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Written by Susan ShorSusan Shor

Why am I not getting hired? Some hard truths

19 min read
Why am I not getting hired? Some hard truths
Winston Churchill, the famous British bulldog in human form, had a few things to say about persistence. He made that pretty clear in a commencement speech from 1941 in which he said,

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty…”

Churchill, I think, would make a pretty terrible career coach. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the middle of a long, hard job search. You’ve heard “No” more times than you can count. Or, worse, you haven’t heard anything at all. And a common piece of advice given in circumstances, is to “never give up!” To “keep at it!”

Slogans like that make for great motivational posters. But it’s terrible advice for job seekers because it implies that you should just keep doing the same thing over and over. Eventually, it’ll work. But that’s often not true.

It’s time to take a break, take a step back, and consider these seven reasons that answer the question: Why am I not getting hired? 

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Where culture fits into hiring decisions

1. You’re probably not trying hard enough on your application

Applying for jobs is hard work. It’s like a job that has no clock-out time. Where the unspoken instruction is that you’re always supposed to do more work than is asked. Where you don’t get paid. 

The situation is further complicated by the fact most people do all their “job writing” manually, without any digital helpers or online tools that might have saved time or “honed the edge” of your submissions. In the age when nearly every office-related task is done with “smart” digital assistance for a better result, why should a job application be any different? 

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And even though everyone’s heard “finding a job IS a job,” the number one reason most people I know have trouble finding a job is lack of effort or help. I get it. With unemployment in the United States over 10 percent because of the Covid-19 and the future of the job market uncertain, it’s even harder to stay motivated. But you must! Don’t think that working harder means you just need to send out more applications. No!

But blindly sending out your resume will just have you asking: Why is it so difficult to get hired? I call this resume spamming. It happens when someone spends five hours a day sending the same application to every company on LinkedIn or AngelList. I’d rather you apply to half the jobs with double the effort to show recruiters that you really want that specific position.

Consider this, most job openings get an average of 250 applications. Is yours really going to stand out without a little extra oomph? Try and gauge the level of forethought you apply to your resume submission. Think about the following questions: have you ever felt your resume has gaps that you didn’t really get the chance to explain? Did you ever think it doesn’t quite convey your personality and professionalism?  Have you considered a cover letter to mitigate those gaps and add a little passion / personality to the otherwise “cold” application?

So when you ask yourself, why aren’t I getting a job? think about the effort you’re putting in. You need to research each company to which you’re applying and make that fact known. 

That’s why you need to research each company to which you’re applying. You need to be sending out those applications as soon as they’re posted and ideally early in the day. You need to be looking for unique ways to demonstrate you have the skills and the drive to rock that job. This also means customizing each application to the job poster, rather than sending out generic emails.

Expert tip

Where are the jobs?

You should be exercising creativity in looking for jobs to apply for as well. Did you know that only about 20% of open positions are ever listed online?

The other 80% are filled through referrals, internal hires and preemptive applications. The only way you’ll have access to those jobs is by getting your name out there, shaking those branches, and pestering people at companies you like until they give you an interview.

Sound like a pain? Good, it is. But it’ll be worth it when you land that dream job.

2. You’re probably not trying hard enough in your interviews

Did you get the interview and not the job? Are you asking yourself “Why am I not getting hired after interviews?” When was the last time you really, I mean really, prepped for an interview? I’m not talking about some googling the night before.

First impressions count! Be prepared! I’m talking about a week of research. Practicing questions in the mirror (and making eye contact—yes, with yourself—as practice). Figuring out who’ll be interviewing you and examining their work history on LinkedIn. Getting a friend to pose as that interviewer. 

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Lots of people go to those sorts of lengths while finding their first job, but shelve these proven tactics later in their career. They treat a job interview like a pickup basketball game. They’ll pop in, field a few questions, joke around a bit, and try to take it easy.

And then they’ll wonder why they’re not getting called back. Every interview, even the seventh personality fit interview at a company you’re feeling iffy on, deserves your full effort. Job seekers fall into a similar trap after the interview. They’ll shake some hands, and move on to the next thing the second they walk out the door.

And they’ll lose points compared to other candidates who do the things you probably know you should be doing like sending thank you notes/emails to all your interviewers ( yes, they want them) and following up if you haven’t heard back after a week. The hiring process is stressful for the people doing the hiring too. Make sure you know you appreciate their time.

So, let me ask you, are you really giving your all to your interviews? For many candidates, the answer is often “no” (which is good news for you, since here’s a ready-made path to get ahead).

3. You probably need to add to your resume

Still aksing, "Why am I not getting hired?" To get the job you really want, your resume needs to be better. I don’t mean it needs to be reformatted. I don’t mean you should play with the fonts. I mean it doesn’t have the stuff on it that it needs to have to get you the job.

As in, you do not have the right experience.

Statistically speaking, that’s the most likely reason you didn’t hear back on your last application. According to one study, hiring managers throw out 98% of the resumes they receive for a typical job post due to lack of qualifications. If you do have the required skill, why isn’t it on your resume? This is no one-size-fits-all situation and you can’t rely on your cover letter to pick up the slack. Each job is different, so each resume should reflect that fact. 

