Updated: Jun 19
You’ve spruced up your résumé. You’ve updated your LinkedIn. You’ve sent in a couple dozen applications for jobs you know you’d be great at. Your efforts are going unrewarded, though—cover letters disappearing into a wormhole, no acknowledgement, no feedback… and definitely no interviews.
How the heck are you supposed to get a foot in the door?
Below are half a dozen possible reasons why your efforts are not getting the attention they deserve. If any of these sound like you, there are steps you can take to help your applications stand out a little more.
Your résumé looks like an HR document. Let’s face it, no one has ever liked writing HR documents, and no one really likes reading them. So don’t write an HR document! Make it a brochure. A great résumé is more of a marketing document than anything else—it gives prospective employers a clear and compelling sense of your skills, talents, personality and goals. We strongly advise outsourcing this effort. It truly isn’t worth the amount of time it takes to craft a solid resume that gets attention.
You’re relying on applying online. I know, I know: it seems like the only option. And occasionally it is. But, real talk: fewer than 10% of the jobs I filled as a recruiter came from a candidate that applied online. Smart applicants think bigger than this! My recommendation is to turn online application into a mindless action with a solidly crafted résumé that you can easily tailor in 10 minutes or less. And to focus on more productive pathways to interviews: primarily, your social network, and executive recruiters.
You’re afraid of asking your friends for help. This is particularly relevant for those who grew up in North America. North American culture has always prized self-reliance, and one of the manifestations of that is a collective dread of “asking for help.” We are afraid that if we admit we’re unemployed or unhappy at work, we’ll seem pathetic, or that our friends will resent us for burdening them with requests for favors. We need to get over it! This is called networking, and it is the single most common way people get jobs. By a mile. If you’re on the hunt for a new role, spread the word. You won’t upset people—and if you do, that’s on them. Which they will figure out when they are the one who needs a favor and you’re in a position to lend a hand.
You ignore the thousands of executive recruiters who place in your space. You don’t know how to find them, or if you do, you have no idea how to approach them, what to say, how to position yourself, so you shy away. (Do you even know the difference between an in-house recruiter and an executive recruiter? They’re very different beasts!) Most hard-to-fill and management roles are sourced through executive recruiters. If you want to get interviews, accept requests to connect from recruiters! You can’t really afford to ignore them.
You don’t prepare for 10-minute screening calls. Maybe once in a while you at least get a ten minute screening call. But somehow you get screened out. Is it possibly because you don’t bother to prepare for those? Be honest with yourself for a second: when you wing it, do you stumble over questions you didn’t expect? Do you ramble? Do you freeze up? Do you say weird stuff when you’re nervous? Many of us do! So you might as well take these initial screens seriously. Learn how to communicate on the fly in a thoughtful, deliberate way. Get prepared for spontaneous conversations. Learn simple tricks to hold a simple conversation with anyone, like the CEO of the company that just happens to walk into the elevator with you. Use your job search to improve your overall strategic communication acumen.
You stop searching for a job. So, you like your job. You’re stable, happy, and not looking. All good, and no one blames you for not peacocking for recruiters if you’re in that situation. But… what if your company crumbles? What if you suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of a layoff? In the era of “move fast and break things,” really, really smart professionals keep an ear to the ground and think about where their skills can be utilized, even when they are happy where they are. Always be reaching for the next and getting yourself prepared for that next role. Then, when an opportunity comes around (or you’re forced back into job seeker mode by forces beyond your control), you’ve made it happen, and you’re ready.