Why You Didn’t Get a Job Interview, with Jenn Swanson

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I wanted to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001, and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide.

My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, Becky Thomas, and Jessica Black from the Mac’s List team.

This week we’re talking about the top reasons why you didn’t get a job interview.

Even with record unemployment, you can expect plenty of competition when applying for work. According to one estimate, a typical corporate job attracts 250 applications or more. Our guest expert this week is Jenn Swanson. She says there are nine common reasons why employers put a resume in the ‘no interview’ pile. Jenn and I talk later in the show about how you can avoid these mistakes.

Research says hiring managers look at your resume for about just six seconds. That makes the format you choose for your resume vital. Ben has found a free website with 41 great resume formats. He tells us more in a moment.

You’re ready to change industries. How do you revise your resume to help you make this move? That’s our listener question of the week. It comes from Juan Llera of Jersey City, New Jersey. Becky shares her advice shortly.

First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Jessica, Becky, Ben, each of you has reviewed applications and picked people for interviews either here at Mac’s List or in your previous jobs. When you’re looking at someone’s resume, what are some of the top reasons that you move somebody’s application into the ‘no’ pile? What kind of mistakes do you see people make that our listeners might avoid?

Jessica Black:

Typos. One hundred percent. That right there will get thrown into the ‘no’ pile.

Becky Thomas:

Oh yeah. Any typos.

Jessica Black:

Any typos.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Or grammatical errors. Just looks really sloppy.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. Or weird formatting even, sort of gives me a pause. Strange fonts. I’m weird about the formatting stuff, but typos especially, that’s my biggest.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and why is that an automatic disqualification for you two, the typos?

Becky Thomas:

It’s so sloppy. It shows that they didn’t review it. You don’t do a second sort of read through, before you send it out? I don’t know.

Jessica Black:

Well the worst is when somebody is like, “My attention to detail is really strong” and they have a typo and it’s just very…

Mac Prichard:

It’s sad to see isn’t it?

Jessica Black:

It’s sad to see and it’s human. I mean, we all make mistakes, we all make typos, and it’s completely understandable. But also, when the stakes are so high in terms of job interviews, you absolutely can’t.

Ben Forstag:

I think the thing with that is, everyone does make mistakes, and everyone makes typos, but in an application, especially when there’s a lot of typos or real obvious ones, what that says to me is not that you’re a person that makes mistakes, because we all are, but that you’re a person who was really quickly sending out this resume and your interest level might not be that high if you’re not spending the time it takes to get that right.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well tell us more about formats, Jessica. When you say ‘odd looking formats’, what do you have in mind?

Jessica Black:

Well it’s just not easy to read. So something that’s jumbled together, or you can tell that they’re trying to fill the space. The margins are really small; it’s really narrow.

Mac Prichard:

You’re thinking about a page where the text goes almost to the edge.

Jessica Black:

I’m thinking the opposite.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Jessica Black:

Where they’re trying to fill the page, with a little bit of text.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

So the size is really big.

Ben Forstag:

Middle school essay style.

Jessica Black:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Got it.

Jessica Black:

Sorry, I wasn’t being very clear.

Mac Prichard:

No, that was clear.

Jessica Black:

Yes, so those types of things where, it’s just not…I don’t even know if there’s a standard, but something that just looks off and your eye kind of goes to that and you’re like, “What are they trying to hide, or fill? Why did they do this this way?” kind of thing.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. If it hurts your eyes, it’s like you’re not going to spend the time working through ugly format to get to the content. The job seeker needs to make it easy for the hiring manager, going through all those resumes, to just quickly figure out what this person’s about.

Jessica Black:

Don’t be distracting in a bad way, of like having me focus on the formatting rather than the content of your resume.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Alright, good tips. Ben, it looks like you have another one to add to the list.

Ben Forstag:

I have one that I learned from my old boss, Kara, and I learned this from her. I used it over and over again to good success. Which is, when I put out a call for applications because there’s a job opening, I put very specific directions about how to apply. It could be something like, “Use this is your subject line.” Or, “Apply by doing x, y, and z.” And use that for a standard for who’s actually paying attention and following the directions.

Jessica Black:

Right.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

And I know the last couple of times I’ve hired people, I do the first cut of, this person didn’t follow the directions I gave them, and so I put them in the ‘no’ pile and then a day later I go, “I’m just going to go back and look at the ‘no pile again, and often they’re people with great qualifications there. So I decide I’ll put them in the ‘yes” pile, and then I find out later on after talking to them, they should have been in the ‘no’ pile all along.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. That’s a good signal.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. It ends up being a really good indicator to me about whether this is going to be a candidate that I want to spend more time talking with.

Jessica Black:

Interesting, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well, we’ll talk more with Jenn about this. One of the challenges for hiring managers is making that first cut, because even today, managers get lots and lots of applications. So how do they get it down to a pile of eight or ten that they might want to have a phone interview with? And all the things that you all indicated are good ways, first things that managers look at.

The only thing I would add to the list would be that before I bring somebody in for an interview, I Google them, and I look to see what kind of online presence they have. Because I know if I hire them, our clients will do the same. Particularly in the public relations business, I want to make sure that people are putting their best foot forward online.

Jessica Black:

That’s a good note.

