After reading the tremendous response to Why You Didn’t Get the Job (a sincere thanks to those that read and shared the post) I realized that many of the reasons referenced were specific to mistakes candidates make during interviews. At least a handful of readers told me that they didn’t get the job because they didn’t even get the interview.
With a down economy, most of us have heard accounts of a job seeker sending out 100, 200, perhaps 300 résumés without getting even one response. These anecdotes are often received by sympathetic ears who commiserate and then share their personal stories of a failed job search. To anyone who has sent out large quantities of résumés without any response or interviews, I offer this advice:
The complete lack of response is not due to the economy. The lack of response is based on your résumé, your experience, or your résumé submission itself.
My intent here is to help and certainly not to offend, so if you are one of these people that has had a hard time finding new work, please view this as free advice mixed with a touch of tough love. I have read far too many comments lately from struggling job seekers casting blame for their lack of success in the search (“it wasn’t a real job posting”, “the manager wasn’t a good judge of talent“, etc.), but now it’s time to take a look inward on how you can maximize your success. I spoke to a person recently who had sent out over 100 résumés without getting more than two interviews, and I quickly discovered that the reasons for the failure were quite obvious to the trained eye (mine). The economy isn’t great, but there are candidates being interviewed for the jobs you are applying for (most of them anyway), and it’s time to figure out why that interview isn’t being given to you.
If you apply for a job and don’t receive a response, there are only a few possibilities as to why that are within our control (please note the emphasis before commenting). Generally the problem is
- a mistake made during the résumé submission itself,
- problems with the résumé, or
- your experience.
Qualified candidates that pay attention to these tips will see better results from their search efforts.
Your Résumé Submission
Résumés to jobs@blackholeofdeath – The problem here isn’t that your résumé or application was flawed, it’s just that nobody has read it. Sending to hr@ or jobs@ addresses is never ideal, and your résumé may be funneled to a scoring system that scans it for certain buzzwords and rates it based on the absence, presence and frequency of these words. HRbot apocalypse…
Solution – Do some research to see if you know anyone who works/worked at the company, even a friend of a friend, to submit the résumé. Protip: Chances are the internal employee may even get a referral bonus. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for this. Working with an agency recruiter will also help here, as recruiters are typically sending your information directly to internal HR or hiring managers.
Follow instructions – If the job posting asks that you send a cover letter, résumé, and salary requirements, this request serves two purposes. First and most obviously, they actually want to see how well you write (cover letter), your experience (résumé), and the price tag (salary requirements). Second, they want to see if you are able and willing to follow instructions. Perhaps that is why the ad requested the documents in a specific format? Some companies are now consciously making the application process even a bit more complicated, which serves as both a test of your attention to detail and to gauge whether applicants are interested enough to take an extra step. Making it more difficult for candidates to apply should yield a qualified and engaged candidate pool, which is the desired result.
Solution – Carefully read what the manager/recruiter is seeking and be sure to follow the directions exactly. Have a friend review your application before hitting send.
Spelling and grammar – Spelling errors are inexcusable on a résumé today. Grammar is given much more leeway, but frequent grammatical errors are a killer.
Solution – Have a friend or colleague read it for you, as it is much more difficult to edit your own material (trust me).
Price tag – As you would expect, if you provide a salary requirement that is well above the listed (or unlisted) range, you will not get a response. Conversely and counterintuitively, if you provide a salary requirement that is well below the range, you will also not get a response. Huh?
Suppose you want to hire someone to put in a new kitchen, and you get three estimates. The first is 25K, the second is 20K, and the third is 2K. Which one are you going to choose? It’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to use the one that quoted you 2K. Companies want to hire candidates that are aware of market value and priced accordingly, and anyone asking for amounts well above market will not get any attention.
Solution – Research the going rate for the job and be sure to manage your expectations based on market conditions. Another strategy is trying to delay providing salary information until mutual interest is established. If the company falls in love, the compensation expectation might hurt less. There is some risk of wasting time in interviews if you do not provide information early in the process, and most companies today will require the information before agreeing to an interview.
Canned application – By ‘canned’ I am referring to job seekers that are obviously cutting and pasting content from previous cover letters instead of taking the time to try and personalize the content.
Solution – Go to the hiring firm’s website and find something specific and unique that makes you want to work for that company. Include that information in your submission. If you are using a template and just filling in the blanks (“I read your job posting on _____ and I am really excited to learn that your company _____ is hiring a ______”), delete the template now. If you aren’t willing to invest even a few minutes into the application process, why should the company invest any time learning about you?
Too eager – If I receive a résumé submission for a job posting and then get a second email from that candidate within 24 hours asking about the submission, I can be fairly sure that this is an omen. If I get a call on my mobile immediately after receiving the application ‘just to make sure it came through‘, you might as well just have the Psycho music playing in the background. Even if this candidate is qualified, there will probably be lots of hand-holding and coaching required to get this person hired. Reasonably qualified candidates with realistic expectations and an understanding of business acumen don’t make this mistake.
Solution – Have patience while waiting for a response to your résumé, and be sure to give someone at least a couple/few days to respond. If you are clearly qualified for a position, you will get a reply when your résumé hits the right desk. Pestering or questioning the ability of those that are processing your application is a guarantee that you will not be called in.
