Want a Job? Want to Retire? Avoid these Strange, All-Too-Common Blunders

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Neither getting a job in today’s economy, nor retiring after the portfolio-busting Great Recession, is an easy task. They’re both especially difficult to accomplish if you’ve made silly, shortsighted mistakes through the course of your quest. One quick tip: During a job interview, it’s probably not a good idea to answer your cell phone and chat away for a few minutes.

A WSJ story lists eight blunders that job hunters make that’ll probably prompt you to giggle—unless, of course, you’re guilty of making a few of these bone-headed mistakes. (If that’s the case, at least you’re not reading this while you’re at work—because you probably don’t have a job.) What’s shocking is that hirers say these mistakes, which seem like the sorts of things everyone learns to avoid at Job Hunting 101 if not in junior high, are fairly common. HR people see them all the time.

The blunders include bringing your child with you (and without a good excuse) to a job interview, taking a phone call during the middle of an interview (not turning off your cell phone is itself a mistake), and asking your would-be employer to take you out to lunch (you know, because they can just “write it off”). Some job candidates are guilty of oversharing, specifically oversharing curious details about the lives that certainly don’t put you in the good graces of the hirer, and create some seriously awkward, bad-first-date-type silences:

After learning that a position involved a great deal of travel, a candidate for a senior sales job at a midsize manufacturer told the interviewer he was worried about how his saltwater fish would get fed while he was away. The worst part of the exchange? “He wasn’t kidding,” says Russ Riendeau, an executive recruiter who set up the interview and confirmed the account with the job hunter. “He was trying to say that it was his only concern.” The man, who had been unemployed for four months at the time, wasn’t extended an offer for the position, adds Mr. Riendeau, a senior partner with East Wing Search Group in Barrington, Ill.

Other things employers say that job hunters reveal—but shouldn’t —include comments about their health problems, details about their love lives and tales of their financial hardships.

Hiring managers even say that some moms and dads have been known to accompany their kids to job interviews, get involved in salary negotiations, or hector HR staffers for reasons why their child hasn’t been granted an interview. It’s great that families love and support each other. But this is all crossing the line between helping and hurting your kid’s career.

If you are lucky enough to get a job, it’s just a matter of time before you begin thinking about retirement. While the most common fantasy at the office (G-rated, we’re talking) revolves around the day when a worker can stop working, not enough people plan adequately for that day. And so that day keeps getting pushed further into the future, and never really feels within reach.

Gregory Salsbury, author of new book Retirementology: Rethinking the American Dream in the New Economy, tells USA Today that the gaffes holding would-be retirees back are all too common, and often pretty basic. Like:

•We’re not logical when it comes to saving for retirement. Americans worry about not having enough money to retire, yet fail to take advantage of savings programs available to them, Salsbury says. A striking 70% of Gen Y workers don’t participate in employer-sponsored accounts, and more than 20% of workers 45 and older have stopped contributing to their 401(k)s.

•We’re nearsighted about investing. Behavioral economists call this “the recency effect.” You notice your mutual fund has soared in value over the past quarter or two, so you overload your portfolio with stocks. Or, after watching your stock holdings plummet, as in 2008, you go ultra-conservative and bulk up on money-market accounts.

•We pull money out of retirement savings before retiring. Salsbury says 46% of people cash out of their 401(k)s when changing jobs, rather than rolling the money over into another tax-deferred retirement plan.

So, besides not making these mistakes, what can you do to put yourself in a position to enjoy a comfortable retirement sometime before you turn 90? Mostly, Salsbury endorses basic stuff:

Set a budget, avoid high-interest credit cards, raise your insurance deductibles, and don’t keep an excessively high balance in your checking account.

And doing things like:

… kicking in an extra $100 or so to your mortgage’s principal payment each month. By doing this with a $200,000, 30-year, 6% mortgage, you’ll pay off the loan within 25 years and save nearly $50,000 in interest.

One more tip is to not blow a job interview by bringing your mom with you. OK, that one doesn’t really come from Salsbury. But it’s good advice nonetheless.