You’ve done all the right things — written an effective resume and cover letter, mined your contacts for leads, applied to every open position that seems like it could be a remotely good fit. So why are you still yet to land that perfect job?
The problem — and the solution — could be simpler than you think. We've done the research and found the most likely issues and hurdles in your job search, and compiled actionable things you can do today to fix them.
Reasons why you're not getting hired
- Your job search isn't focused enough.
- Your resume or application needs work.
- Your resume isn't getting past Applicant Tracking Systems.
- Recruiters don't think you're a good fit for the role.
- Your application fell through the cracks.
- You haven't told people you're job searching.
- You aren't prepared enough for interviews or phone screens.
- Recruiters don't have a good sense of who you are or what you're looking for.
If you’re applying for jobs but aren't getting interviews
Problem: Your job search isn't focused enough
Hands up if you’ve ever sent out dozens of job applications and not heard back from a single one. If this is where you’re at right now, consider a more focused job search.
Solution: Apply to industry specific job boards
Popular job boards have their place, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of job searching. Sure, Indeed has millions of job listings, but how many of those are actually relevant to the kinds of jobs you’re looking for?
Instead of trying to play the numbers game (and losing), try narrowing down your search instead. Industry-specific job boards will often have plenty of jobs that aren’t aggregated by larger job sites, meaning you may be missing out on a lot of opportunities if your job search is limited to the more popular sites.
With fewer jobs posted, you’ll be spending less time scrolling through the filler to get to the jobs you’re actually interested in — and with fewer people to compete with, you’re looking at a much higher response rate than jobs with hundreds or even thousands of applicants.
Fix It: Examples of niche job boards are Stack Overflow for software development jobs or Upwork for freelance jobs — or just search Google for 'your industry job board'. You can also read more about the best job sites to post your resume (and how to find them).
Problem: Your resume or application needs work
If you’re looking in all the right places but still not having any luck, you may need to take a long, hard look at your resume.
Solution: Focus on specifics
You know you’re qualified. You have the skills, the background, the experience. So why can’t anyone else see it?
The answer: Most hiring managers only spend a few seconds on an initial resume screen. Yep, that’s right — seconds, not minutes! That doesn’t mean it’s a waste to spend hours crafting the perfect resume. What it does mean, however, is that you need to make the most important information stand out in those first few seconds.
Start by highlighting your strongest accomplishments. That could mean listing your most impressive accomplishment first in your bullet points, writing a short blurb underneath your role title, or including a resume summary. Your bullet points themselves should be relevant to the job you’re applying for — the best way to do this is to look at the duties listed in the job description and for each duty, write a bullet point demonstrating how you’ve already achieved it. And don’t forget to quantify your achievements using concrete numbers and metrics — each bullet point should start with an action verb, briefly describe the task or project, and state the result of your actions.
Fix It: Use the format [action verb] + [what you did] + [what the result was]. It may look like a simple formula, but it works! If you think your resume needs a more complete overhaul, check out our guide on writing resume accomplishments (with examples).
Solution: Find and fix all small resume errors
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. Even a tiny error on your resume can be enough to get it automatically rejected. Spelling mistakes, poor formatting, or low readability can all be enough to send your resume straight to the ‘no’ pile.
Sounds harsh? It is. Sometimes it’s for a valid reason, like if you’re applying for a position that requires a high level of attention to detail or excellent written communication skills. Other times, it’s an easy way for recruiters to narrow down an unreasonably large applicant pool.
Fix It: To quickly find (and fix) any issues with your resume, upload it to the tool below — it’ll identify any mistakes and provide suggestions for improvements. This way, you apply secure in the knowledge that your resume is effective and that silly errors haven’t torpedoed your chances of landing that dream job.
Problem: Your resume isn't getting past Applicant Tracking Systems
There are times when a real person will never even see your resume because a small issue caused the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to reject it outright.
Solution: Make sure your resume is ATS-compliant
ATS automatically scan your resume for certain keywords, which means there are two important steps for getting past them:
- Include job-specific keywords on your resume.
- Format your resume in a way that ATS can scan.
For #1, read through the job posting and include the most important skills and background somewhere on your resume. Using a resume title can help with this, especially if you haven't held a similar position before.
For #2, stick to simple, standard formatting in Word or Google Docs. Avoid fancy templates, fonts, and images, and highlight your text to make sure resume scanners can read it.
Fix It: Read our guide on everything you need to know about Applicant Tracking Systems. Alternatively, take a shortcut by downloading an ATS-friendly resume template.
Problem: Recruiters don't think you're a good fit for the role
If you are sending the same resume to every kind of industry or employer, it's likely that it's either too generic or is not targeted to the right job.
Solution: Tailor your resume
Tailoring your resume is one of the single most important things you can do in your job search. If you’ve been relying on volume so far, you should know that a scattershot approach can actually hurt your chances of landing a job — sending out a small handful of targeted resumes is a much better approach than applying en masse to anything that looks vaguely relevant.
