Some people say no way, while others argue that spending a few dollars to get access to ads other job seekers can’t see might well be worth it.

One thing is for sure: You don’t need to sign up for every premium job site out there. Glassdoor, where you can find jobs, reviews, and salary information is completely free. You can also sign up for a free trial of LinkedIn, FlexJobs, or other niche sites. Then, evaluate what you’re getting. Are you finding jobs you’re not seeing elsewhere? Are the premium features — such as LinkedIn’s InMail — really worth it? Stick with the services that are useful, and ditch the ones that aren’t before the trial period expires.

Next: Falling for a job scam is a costly mistake.

6. Falling for job scams

wants ads

Be wary of ads that ask you to pay money to get a job. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Falling for a job scam can be a waste of both your money and your time. Watch out for people who ask you to pay money to start a reshipping business, stuff envelopes at home, or work as a rebate processor. These “opportunities” are likely fake, noted FlexJobs. Anyone who promises you a “guaranteed” job in exchange for money is likely also a scam artist, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Next: Paying for fake job references isn’t worth it.

7. Paying for fake job references

employment references

Paying for fake employment references is a mistake. | iStock.com

Job seekers with a sketchy work history might be tempted to get a little creative in their job search by hiring someone to act as a reference on their behalf. Some of these companies will go so far as to provide fake company websites and local phone numbers to make their deception seem legit. Needless to say, you shouldn’t waste your money on these “services.” Not only is it unethical, but you could be in big trouble if you get caught lying. Thirty percent of HR managers say they’ve caught candidates using fake references, and you can bet those people didn’t get the job.

Next: Get your money’s worth when you sign up for career training.

8. Paying for expensive, useless career training or certifications

diploma with money

Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth when you sign up for job training. | iStock.com

While more education might seem like the path to a better job, that’s not always the case. Before enrolling in a school or signing up for a course, it’s essential to be sure the institution is reputable. Otherwise you could find yourself out hundreds or thousands of dollars (or even in debt) with little to show for it.

Job seekers should be particularly wary of unaccredited school because attending one could make it harder to get a job in the future, especially in a field where you need to be licensed. Another thing to watch out for? “Certifications” that you can earn by paying a fee and completing a quick online test, which are usually worthless, noted Lifehacker. If you are going to invest time in a class, certification, or degree make sure you’ll leave with skills that employers actually want, and don’t pay tons of money for something you could get for less. Many community colleges offer low-cost or free training programs, for example.

Next: Not all career books are created equal.

9. Buying every career advice book out there

job hunting books

A local library might have them for free. | John Moore/Getty Images

Looking for a little advice on how to land a job, write the perfect resume, or ace the interview? Head to Amazon, and you’ll find more than 53,000 books promising to do all that and more. Some of these career advice books contain useful tips and insight. What Color Is Your Parachute? has sold more than 10 million copies since it was first published in 1972, so people must be finding it helpful. But not every job-hunting tome is a classic in the making.

Before downloading all of this year’s career bestsellers to your Kindle, make sure they’re going to be useful to you. Ask yourself: What are the author’s qualifications? Do they have knowledge of my particular field? When was the book published? Did other readers find the advice useful? And remember, you can always head to your local library and borrow a copy of these must-read books for free.

Next: Don’t waste money on dry cleaning.

10. Dry cleaning your interview suit too often

Young man working in dry cleaners

Too many trips to the dry cleaners will clean you out. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

You want to look sharp for your job interview, but having to spend $10 or more to get your suit cleaned every time you have a sit down with HR stings. Here’s the good news: You only need to take your suit to the cleaners every four or five wears. In fact, cleaning it too often can damage the fabric. To keep your suit looking great between wears, hang it on a wood hanger, so it can retain its original drape, spot clean to remove any minor stains, and use a steamer to remove wrinkles, according to GQ.

Next: Are you missing out on job-related tax deductions?

11. Not deducting your expenses

tax forms

You can deduct some job search expenses from your taxes. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Even with our money-saving tips, chances are you’ll have to invest at least some money on your job search. When you do open your wallet, make sure you save your receipts. If you’ve paid to attend a networking event, invested in a session with a career coach, or hopped on plane for an in-person interview, you might be able to deduct those expenses from your taxes

The IRS has some pretty strict rules about what is and isn’t deductible. (For example, you can’t deduct your job search expenses if you’re switching occupations.) Before you subtract something from your income, talk to a tax pro to make sure you’re in the clear.

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