Are you concerned your job applications keep landing in the reject pile? Unless you’re able to make a great first impression, employers aren’t going to be interested in inviting you to an interview. 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.
Don’t fear, to improve your chances, there are certain mistakes you can avoid. Understanding why your job applications keep failing is an important step to reaching a job offer.
Here are ten reasons why you might be struggling, and what you should do to turn around your job search:
1. You’re underqualified
This isn’t the impression you want to give your prospective employer.
The biggest and most straightforward reason why you would be turned down for a job is simply that you aren’t qualified for it, whether in terms of grades, skills, experience or temperament. This is particularly likely when you’re first entering the job market and haven’t yet got a picture of the requirements of a particular job, or needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to get experience. And it feels particularly unfair when it’s a job you know you could do easily, but you have no way of proving that that’s the case.
Solution: There are two ways of dealing with this problem.
- First of all, ask yourself if you really do think you’re capable of doing the job. For example, applying to work in a clothes shop even though you think fashion is pointless or a tutoring job even though you dislike children is probably not going to end well. If a job requires experience, then you really do need at least some experience.
- If you’re sure that you can do the job, then it’s time to look at how you can persuade your prospective employer of that. Sometimes you will encounter outlandish experience requirements (e.g. four years’ experience for a standard accounting job; it’s probably worth applying if you have more than a year’s experience). So if you’re asked when you’ve used leadership skills – a classic job interview question – think about captaining your sports team, or coordinating a group project at school, rather than giving up and saying you’ve never done that.
- If you really can’t think of any way that you fit a particular criterion, then try to make a virtue out of it. “While I have no experience of managing a team, I enjoy working with people and finding the strengths of a group. I am a quick learner and have gained other leadership skills, such as public speaking and clear communication, which I would be able to bring to this role” is a much better answer than “no management experience, sorry.”
2. You’re overqualified
It’s depressing that there are some jobs for which having a good degree is a disadvantage.
Of all the reasons to be turned down for a job – particularly in light of reason number one – this seems like the most unfair. It’s not that you weren’t good enough for the job; it’s that you were too good for it. It’s particularly infuriating when you’re looking for a job in a very competitive field, where you are overqualified for entry-level jobs but there are many more people who are more qualified than you competing for the next level up. It can be even harder when you’re trying to get something like a fresh graduate job, leading many applicants to dumb down their CVs.
The reason employers do not usually hire overqualified applicants is that people who are very bright or very academic can get bored more easily in jobs that aren’t intellectually stimulating, and therefore not perform to the best of their ability. Also, even if the job is initially only temporary, the employer might prefer to hire someone less well-qualified who might end up staying on (and not going off to university for further studies or seeking out a better job as soon as possible) in order that all their training doesn’t go to waste.
Solution: But this irritating state of affairs can also be overcome.
- Thankfully, in a lot of areas there are jobs available that are better suited to the bright and academic. Instead of applying for no experience jobs that all fresh graduates are swaming up for, consider jobs within your skillset set and experience. For example; if you have worked for at least two years, look for jobs that require such experience and the odds will be in your favor. These are the kinds of jobs where your qualifications will be valued – and they’re usually better paid as well.
- Finally, if you’re well aware of how overqualified you are, do your best not to let it show in your covering letter or interview. Turning up and giving the impression that you think you’re too good for the job – especially if it seems like you think you’re better than the person interviewing you – is seldom going to lead to success, no matter how well you could perform the role required of you.
3. You didn’t seem interested in the job
If you’re going to be bored and on your phone all the time at work, they might as well have hired someone less qualified but more committed. This is the kind of feedback you’re unlikely ever to hear, but it can be a major contributor to not getting a job. It can go hand-in-hand with being overqualified, it might be that you’ve given the impression of caring more about getting any old job than the specific one you’ve applied for.
Fixing this begins with your covering letter. Many people make the mistake of writing a covering letter that is all about why they are suitable for the role, matching up their experience to the person specification in the job description and so on – and this content is certainly valuable. However, it makes a world of difference to show enthusiasm for a particular job and a particular company as well. Consider the following:
“I am an experienced waitress, having worked in three different cafés over the past five years, so I have all the necessary skills to work at Sue’s Cake Emporium.”