What does tailoring your resume mean? To start with, if you have a single generic resume that you’re using to apply to every job you come across, bin it! Instead, take the time to read over the job description, include skills and keywords that recruiters are looking for, and use a resume title to get past ATS if you don’t have a lot of relevant experience.
You don't need a unique resume for every single job you apply to. But have different versions of your resume that are tailored to specific industries, job titles or company sizes.
If you want to find skills and keywords related to the industry or role you’re applying for, use the skills search tool below to get a list of relevant ones.
Problem: You haven't told people you’re job searching
Remember the saying, “if you want something, ask for it”? It isn’t just catchy — it’s also really good advice. Networking is a huge part of job searching, so if nobody knows you’re looking for a job, you might be missing out on a lot of opportunities.
Solution: Ask for a job
If you’re hesitant to rely on your network as part of your job search, don’t be! It isn’t overstepping to announce that you’re looking for a job, or even to reach out directly to people you think may be able to help. Start by asking for recommendations, and if you’re comfortable, reach out to first and second degree contacts in the industry, role, or company you’re targeting.
Fix It: Here are some templates for asking your network for a job to get you started.
Solution: Reach out directly to recruiters
If you’re still not having much luck, why not reach out to other recruiters directly? The best place to find recruiters is on LinkedIn, and it only takes a few minutes to make a connection that could end up leading to your next job. Again, being friendly but direct is key, and don’t forget to personalize it — recruiters are much more likely to respond to a message that looks like you’ve put a little effort into than a generic or default LinkedIn connection request.
Fix It: We’ve put together some more tips and templates for reaching out to recruiters on LinkedIn.
Problem: Your application fell through the cracks
Sometimes the problem isn’t you — it’s them. If you’re still waiting to hear back from recruiters about a promising lead, it’s time to take charge.
Solution: Follow up with recruiters
Recruiters have a lot on their plates, which means that things sometimes fall through the cracks. Your resume doesn't have to be one of them — if it’s been a few days and you still haven’t heard back, sometimes a quick follow up is all it takes to get the ball rolling again. Follow up with a concise email that contains your resume and a brief summary of what makes you a good fit for the position — the tone you’re aiming for is friendly and assertive, not pushy or impatient.
Fix It: Not sure what to say? Start with one of our email templates for following up with a recruiter.
If you’re having trouble getting past the interview stage
Problem: You aren't prepared enough for interviews or phone screens
You’ve landed plenty of interviews, so you know your resume isn’t the problem. If your job search is falling apart at the interview stage, that’s what you need to improve next.
Solution: Practice your interview skills
There’s no such thing as being over prepared for an interview. That starts with your first impression — whether you’re interviewing in person or over Zoom, you should look clean, polished, and professional. That means business or business casual depending on your industry (and don’t forget to wear pants even on a Zoom call — you never know when you might need to stand up). If in doubt, it’s better to dress up than dress down, even if casual dress is fine once you’re actually on the job.
Even if you can’t know exactly what the interviewer will ask, you can anticipate interview questions by rereading the job description, thinking about the core job duties, and coming up with an example of how you’ve done something similar in the past. Behavioral questions — like “tell me about a time you resolved a crisis/disagreed with a manager/went above and beyond for a client” — are pretty common across multiple industries. If you get nervous in interviews, or have trouble remembering what you intended to say, it’s okay to take notes to remind yourself — just make sure you don’t give the impression that you’re reading from a script.
Fix It: Practicing your interview skills with a willing friend or family member (or, failing that, an obedient pet or houseplant) sounds corny, but it works, so give it a shot before you tackle the real thing.
If you’re getting the wrong kind of job offers
Problem: Recruiters don't have a good sense of who you are or what you're looking for
Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you can’t find a job, but that you can’t find the right job. If you’re getting offers that are completely unrelated to what you’re looking for, it could be lazy recruiters — or you could be sending out the wrong signals.
Solution: Make sure your resume is saying the right things
If you’re getting headhunted for all the wrong positions, the first step is to check that you’ve updated your resume and LinkedIn profile. This is especially important for career changers — your resume should focus on the job you want, not on that one you had, which might mean including a resume summary, highlighting transferable skills, or taking a short online course so that you have some relevant experience to point to.
Don’t downplay your relevant experience — if there’s a particular skill the job you’re after requires, make sure you’re emphasizing that upfront. Don’t fall into the trap of only listing what you think are your top accomplishments regardless of the role; the only skills you need to list are the ones that are the most relevant to the job you’re applying for. On the other hand, if you’re being offered (or accepting) roles that aren’t the right fit or are outside your skill set, make sure your resume is a genuine reflection of your skills and experience — exaggerating on your resume to land a job won’t work if you aren’t capable of actually succeeding in the role.
Fix It: Getting a bunch of offers for a position or salary lower than what you’re looking for may be a sign that your resume isn’t as optimized as you think it is, so use Score My Resume to double check that you’re on the right track.
If all else fails: Patience and consistency
The hiring market is tougher than before, and many companies are still figuring out their budgets and planning their head counts.
The last piece of advice I have is to be patient and consistent. The right job always takes time — in the meantime, try to do freelance work to bolster your resume, while maintaining your regular application cycle.