If that rings true, no amount of hustle or brown nosing is going to land you the job. You need to go get more experience. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to add to your resume in as little as two weeks. But some kinds of certifications and education will take longer.

If that’s the case...

4. You need to start looking at “Safety Schools”

Putting extra effort into interviews isn’t the only lesson that people seem to forget once they’re more established in their careers. Listing out some safety schools is another one.

If you’ve gone through the college application process, you know that it’s foolish not to include some safety schools. Ones that might not be your first choice, but that you’re fairly sure you can get into.

The same logic applies to jobs. If you’re spending months applying and not hearing back, it’s probable that you’re only applying to your “Ivy Leagues.” Everyone has a dream job in mind, but be aware that you might not be there yet. Time to find some safer picks.

Tumblr posts and airline commercials love to tell people to chase their dreams. And you should do that. But you also need a paycheck. And health insurance. That’s especially true when you consider that employers start to count long periods of unemployment against you after about nine months.

Bottom line: you need a job. Nothing will stop you from continuing to chase the dream once you have a gig that pays, whether it’s at that snoozy insurance company or Starbucks. In the meantime, gaining experience you can tweak to fit that next job.

5. You’re overqualified

It’s also a waste to apply to jobs that you’re overqualified for. That’s a tricky Catch 22. It sucks to finally admit to yourself that you need to aim a bit lower, only to be turned down from a job you secretly think you’re too good for.

Underemployment happens all the time. In the United States alone, 13.7% of the workforce is considered underemployed. It’s also a problem in the United Kingdom, where about 8% of the population is underemployed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hang up your executive name tag and move down the career ladder a few steps. Employers have practical reasons not to hire someone who has dramatically more experience than the role calls for. Some of those include:

  1. Salary expectations may be higher.
  2. That person is likely to leave if given the chance at a position closer to their experience level.
  3. That person may be tougher to manage if they have an experience level on par with or greater than their manager.

So if you’re wondering why that position you thought you’d be a shoe-in for isn’t calling you back, you might be looking too deep in the bargain bin.

6. You’re too far away – unless you’re working remotely

A local candidate will always have an edge over a non-local candidate for jobs that require you to physically be at work. You will have more leeway here, because the majority of workers who have jobs that don’t require going to the office work remotely.

But, sometimes you have to be there to get the job. There are actually tons of reasons why a hiring manager will be biased towards someone living right down the street. These are some things I’ve heard from HR pros who hire for jobs that require your presence in the workplace:

  1. Someone local is likely to be able to start faster because they don’t have to move.
  2. They won’t need to be flown in for the in-person interviews.
  3. They’re more likely to be plugged into the local community, which means more referrals.
  4. They have more flexibility to run down to the office for last-minute interviews or projects.
  5. The emotional investment in the employee will be less because the concept of moving someone out for a job and potentially letting them go on a later date is stressful.

So if you’re job hunting in New York from Dayton, all these forces are working against you. You can solve this problem in two ways.

First, you can refocus your search to jobs that are near you or those that are 100 percent remote. Consider looking at large national firms with offices in other cities that you’d like to work at so you can request a transfer at a later date. 

Or, if you know you want to find a job in a particular city, it might be time to move. That’s definitely the riskier, more expensive path. But you’ll be amazed at how much easier your job search will be once you're on the ground.

7. Churchill was right after all

Up at the top of the page, I made a pretty bold stance against Mr. Churchill’s stubbornness. But it is true that some job seekers just give up too easily. I don’t think it’s because of weak character though. I think it’s because of a lack of patience.

Let’s talk about why you clicked on this article. Are you actually failing in your job search, or are you just looking for a reason to toss in the towel because you’re discouraged? Giving up is the easiest way to turn a few months without a job into a year, and no one can afford that.

It’s important to keep in mind that the average length of a job search in between jobs is 25 weeks. That’s about six months. Anyone who gets a job in less time than that is above average.

Plus, there are lots of conditions that will cause you to be outside the average. Fivethirtyeight recently found that average job search times vary hugely depending on the time of year, the city you live in (and of course it’s rate of coronavirus infection), and more. So if you’re sincerely trying your best and haven’t found a new job yet, you may just need a little patience.

To sum up

I think you know the answer to that awful question “Why am I not getting hired?” but let’s review:

  1. Let’s face it: Effort up front is likely to get you better results. That means doing your research, customizing your resume, and preparing for the interview.
  2. Target jobs that you are qualified for – not overqualified for. If you’re looking for a job that requires skills you don’t have, take a class, volunteer, or add to your resume in another way.
  3. Apply to jobs that are within reach, both in skills and experience and geographically.
  4. If all else fails and you’re still asking, “Why is it hard to find a job?” maybe you’re just not giving it enough time.

Discretion is the better part of valor

Now that I’ve spent two thousand words stomping on your best efforts, I have another Churchill quote for you:

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Admitting failure isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. It’s also a critical step to moving on to a new strategy that’s going to work.

That’s why I encourage you to take every botched interview and every rejection letter as a tool to use in your effort to fine tune your job-search. Use your failures rather than denying they ever happened. And always remember that you’ve only lost once you’ve stopped trying.

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