No one said searching for a job was going to be fun, but why didn’t someone warn you it could be this bad? You spruced up your resume, customized your cover letters, and even bought a new suit — all for naught. Not only are you not getting any job offers, but you’re not even getting interviews. What gives?
Being ignored by employers stings, especially if you’re convinced you have what it takes to excel at the positions you’re applying for. But you won’t be able to get work when you can’t even get face time with the hiring manager. If your job search is hitting a brick wall right out of the gate, there’s hope. Check out these 10 reasons why employers aren’t paying attention to your applications, and find out what you can do to score an interview — and hopefully a job.
1. Your cover letter is weak
A generic cover letter isn’t going to wow a potential employer, nor is one that’s too long, has typos, or simply repeats the information on your resume. (Not writing cover letters at all? That can be a problem, too.) Instead, make sure your introductory note is customized and explains why you’re the right fit for the job.
“Often times the most challenging part for job seekers involves making it past the first round to get their foot in the door,” Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster, told The Cheat Sheet. “One way to help accomplish this is for them to demonstrate in their cover letter why they’re a perfect fit for the role while highlighting any outstanding achievements.”
Next: If your cover letter isn’t the problem, another key part of your application materials might be the issue.
2. Your resume looks like crap
Your resume is one of your first chances to wow a potential employer. Some hiring managers might even look at it before they read your cover letter. So if your job search isn’t yielding the results you want, there’s a fair chance your resume is the problem.
“The main issue I am seeing is that job applicants are not delivering a visually and verbally compelling narrative via their resume,” Mark Beal, a marketing expert and the author of 101 Lessons They Never Taught You in College: The Essential Guide for Students and Recent Graduates to Launch Their Careers, told The Cheat Sheet.
Cluttered, confusing resumes don’t catch the eye of harried HR staff, who might receive hundreds of responses to a single job ad. “If the resume is designed poorly and does not pass the eye test, the candidate does not advance,” Beal said.
“Recruiters are moving at fast speeds — I used to literally spend 3 seconds on each resume — so the easier you can make it on a recruiter’s eyeballs as they peruse each one, the better your chances are,” Salemi explained. To fix your resume (and make recruiters smile), limit distracting fonts, use bullet points, cut out irrelevant information, and make sure there’s some white space.
3. You’re not selling your past experience
Fixing the way your resume looks is just the first step to getting an interview for your dream job. You also need to present yourself in the best light.
Although you never should lie on your resume, don’t be afraid to tweak descriptions of your past experience, so you highlight the skills that will be of most interest to a prospective employer. Your resume should also highlight specific accomplishments, Salemi said. Make it clear you ran a team, managed a budget, and oversaw direct reports — and be specific. (How many people? How big of a budget?)
“Far too many applicants sell themselves short with their past experience,” Beal said. “They need to develop powerful bullets in the experience section of their resume that result in an invitation to interview. One way to do this is to customize the resume for each job opening and integrate key terms and qualifications from the job posting into the past experience section of the resume.”
Let’s talk more about those keywords …
4. Your keywords are all wrong
Mastering keywords is key for job seekers who are trying to get their foot in the door, Salemi said. Applicant tracking systems will scan your resume for words the employer has decided are important. Often, these are the same words you’ll see in the job ad or description. To make sure the system doesn’t overlook you, use those words to describe your experience.
“Let’s say you’re looking for a job in recruiting to become a recruiting coordinator,” Salemi explained. “Review the company’s job description that you’re applying to. If their lingo is talent acquisition and not recruiting, then when you apply to that job and your resume is in their applicant tracking system, you’re probably not going to appear in searches when recruiters for additional openings do keyword searches.”
Just don’t get too carried away when trying to make your cover letter or resume match the job description. Roughly one-third of hiring managers said they’d automatically reject a candidate who copied a big chunk of wording from the job ad, CareerBuilder found.
5. Your application materials have typos
Sometimes, it’s a simple typo that kills your chances of getting a job. After all, who’s going to want to hire a “detail-oreinted” professional with typos? Before you hit send, review your application for mistakes. Then, check it again. Then, have your best friend proofread it. Fifty-eight percent of HR professionals said they’ll pass on candidates who make spelling errors or grammatical mistakes in their resume or cover letter, a CareerBuilder survey found.
“Have an impeccable resume without any errors,” Salemi advised.
6. You didn’t follow the directions
Every employer has their quirks. Some want a cover letter. Some don’t. (And some want that cover letter as an attachment to your email.) Furthermore, some want you to only apply using their online system. Some don’t want to receive phone calls from applicants. Some want you to include a specific word or phrase in the subject line of your email, just so they can see you were paying attention.
As baffling as these requirements might sometimes be, as a job seeker it pays to follow them to the letter. Ignore an employer’s instructions on how to apply, and chances are your resume will go straight to trash. If you can’t manage to comply with simple guidelines in a job ad, a hiring manager will naturally conclude you won’t be too good at following directions on the job either.
7. You’re not networking
Searching job boards and filling out online applications should be just one part of your job search strategy. You should also tap your network to find out about opportunities and score face-to-face interviews.
“Effective professional networking is critical to securing interviews. I believe the majority of interviews are secured by someone in your network, directly or indirectly,” Beal said.
Beal suggests job hunters, especially recent grads who might not have an extensive professional network, leverage their existing connections, including family, friends, professors, and internship supervisors. Attending professional events in your city, taking advantage of your college’s career center, volunteering, and scheduling informational interviews can also open doors. Building relationships with recruiters in your industry also helps, Salemi said. If you stay on their radar, they might think of you the next time a position opens up.
“When being proactive, every conversation, informational interview, and connection will lead to potential job opportunities,” Beal advised.
8. Your personal brand is weak
These days, all it takes is a few clicks for an employer to see who you really are. What they find might not be pretty. Sloppy social media profiles — or not having an online presence at all — could turn off potential employers. Scrubbing Instagram of drunken bachelorette party shots is just the first step. You should also create a strong personal brand that shows employers why you’re a star they’d want to hire.
“If you are pursuing a career in fashion, you should be producing fashion-related content and thought leadership on a regular basis across platforms ranging from Twitter to LinkedIn,” Beal advised. “While doing that, you should avoid content that negatively impacts your personal brand. Potential employers will take the time to view your brand channels and they want to see content that is relevant to what they do.”
9. You didn’t move fast enough
You know you’re not the only person out there looking for a job. But do really have an idea of what you’re up against? Thousands of people might reply to a single job ad. Overwhelmed hiring managers might prioritize applications that come in first over the stragglers.
“In a perfect world, recruiters are supposed to evaluate every single one,” Salemi admitted. “In reality though, and I admit I used to do this, as soon as job seekers applied, that became my first batch. I identified the first eight to 10, conducted phone screens, and sent them along to the hiring manager. The next batch was also the order in which resumes were received. So, as soon as a job alert from Monster lands in your in-box, apply that same day. If you snooze, you can really lose.”
10. There is no good reason
We know you don’t want hear it, but sometimes the reason employers are ignoring you is just bad luck. “I’m a former corporate recruiter, and in many, many instances circumstances it had nothing to do with actual candidates,” Salemi said.
With thousands of applicants, sometime good candidates get lost in the shuffle. Companies might also decide to make an internal hire or put hiring on hold, she explained. “Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with you,” she said.