Your objective – If your objective states “Seeking a position as a Python developer in a stable corporate environment“, don’t expect a callback from the start-up company looking for a Ruby developer. This applies even if you are qualified for the job! Why doesn’t the company want to talk to you if you are qualified? Because you clearly stated that you wanted to do something else. If you put in writing that you are seeking a specific job, that information must closely resemble the job to which you are applying.
Solution - You may choose to have multiple copies of your résumé with multiple objectives, so you can customize the résumé to the job (just be sure to remember which one you used so you bring the correct résumé to the interview!). As there may be a range of positions you are both qualified and willing to take, using a ‘Profile’ section that summarizes your skills instead of an ‘Objective’ is a safer alternative.
Spelling and grammar (again) – see above
tl;dr – To any non-geek readers, this means ‘too long; didn’t read‘. To my geek readers, many of you are guilty of this. I’ve written about this over and over again, but I still get seven page résumés from candidates. I have witnessed hiring managers respond to long-winded résumés with such gems as ‘if her résumé is this long, imagine how verbose her code will be‘. (Even for non-Java candidates! #rimshot) Hiring managers for jobs that require writing skills or even verbal communication can be extremely critical of tl;dr résumés.
Solution – Keep it to two or three pages maximum. If you can’t handle that, get professional help.
Buzzword bingo – This is a term that industry insiders use to refer to résumés that include a laundry list of acronyms and buzzwords. The goal is to either catch the eye of an automated search robot (or human) designed to rate résumés based on certain words, or to insinuate that the candidate actually has all the listed skills. Software engineers are probably more guilty of this than other professionals, as the inclusion of one particular skill can sometimes make the difference between your document being viewed by an actual human or not. When candidates list far too many skills buzzwords than would be reasonably possible for one person to actually know, you can be sure the recruiter or manager will pass based on credibility concerns.
Solution – I advise candidates to limit the buzzwords on your résumé to technologies, tools, or concepts that you could discuss in an intelligent conversation. If you would not be comfortable answering questions about it in an interview, leave it off.
Gaping holes – If you have had one or more extended period of unemployment, hiring managers and recruiters may simply decide to pass on you instead of asking about the reasons why. Perhaps you took a sabbatical, went back to school full-time, or left on maternity leave. Don’t assume that managers are going to play detective and figure out that the years associated with your Master’s degree correspond to the two year gap in employment.
Solution – Explain and justify any periods of unemployment on your résumé with as much clarity as possible without going into too many personal details. Mentioning family leave is appropriate, but providing the medical diagnosis of your sick relative is not.
Job hopping – Some managers are very wary of candidates that have multiple employers over short periods of time. In the software world it tends to be common to make moves a bit more frequently than in some other professions, but there comes a point where it’s one move too many and you may be viewed as a job hopper. The fear of hiring a job hopper has several roots. A manager may feel you are a low performer, a mercenary that always goes to the highest bidder, or that you may get bored after a short time and seek a new challenge. Companies are unwilling to invest in hires that appear to be temporary.
Solution – If the moves were the result of mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, or a change in company direction, be sure to note these conditions somewhere in the résumé. Never use what could be viewed as potential derogatory information in the explanation. Clearly list if certain jobs were project/contract.
Listed experience is irrelevant/unrelated – This could be a symptom of simply being unqualified for the position, or it could be tied to an inability to detail what you actually do that is relevant to the listed job requirements. I would suspect that most of the aforementioned people (that received no responses to 100 submission) probably fall into the unqualified category, as job seekers tend to feel overconfident about being a fit for a wider range of positions than is realistic. Companies expect a very close fit during a buyer’s market, and are willing to open up their hiring standards a bit when the playing field starts to level.
Solution – Be sure to elaborate on all elements of your job that closely resemble the responsibilities listed in the posting. Instead of wasting time filling out applications for jobs that are clearly well out of reach, spend that time researching jobs that are a better match for you.
You are overqualified – The term ‘overqualified’ seems to be overused by rejected applicants today, as there is no real stigma to the term. It’s entirely comfortable for a candidate to say/think “I didn’t get the job because I possess more skills at a higher level than the employer was seeking“. When a company is seeking an intermediate level engineer, it isn’t always because they want someone earlier in their career than a senior level engineer (although in some cases this could be true). Rather, they want the intermediate level engineer because that is what their budget dictates or they expect that senior engineers would not be challenged by the role (and therefore would leave). There are also situations where companies will not want to hire you because your experience is indicative that you will only be taking this job until something better comes along. A CEO applying for a job as a toll collector will not be taken seriously.
Solution – Be sure that your résumé accurately represents your level of skill and experience. Inflating your credentials or job titles will always work against you.
The time you spend on your job search is valuable, so be sure to use it wisely. Invest additional effort on applications for jobs that you feel are a great fit, and go above and beyond to be sure your submission gets attention. As a general rule of thumb, you want to be sure that whoever receives your résumé will get it into the hands of someone who has a similar job to the one you want, not just someone trained to look for buzzwords. Employees that have similar experience will be the best judges of your fit. If you aren’t getting the response you want, do not keep using the same methods and expecting a different result.