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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

4 Reasons You Didn't Get the Job—Despite Following All the Rules

sad job searcher

I’ve never been prouder of my cover letter that started with a witty opening line about almost getting run over in London, or the interview that went so well the hiring manager and I went on a tangent about our college years, or when a recruiter basically told me I had the job over email.

Yet, in all three of these cases I went on to not get the job. So, needless to say, there have been what I can only call confusing moments in my job search.

These moments have been learning experiences for me (of course, after I cried over them and crafted angry emails that I was smart enough to not actually send). Not so much because they made me think I had to change everything I was doing, but more a reminder that the job search is, at the end of the day, a numbers game. You might not get it on the first try, and you might not even get it on the 30th try, but if you know what you’re up against, you will increase your odds.

With that in mind, it might be helpful to remind yourself of all the obstacles you need to overcome. I repeated these four facts like a mantra during my job hunt, and surprisingly, they only encouraged me to try harder. Yes, they might make you want to throw in the towel when you first see them, but bear with me, and I’ll tell you how to easily work around them.

1. Most Hiring Managers Won’t Read Your Whole Application

It’s true—along with your resume, cover letter, references, and whatever else you included, the hiring manager probably has to read hundreds more. There will be times when your materials will simply get lost in a digital pile because they all start to blur together after a point. It stinks, but out of millions of people in this world, you have to assume you’re not the only person applying.

How to Beat the Odds

55% of hiring managers don’t even read cover letters, so knowing this, Muse Editor-in-Chief Adrian Granzella Larssen suggests that you try a different approach to grabbing the hiring manager’s attention. Consider crafting a summary section or links to your work in your resume, or take advantage of the “additional information” section of your application. If you’re only being given a few seconds to make an impression, make sure they count.

“You should still write that cover letter—wouldn’t it be a shame to not include one for those employers who do still consider it worthwhile? But you should also do all of the following, which’ll make sure you stand out even if it never gets read,” she says.

2. Most Applicants Have the Same Resume

You may think it’s great that you went to a top college, or worked at a major bank, or mastered Excel like some kind of wizard, but so did a lot of people. Unless you founded Apple or can literally be in two places at once, there’s most likely little about your skills, experience, and achievements that is unique and different—even movie stars have to compete with each other. That’s not to say you’re not awesome and you’re not perfect for the role, but it’s to say that it’s hard for a hiring manager to pick that up quickly from the facts you provide in your application.

How to Beat the Odds

One quick fix is to make sure it’s very obvious that you’re a fit for the position. And to do this, you might want to experiment with an infographic resume, write a pain letter, or build a personal website.

If these things seem a bit far-fetched for what you’re looking for (and for many fields, they might very well be!), making your application stand out doesn’t have to be an ambitious task. By simply ensuring sure your resume’s tailored to the job, your “less relevant” skills are clearly transferable to the position, and your cover letter’s laying out your qualifications, you’ll be putting your best foot forward. So many people skip this step because they’re relying on the fact their credentials speak for themselves—don’t be those people.

3. Your Interview Was Not the Only One That Went Well

Sure, the hiring manager loved your answer to that tricky question, asked you to call her by her first name, and gave you a hug before you left the office. But there’s a good chance you’re not the first person to get that reaction. Cue tears and lost hope for a new friendship.

Maybe she’s just super friendly, or maybe she actually liked you, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only candidate she met and liked.

How to Beat the Odds

The good news is that if the interview went well, you have a pretty decent shot already. Now it’s time to continue to remind her of who you are and why she liked you.

Yup, you know where I’m going with this—the thank you note.

Muse writer Sara McCord said it perfectly when she talked about the difference a letter can make when two candidates are neck and neck: “Now, let’s say one candidate sends a note and the other doesn’t…Well, in the first instance, the sender pulls ahead of the other applicant because she demonstrates she’s willing to follow the rules—even when other people might find them perfunctory.”

4. Your Materials Probably Never Made it Into Human Hands

Companies get tons of applications. And if you think the powers that be have time to read through all of them, then you have a lot of faith in the human species.

No, your application most likely goes through an applicant tracking system (otherwise known as ATS) first. This is basically a robot that scans thousands of documents for keywords and requirements, saving hiring managers a ton of time, but also cheating lots of desperate job seekers like yourself out of the chance to show how awesome you are.

How to Beat the Odds

Muse writer James Hu did some research on ATS and found that wording is king: “For your application to rank highly for the position you want, your resume needs to contain the right keywords. So, your best bet is to tailor the content to the exact way the job description is written—including plural words, abbreviations, and numbers (e.g., note whether the company spells it nonprofit or non-profit; three years of experience or 3 years of experience). Yes, adjusting your wording for every application takes more time and effort than sending a generic resume, but as you can see, it’s well worth it.”

In addition, he notes that ATS looks for hard, tangible skills over soft skills such as “leadership” or “team player,” which are vetted during later stages in the process.

The truth hurts, especially when it’s out of your control. But take these as motivators to break the mold—and remember that you’re not alone in the frustration. After my 30th try, I finally beat the system, which means you can, too. And honestly, probably sooner, because by simply reading this article you already know a lot more than I did when I started out.