You’ve submitted dozens of applications without getting a single interview, and frustration is setting in. You’re starting to wonder if there’s some sneaky filter on your computer that deletes applications before they reach their destination. In reality, though, the problem is most likely with your applications. And that’s good news, because it means you can fix it. Here are eight of the most common reasons applications fail and what you can do about it.
1. "So what?"
You may be qualified, but so are the hundred other people who applied. This is especially common for entry-level positions in which none of the applicants are likely to have much on-the-job experience. If your application is no different than anyone else’s, the recruiter might as well pull a name out of the proverbial hat.
The solution is to make yourself stand out. If you’re submitting an application via email, use the body of the email to introduce yourself and summarize your skills. If you’re filling out an online application, take advantage of any field that allows you to add your own comments.
2. Your application doesn’t match your resume.
It may be nothing more than an innocent mistake, but recruiters take notice when there are contradictions between your resume and your application. They see red flags, for instance, when dates on your resume are different from the dates on your application. They may wonder if you’re making things up and couldn’t keep the details straight.
The solution is to make sure your resume is 100-percent accurate and up-to-date; then use your resume to fill out the application. Pretend you’re filling out someone else’s application and can’t work from memory, so you have to look at the resume for every field of the application. That will guarantee consistency between the two.
3. You apply for multiple, unrelated jobs with the same company.
When recruiters start seeing the same name on lots of different job applications, they think you’re just throwing darts at the wall hoping something will stick. It’s the “jack of all trades, master of none” cliché. If you show no discrimination in the type of job you apply for, recruiters will assume you’re not qualified for any of them and will eventually disregard your applications altogether.
The solution is to only apply to jobs for which you’re qualified. While it can be tempting to just take any job – especially if you have your heart set on working for a company – doing so undermines your credibility. You’ll have much more success if you stick to applying for jobs that match your skills and abilities.
4. You work for the wrong company.
It may not be fair, but previous applicants from your current employer may have left the recruiter with a bad impression. If they’ve conducted a number of pointless interviews with people from your company, they may be reluctant to do any more.
If you know that your company has a less-than-stellar reputation, your job is to convince them that interviewing you wouldn’t be a waste of time. Take care to make your application stand out, and try to focus on your personal qualities – your character and core competences – rather than relying on the reputation of your employer.
5. The recruiter thinks you live too far away.
Many employers won’t pay relocation costs for an entry-level job, so your application may be put aside because the recruiter assumes you live too far away. That assumption can even come into play if you live in a large city with notoriously congested traffic, where recruiters may assume you don’t want to spend a couple of hours commuting every day.
The solution is two-fold. If you’re local, make sure the recruiter knows it. Be specific about where you live and how you’ll get to work. If you’re not local, indicate whether you’re willing to relocate at your own expense. If you already have plans to relocate to that area – a spouse’s job, for instance – be sure to mention that, too.
6. An automated screening program ate your resume.
Many companies use screening apps that search for certain keywords, and only resumes that have the right number or combination of keywords get through. So even if you’re qualified, your application may never be seen by a real person.
The are a couple of solutions to resume-eating screening programs. The first is to use any buzzwords that are included in the job posting – or that are used for different listings for the same kind of job. It’s like SEO for a resume – the more key words you use, the higher your ranking will be.
Another solution is to avoid the automated system all together. Search through your contacts to see if you know anybody who works at the company, and ask them to hand-deliver your resume. If you know the name of the hiring manager, you can go to LinkedIn to see if you have any contacts in common. Even if you don’t have a direct connection, you may have second- or third-tier contacts who can facilitate an introduction.
7. You didn’t follow directions.
It’s just common sense that recruiters aren’t going to bother interviewing applicants who can’t follow simple directions.
The solution is simple: Provide whatever the posting requests, no matter how silly it seems. Some recruiters intentionally include seemingly irrelevant instructions – like a specific word to include in the subject line of an email – just to weed out applications who don’t pay attention to detail.
8. Your objective makes you a poor match.
Objectives are risky. If your resume includes an objective that describes a certain type of job, you’re not going to get called to interview for other jobs, even if you’re qualified. Recruiters aren’t going to invest time in someone who flatly stated they want to do something else.
Again, the solution is simple: either don’t include an objective on your resume, or customize the objective for each job by using words and phrases from the job posting.
Yes, the economy may still be struggling, and the unemployment rate may still be high. But you can’t control those factors. You can control your application, and taking the time to do so can make the difference between getting the call and sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.