12 Reasons You Didn't Get the Job Interview

Sitting in my inbox right now: An email asking for help.

In it, a job seeker indicates that she has sent out 1,884 resumes in the past four months (that's 471 a month, roughly 15 a day). In these four months, she has landed a grand total of 3 phone interviews.

Allow me to do the math: She's looking at a 0.016% success rate in landing interviews.

It's exhausting to consider how one pounds out 15+ job applications every single day, for 120+ consecutive days. It also truly bums me out to consider how much time overwhelmed job seekers -- who are often quite clear on what's not working, yet have few ideas on what WILL work -- invest in in strategies that just don't work very well at all.

Getting back to the gal in my inbox. She wants to know why she's not landing interviews. I'm guessing that many of you have wondered this very thing. I mean, for real, how could recruiters, HR people and hiring managers overlook such a talented, friendly (not to mention good looking) son-of-a-gun like you?

(Seriously, the nerve!)

While I don' t yet know enough to pinpoint why this particular person is being overlooked, here are my best ideas on what might be going wrong. These very same things might be going wrong for you, too.

12 Reasons You Didn't Get the Interview

  1. You're spraying the universe with unfocused resumes + cover letters. You must must must keep at the forefront of your mind that machine-gun spray methods of job search rarely work. You're far better off with a single, well-executed rifle shot. For every job you apply for, at least a short handful of candidates are going to make absolute, perfect sense to the reviewer. If you're blasting out 15 resumes a day? It's nearly impossible for you to compete with people who are delivering amazing, customized, "I make perfect sense" resumes + cover letters. This is not a numbers game. It's a game of strategy and intent.
  2. You used a functional resume. This is especially bad if you applied for that job via an online application process. Most companies and recruiting agencies today use resume scanning software at the front end of the recruitment process. Some scanning software is ill-equipped to read and parse resumes that aren't formatted in reverse chronological order. In the worst case, this means your resume just went off to never-never-land and humans never saw it. Always use a clean, standard resume format if you're applying for jobs via online applications (or, better yet, try to get your stuff right to the humans). (Want more? Read this.)
  3. You lack one or more required credential. If , under the word "REQUIRED" on the job description, you saw a skill, certification or other qualification that you just don't have ... yet you applied for it anyway ... ? Don't act surprised that you didn't get the interview. Sometimes, there is no way around a barrier like a missing credential. However, sometimes there is. Unfortunately, you can't expect the resume scanning software to wave your resume through if it was told to go look for that one thing. So, if you're missing a mandatory requirement and still want to take a run at this? You need to find and endear yourself to someone on the inside, and explain where you're coming from.
  4. They already had someone in mind for the job. This is a maddening one, I know. But it's a reality. Some organizations have policies that require them to advertise / post openings publicly for X amount of time, even when they have an internal or external "favorite" already in mind. There's just not much you can do about this, except curse them silently and move on to something else.
  5. You're aiming at only the "most popular" jobs. I live in Portland, OR, home of Nike, Inc. You better believe that everyone and their brother wants to work at Nike, and about a zillion people around the world apply for their jobs (my rough estimate) every day. Same goes for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Disney, Amazon, and so forth. If you're centering your entire job search around the behemoth "everybody wants in" corporations, you're going to want to up your game. Sending resume after resume after resume in through their online application processes may not get you anywhere, at all. You may also want to consider approaching smaller firms that work with the mammoth players (e.g., a supplier, a vendor or a temp agency). This could be a very wise way to get your "in" with one of the biggies.
  6. You're applying for out-of-state jobs, with no explanation. If you applied for a job out-of-state and never heard back, part of the reason may be that the company either wasn't considering offering a relocation package and/or you gave them no clue on why a guy in Boise was applying for a job in Baton Rouge. Decision makers within organizations sometimes get nervous about relocating people (especially if they don't do it often), not only because of the added expense involved, but also because they fear you'll arrive in that entirely new geography ... and promptly decide you hate it. If you are looking to move for your next job, always try to make it instantly clear (via the cover letter) that you have a specific tie to that region, or reason to want to be there.
  7. Your cover letter sucked.  I see the chatter online that says, "The cover letter is dead!" and "No one reads the cover letter!" I'm here to tell you that this is baloney. An engaging, memorable and right-to-the point cover letter can be the exact thing that clinches it for you. This is especially true when you consider that the vast majority of cover letters are simply awful. Recruiters are conditioned to expect the cover letter to be horrific so, when we come across one that's brilliant? We want to hug you, interview you and hire you (OK, we at least want to hug and interview you). If you didn't get that interview? Ask yourself, "Did my cover letter suck?"
  8. You spelled something unforgivable wrong. Back in journalism school, I had a news writing class in which, if we made what was called a "fatal error" on an assignment, we could get no higher than a 1.0 on the entire paper. A fatal error was something like spelling someone's name wrong, getting an incorrect address, or botching the name of a company. No matter how brilliant, organized and compelling the rest of our work was, the best we'd end up with was a 1.0. As a job seeker, if you make a similar error on your resume or cover letter, you won't get a 1.0 ... but you certainly may lose out on a chance to interview.
  9. You look like a flight risk. Yes, I get it. Sometimes you get laid off and sometimes you have completely understandable reasons for moving from job to job with frequency. But at a certain point, you start looking like someone with ants in your pants if you keep changing jobs. You need to manage this message on your resume, and if you've got enough movement, you might need to change your strategy so that it doesn't rely heavily on the online application process. It may be much more beneficial for you to get in cahoots with someone on the inside, so that you can explain the transitions in person.
  10. You went to an informational interview expecting it to lead to a job interview. When someone agrees to have a coffee or appletini with you, to talk about their job and/or hear about your career aspirations, they are not expecting (or desiring) you to ambush them with your resume and/or be pressured to get you an interview at their company. Certainly, they may have some great ideas or influence that could get you moving in that direction, but if you went to an informational interview fully expecting it to lead to an interview (and it didn't), this one is on you.
  11. You didn't follow a specific instruction. If you breezed through the instructions on what this company needed from you, or how they wanted you to pull together your application materials ... and then didn't include or do something that they specifically asked for? They may have ruled you out instantly as one who can't follow simple instructions (which I know aren't always all that simple). If you are applying online, study the instructions closely, and follow them. Or, bypass the online application and try and get "in" with someone influential at that firm.
  12. You applied online and then called 'er done. If your entire job search can be defined as "Apply for stuff online and wait," you really, truly cannot be surprised if you're not landing interviews. You HAVE GOT to realize that you and skads of other people (yes, skads) are all trying to cram your way through the "front door" of this company, at the exact same time. For every single job you pursue, someone is finding and endearing themselves to the right people on the inside. And these guys? They're getting the interviews first. They're getting in front of the hiring manager before she even considers plowing through that giant pile of unknowns that just came flooding in. After you apply for a job, always go over to LinkedIn and see if you have, or can cultivate, an "in." Every time. 

None of this is simple, I know. When a job hunt drags on, and the interviews are trickling in (at best), it can make the most well-adjusted among us feel like it'll never happen. It will happen. It CAN happen. But if it's not happening, dissect your approach. Ditch the stuff that's not working, and try some of these things that may.

Photo: Flickr.com Creative Commons (CGP Grey)