Everyone knows the process. You want a new job, you spend time perfecting your CV, you craft compelling cover letters, and you apply for anything that fits your criteria. And then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Until, eventually, you realise that you’ve waited long enough. And worse than just being not interested, your potential employer was so uninterested you didn’t even get a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’.
There seems to be two types of jobs these days: the jobs nobody wants and the jobs everybody wants. So when a recruiter receives 250 applications, they’re probably stressed enough trying to sort through them and find the people they want to proceed to the next stage with. They barely have the time to regret not getting back to you, let alone to actually drop you an email so you can stop hoping for a call.
But that doesn’t help you out. You need feedback. You need to know why they thought you weren’t a good fit for the role. You need to know what you did wrong so you don’t do it again.
So here are a few that may be limiting your chances. Addressing them may be the first step to your new job.
You can’t follow basic instructions.
Maybe I’m being too hasty. Maybe it’s not that you can’t follow basic instructions, just that on this most crucial of occasions, you didn’t. The job ad asked for a CV – but you didn’t provide one. The job ad asked for a cover letter – but you didn’t write one. The job ad asked for samples of your work – but you failed to include any in your application.
You may very well be the perfect person for the job. But if the very first impression you leave is of someone who can’t even get the little things right, then you’ll never have the chance to demonstrate it.
You didn’t have enough – or any – keywords in your CV.
As much as I hate it, software is used to sort through CVs to separate the wheat from the chaff. And if yours doesn’t have the required keywords, it won’t make the shortlist.
To avoid this, identify the keywords that are in the job ad and make sure to include them in your CV and application letter. But not just to beat the software. You need to make sure their inclusion makes sense and is relevant because even if you make it past the CV scanning software, you still have to impress the real life person who will also eventually read the words.
You didn’t sell your abilities well – or at all.
I’ve written plenty of short biographies so I hear this all the time: ‘Wow, you’ve made me sound fantastic!’ To which I frequently have to respond: ‘You are fantastic. I can just articulate that fact better than you.’ It is an almost universal curse that most people who have terrific skills are terrible at telling anyone about them without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed or like they are being arrogant. (And, conversely, most people who have no skills are terrific at pretending they do.)
But this is no time for modesty. You need to be confident and you need self-belief. When it comes to applying for a job, you need to be your own biggest fan. There’s certainly no one else better positioned than you to know exactly what you are good at and to provide examples of why. Go on, toot your own horn. A little conviction in yourself and your abilities goes a long way.
You didn’t stand out from the 250 other applicants who applied.
Landing a job isn’t just about being able to do it, it’s about being able to do it better than those 250 other people who also applied for it. Your CV and your cover letter should draw a recruiter’s attention and stick in their memory – for the right reasons, of course.
Whether it’s as simple as including a professional head shot in your CV, investing an hour in learning more about the company you want to work for and using your research to truly customise your application, or something a little more time consuming like setting up an online portfolio of your work and including a link, you just need to set yourself apart from and above the crowd of people who want the job, too.
You have no experience doing the exact job you applied for.
I’m in this boat myself. I spent six-and-a-half years in a very specific role and am now consulting in the same area (sales with a crucial writing and editing focus) but it’s not what I want to be doing in the long term. Most of the people and organisations advertising jobs I am wanting to do in the long term are looking for straight out writing and editing experience. I think my experience is more valuable than someone with only writing and editing experience can offer, but it’s up to me to demonstrate the relevance and transferability of my skills.
However, this is an era of employers who want employees who already know how to do the exact job they are advertising. They don’t want to have to conduct months of training. They want a new employee who will land on their feet and begin contributing straight away. There may not be much you can do if this is the reason your application didn’t go any further.
Your application shows you don’t have the skills you claim to have.
There is no point telling a lie on your job application if the job application itself shows it to be a lie almost immediately. I’ve seen plenty of CVs that claim advanced Microsoft Word skills but it only takes one little click of the Show/Hide button to be able to see that the CV itself is a big old mess full of tabs and hard returns, thus proving the candidate at best an exaggerator and at worst a liar.
If you don’t have the skills the employer needs, then you won’t be able to do the job anyway. So either take it off your CV and stop applying for jobs that need it or spend a little time (or a lot of time) learning the skill you want to be able to claim. YouTube is a virtual library of how-to clips these days and most manuals are in electronic form on the internet – if you can’t find a tutorial or instructions online, then it either isn’t a skill worth having or it’s a skill that requires an education institution.
You have no online presence.
This is the age of social networking. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile at the very least, people start to wonder what you might be hiding (your complete lack of social media skills or just computer skills in general, perhaps?). Your privacy might be valuable but so is a professional online profile.
You have too much online presence.
Just as no online presence can have a recruiter asking detrimental questions, so can too much, especially if that online presence shows you in a less than flattering light. So follow these basic rules: no nudity, no criminal or immoral activities, no trolling, no rude language. Or if you want to continue your bad behaviour then, for Pete’s sake, make sure your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/[insert other relevant social media platform here] privacy settings are harder to get through than a Salman Rushdie novel.
You don’t have a personal connection to the business you are applying to work at.
Complain, whinge, yes, you’re right, it’s not fair to require a personal connection and it certainly wasn’t listed in the job ad’s prerequisites. But it’s often the way business is done, even recruitment.
When Jill was starting her insurance brokerage business, she didn’t even bother with an advertisement to find her 2IC. ‘I headhunted a former colleague I had worked well with previously and trusted implicitly.’ A friend I asked for interview tips (when I applied a few months ago – unsuccessfully – to work at an organisation he had previously worked for) confessed sheepishly, ‘I couldn’t say. I was hired by a friend without an interview.’ And I’ve worked with the husbands, wives, sons and daughters of colleagues who managed to get their family member an introduction when their CV alone might not have gotten them anywhere.
We can’t all be lucky enough to already have a personal connection. But you can work on developing them in both the short and long term. In the short term, the best way to develop a personal connection is to call and discuss the role before you send your application in. We see it often in the job ad – ‘Call for a confidential discussion’ – but how often do you do it? Recruiters are more likely to remember you and look out for your application if you’ve phoned to introduce yourself and find out a bit more about the role.
In the longer term, take advantage of the fact that you know lots of people. Show an interest in what your friends, family and acquaintances do and where they do it. And one day you might be lucky enough to come across an ad for a job at an organisation where who you know could be as important as what you know.
*First published on LinkedIn 6 October 2014