“I am an experienced waitress, having worked in three different cafés over the past five years. This experience has taught me how much I value a food service environment where the quality of food served is the ultimate priority, which is one of the things that really appeals to me about Sue’s Cake Emporium.”
It makes sense that Sue is much more likely to be pleased with the second letter than the first.
The same is true when you get to the interview stage. Researching the job thoroughly helps – so that you know enough about the role and the company to enthuse about them. You can answer interview questions in the same way; don’t just explain that you have the experience or skills necessary, but that you are enthusiastic about the possibility of using them in the new job if you were to be offered it.
4. Your CV is too long
Hiring managers have a limited time to read through each job application and often scan each application to decide whether to shortlist a candidate for an interview. The information on your CV should be clear, concise, relevant and easily digestible – otherwise, they may just move on to the next application.
- When writing an effective CV, it should be no longer than two or three pages, including only salient details that are relevant to the job description.
5. Your application has no spark.
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.
- You have 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.
- Also importantly, the presentation of your resume and cover letter matters alot. You can consider utilising some of the modern resume templates on the internet just to stand out. Get alittle creative with your application presentation and you may increase your odds. This is discussed further below.
6. You submit a generic cover letter
If you’ve made no effort to tailor your cover letter to the job application in question, why should any hiring manager bother to read it? This is an opportunity to market yourself and bring to light the salient information in your CV.
- It’s crucial that your cover letter relates to why your skills and experiences on your CV are similar to the job description as well as how you can add value. Four short paragraphs should be sufficient length to get your point across.
7. Your CV isn’t job-specific
There is a common misconception that your CV can remain the same while only tailoring a cover letter. Every job requires various skills, and while one job may be looking for a specific skill, another may look for another.
- Always endeavor to read through the job description for each listing carefully, cross-referencing what is being asked for, and what skills you can provide. Clearly indicate the relevant skills in your previous work experience.
8. Your documents include errors
Spelling, grammar and formatting errors are unforgivable, full stop. Give yourself time to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s – if you’ve failed to do so, this may be one reason why your job applications keep failing.
- Take the time to proofread your CV, otherwise, it suggests you are lazy or simply a low-caliber candidate. If you need help checking for errors, have a friend or family member review your cover letter and CV before you click ‘send’ or put your application in the post.
9. You miss the deadline
It goes without saying that if you miss the deadline for submitting your CV, you can’t expect the hiring manager to consider your application. If you can’t manage your time, then it suggests you may have poor time management skills. If you struggle to meet this deadline, who’s to say how many other deadlines you might miss after you have been employed.
- For you not to miss important deadlines, it is essential for you to routinely refresh your email inbox. You can also set up occasional reminders for important job applications. Fresher Jobs Uganda sends out daily email job updates to its subscribers. Therefore, in order for you not to miss out on any new job listings, consider subscribing to our email list to receive daily reminders.
10. Not following directions exactly.
Job applications are not the place to get creative! Often a recruiter will write application directions with the very purpose of seeing which applicants can follow them to the letter. Be sure to read the instructions very carefully and tailor your response — including your resume and cover letter — specifically to the job for which you are applying. Even a small error could put you out of the running. 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. If the employer requests you to apply using a physical address, do not act sharp by asking for an email address. If they wanted to receive a tonne of emails, they would have added their email address to the application process.
So why don’t employers follow up with unsuccessful candidates?
There are many reasons why employers don’t contact job seekers, such as:
- They don’t have time. Employers are busy. Contacting every candidate and providing thoughtful feedback takes time. Consider that an employer may have had multiple positions to fill and on average there are more than a dozen applicants per position.
- They didn’t think you really wanted the job. If you send the same résumé and cover letter to different employers or if the application is full of typos, chances are you won’t hear back from any of them. They’ll assume you didn’t put much effort into the application because you just aren’t interested in them or their job.
- They don’t have to. You might feel like you are entitled to response but employers are under no obligation to let you know the outcome of their recruitment.
The bottom line: be absolutely certain that you are following the instructions and paying attention to the details when submitting your job application to avoid common errors. After that, the rest is out of your hands.
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Do you have other words of advice for job applicants? we would love to hear other surprising mistakes applicants make in the comments below.