Ask HR: What’s Wrong with My Resume?

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Q I’ve been applying for jobs for weeks now, and not a single application has advanced to an interview. What’s wrong with my resume that I can’t get any attention on my applications?

– Anonymous

Without knowing more about exactly what your resume contains, what your experience demonstrates, and what jobs you’re applying to, it’s not possible to give specific advice. However, here are some of the most common reasons applications may be passed over:

1. Internal Applicants

This is absolutely the foremost reason job applications will move to the “not successful” bucket. One of the best ways to improve employee retention is to have a strong policy of promoting from within and giving internal candidates priority among other applicants for a position.

Unfortunately, for external candidates, there isn’t much you can do to come out stronger when this is a factor in your unsuccessful application. That said, I’d recommend you keep this employer on your radar for future consideration, as they are clearly demonstrating a behavior that makes them a fantastic organization to work for.

2. Pure Numbers

Some jobs attract a lot of attention from applicants. Especially for entry-level roles, you might be one among thousands of applicants for a single opening. When you’re competing against that many people for attention, your chances for success as a matter of statistics is greatly reduced.

In this case, you can improve your luck by applying early – it’s human nature to pay more attention to the first items in a series rather than those that come along later, so recruiters are more likely to review a higher percentage of early applications than later ones. If you’re really interested in joining a particular company in a role that attracts a lot of applicants, then sign up for new opportunity notifications from their career boards so you’ll know as soon as openings you’re suited to are posted.

3. Job/Applicant Mismatch

It’s incredibly common for applicants to apply to jobs they simply aren’t a strong match for. Especially if you’re in the position of being unemployed and looking for work, it’s easy to fall into the trap of applying to every opening you can find.

If you aren’t targeting your applications to roles you have the education, experience, and skills to suit, then that would be the first step in addressing this factor. Use the options available on job boards to narrow your searches to specific areas of business, levels of experience, and other details that will more closely match your own. Applying for jobs that are a better match will definitely increase your chances of landing an interview and your next role.

It could also be that your resume doesn’t truly reflect your knowledge, skills, and experience. In this case, you’d want to use your resume to highlight projects you’ve worked on, situations you’ve handled, and other accomplishments you’ve made to better communicate what you can bring to the table than a simple list of duties will typically do.

4. The Current Market

When the employment market favors employers over applicants, it is simply tougher for an application to be successful – companies have their pick of fantastic candidates without having to put in much effort. You’re competing against strong talent, and you really need to be the top of the pack to stand out.

Signs that the market is leaning towards employer advantage, rather than that of candidates, include high unemployment rates, low numbers of unfilled positions, and large groups of qualified applicants entering the market. Unemployment rates are highly economically-driven, and it can be difficult to predict sudden swings, like we’re currently experiencing with the 2020 pandemic. Unfilled position numbers are also economically-driven and frequently tied to unemployment rates – when there are many people looking for work, employers won’t go long with openings left unfilled, and when the economy contracts, employers are less likely to create new jobs or backfill positions left by departing employees.

Large groups of qualified applicants entering the market can be related to the previous two factors, but there is definitely a seasonal trend you can predict for this one. Late spring, when college graduates are looking to line up their first jobs, is one of the worst times (competitively) to start a job search. Summer can also be a struggle, as those college graduates that took a little break start job-hunting and other students are seeking employment for the summer. If you can time your job search to start in the fall, you’ll be less likely to compete against these large groups of candidates entering the market.

At this point, you may have started to think that I tend to believe a lot of application success comes down to luck – and you’d be right! There are so many factors beyond the control of an applicant that will determine their success with an application. As with many things in life, timing can be everything, and you often need to fail over and over again before you nail it and get the result you’re looking for.

My biggest piece of advice for those struggling with job applications is not to stress over your resume. Polish it up best you can, and then cross your fingers it works. It’s incredibly stressful looking for a new position, so take time to decompress and release that stress. Set aside days of the week where you don’t apply for jobs or check on application statuses so you can clear your head of any disappointment you may be feeling and prepare for approaching the next round of applications with positivity and hope. Sometimes you may land the perfect job on the first try, and others you’ll spend weeks or months hunting with little to show for it. The most important thing to do is take care of yourself so that when you do line up an interview, you’re in an exciting frame of mind and absolutely shine for that next employer.

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