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Advice / Job Search / Networking

5 Fixable Job Search Mistakes That Are Holding You Back From Interviews

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Searching for a new job is a tedious process. But one of the worst parts is learning a position you wanted was filled—before you ever even got a chance to interview.

If you find yourself in that situation over and over again, you want to figure out whatever’s holding you back so you can address it ASAP. But, the truth is: There’s no “one size fits all” solution to guarantee you’ll get an interview. Sometimes a pretty minor change (like proofreading) will make the difference. Other times, you need to revamp your overall strategy. And it can be hard to know where on the spectrum you fall.

That’s why I've put together five questions—in order from the smallest changes required to the largest—so you’ll know whether your job search needs some tweaks or an overhaul. I suggest you read them in order, and if the answer is yes, make that change. If it’s no, keep reading to see if something bigger is what's holding you back.

1. Are There Glaring Errors in Your Materials?

Wouldn’t anyone know you meant "program manager” and not “porgram managger”? Maybe so, but there are three big reasons why typos hold you back:

  • They show poor attention to detail (which is called for in most positions).
  • They make it look like you rushed to put something together (and don’t really care about the position).
  • They don’t get picked up by applicant tracking systems (so you’ll rank lower when a recruiter searches for relevant resumes).

Yes? Fix It

Take a stab at looking for mistakes yourself. Do this on every application, every time. Better yet, ask a friend to review materials for typos or grammatical errors. A fresh set of eyes may be the answer to finding mistakes.

2. Is Your Cover Letter Like Everyone Else’s?

Maybe you know your resume, cover letter, and introductory email are flawless, because you use the exact same, perfect one for all positions. Sadly, this strategy will backfire.

Remember, the job description outlines exactly what the company is looking for in their ideal candidate, so it includes clues as to which of your strengths you should mention in your cover letter. If your application looks the exact same before you’ve found the role, after you’ve read about it, and when you’re ready to hit submit, you might be doing something wrong.

Yes? Fix It

A great way to stand out is to write a strong opening line. Skip “I am excited to apply for this position” and share something specific about why you’re drawn to the position or why your skills would help you excel in the role.

3. Do You Simply Send Off Your Application and Wait?

Many people fail to realize that there’s more to getting an interview than simply pressing submit. In fact, the majority of the work is done after the application’s sent in.

Pressing submit is equivalent to placing your resume on a recruiter’s desk, only to have a slew of resumes dumped on top of it seconds later. By simply waiting for them to find your materials on their own, you risk the chance that they may never even see it in the first place.

Yes? Fix It

The key to getting someone’s attention is to reach out to them. Send a short LinkedIn message or an email informing a recruiter or hiring manager that you applied and ask for the opportunity to interview. It should look like this:

Dear [Name],

I hope you’re doing well! I recently applied to a Program Manager position at your company and would be grateful for the opportunity to interview with you. I have over [number] years of leadership experience, have managed a variety of projects throughout my career, and truly believe that I would be an asset to your team. Please let me know if you’d be open to discussing the position with me in more detail.

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration,
[Your Name]

Some may say this approach puts you at risk of becoming the “annoying” candidate—but, as a former recruiter I can tell you that one follow-up email isn't bad (Note: I said one). It shows you’re interested, and if your resume did fall through the cracks, you’ll have gotten the other person’s attention.

4. Have You Kept Your Job Search a Secret?

I get it: You don’t want to bother your friends, so you figure you’ll wait until you actually land an interview to mention you applied at their company. Or, you’re uncomfortable sharing that you’ve been looking, because so far you feel like you don’t have anything to show for it.

However, it's often easier to secure an interview when you're referred internally. So, speaking up earlier will increase your chances of getting your foot in the door.

Yes? Fix It

When reaching out, take the time to research their company first, and have a target position in mind before asking for their help. This way you can ask for their assistance with securing an interview for your target position, instead of simply asking them to let you know if their company is hiring. (While being non-specific might seem nicer, the latter approach puts the responsibility on them to find a position that suits you, which translates to more work on their part.)

5. Are You Being Realistic?

Sometimes your ambition leads to applying for positions you don't minimally qualify for. It's OK to apply to some “stretch” positions, but those should not make up the majority of what you're going after. If everything you’re aiming for would require a leap of faith from the hiring manager, you shouldn’t be entirely surprised you’re not hearing back.

Yes? Fix It

This is a great time to employ the 80-20 rule. If you want to make two out of every 10 positions you apply for a reach, go for it; but the other eight should be roles where you meet all of the minimum qualifications and can easily make a case for why you’re a solid candidate.

It’s not easy to take an honest look at the things you may be doing wrong after you’ve been trying your best all along. But becoming aware of the obstacles standing in your way is the essential first step to finding a solution. Once that's completed, the next steps are execution and accountability—and I know you’ve got that.