Mac Prichard:

Well Ben, let’s turn to you, because every week you’re out there searching the nooks and crannies of the Internet, looking for websites, books and tools…all kinds of resources our listeners can use in a job search and a career. So, what have you found for us this week, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

So we’ve hit on the issue of resumes here. You’ve got that six seconds and so formatting of a resume is really tricky because you want to show off your creativity and get the…whoever’s reviewing it, their attention, but at the same time you want it to be easy to read, scannable. Both by human reviewers and applicant tracking  systems.

So this week I thought I would go out and search for some good formats that meet that criteria, where you can express your creativity, you can have a little bit of flash, but also easy to read, easy to scan resumes. And I found a cool resource from the Muse, called, Forty One Best Resume Templates Ever. Now, the “click-baity” title not withstanding here, I thought most of these were really good resume templates. They were clear, there was a lot whitespace, the design was nice but not overpowering. It really let the copy in the resume speak for itself.

A lot of these designs are free as Microsoft Word templates, so you can just download them and it’ll open up in Word. Some of them cost a little bit of money, especially the more graphically intense ones. Some cost as low as four dollars, some all the way up to ninety-nine dollars. I would say that if you’re thinking about a really graphic intensive resume, actually think twice about that, unless you are in a really speciality industry like graphic design, in which case you’re probably designing your own resume anyway, not getting a template.

But I thought this was a really nice resource from The Muse, and it’s Forty One Best Resume Templates Ever, and we will have the url in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

So I have to ask, Ben, is the typeface, Comic Sans in any of these formats?

Ben Forstag:

Not that I noticed. No.

Mac Prichard:

I know you have strong feelings about that.

Ben Forstag:

I think I would have noticed if I saw it.

Jessica Black:

Thank goodness. I would have noticed that too.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, you have strong feelings about that too, don’t you, Jessica?

Jessica Black:

I really do.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. And we can’t let a resource about resumes go by without asking the question, were the formats in the one page or two page format?

Ben Forstag:

So, it’s interesting. In the previews I saw, some of them had two pages because usually the first page of your resume has a full header on it, and the second page might just have a little, smaller version of the header there. Other templates only had one page, but I guess there’s options for both Team One Page, and Team Two Page.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well longtime listeners will remember that some of us have strong feelings about the length and I’m firmly in the one page camp. But I think others are around the table are all for two. But it really depends on your occupation and I think your goals.

But we’ll let go with this segment, and turn now to you, Becky, and our listeners, because I know you’re here to answer one of our listener’s questions. What’s in the mailbag this week?

Becky Thomas:

So this week’s question comes via email from Juan Llera of Jersey City, New Jersey. So he says:

“My question: do you know of any resources that you can share that can assist me in rewording my resume. I had a long career in the insurance industry and most recently with their IT department. I would like to look for a position in a non-profit organization. I would like to revise my resume from an insurance IT to a non-profit focus.”

So Juan, thank you so much for sending this question in. He sent me a really nice email telling us how he enjoys the podcast, so thank you Juan. Hopefully some of this advice will help. So from your email, it sounds like you’re making a pretty major career change. It doesn’t say where in nonprofits you want to go, but I think the first thing you need to do is really make sure you understand what your target is. Really research the position that you’re targeting, that you want to apply for; understand all the roles and responsibilities that are there. Then think about how your existing experience relates to that target role that you’re applying for.

The biggest thing in that realm is transferrable skills. So you may have a lot of insurance and IT experience, but think about the skills that are sort of baseline to all the things that you’ve done so far, and then how you can word those to move into more of the nonprofit position that you’re targeting. So that’s one thing, and there’s examples, and I am blanking on a specific example, but I can definitely share some links and stuff in the shownotes for that. I think we had a blog about transferable skills and we can definitely link that.

The other thing, you know, besides transferable skills, when you’re looking for specific resources for rewording, a lot of times it’s worth working with a career coach or a resume writer, just to sort of make sure that you’ve got that solid foundation with your resume when you’re going out and applying for those new roles.

The other thing I was thinking about was, as you’re moving into that new industry, you’re probably networking and probably talking to folks in the nonprofit world, and so maybe ask them to take a look at your resume and see if they have any advice.

Jessica Black:

I like that, in particular that last one of using the folks that you are networking with to bounce those ideas off of, make sure that you’re hitting those marks.

The other things that I would recommend would be, taking a look…just doing that personal research of looking at job descriptions of what you’re interested in moving into in the nonprofit world, and seeing what verbiage they’re using in their job descriptions. Same thing on LinkedIn; looking at folks that are in the areas that you want to move into, and seeing what kind of keywords or things that they mention that could be…you know, utilize your background but also position you well for moving into the nonprofit world.

Ben Forstag:

I think that that language one is so important. Especially when we’re talking about going from the for profit community into the nonprofit community. And I know I’ve said this before in past podcasts so bear with me longtime listeners, but sometimes those two groups, the for profit and nonprofit communities, they’re talking about the same thing but they use such different languages that they don’t even understand each other.

Jessica Black:

Exactly.

Ben Forstag:

And I know, especially in the nonprofits, they’re very sensitive about…they don’t talk about sales, they don’t talk about customers, they talk about stakeholders and…

Jessica Black:

Donors.

Ben Forstag:

Donors. And members, and things like that.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

So part of the challenge, I think, for people who are trying to make this transition is understanding the lexicon of the language.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

And the best way to do that is to review job descriptions and network in the field and you’ll just pick up the language that that community uses, it’ll take you a long ways.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. It will, it will also show that you’ve done that research and that you’ve put in the time and energy to understand this other industry that you haven’t been a part of and I think that that will, like Ben said, that will go really far.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I like everybody’s emphasis on networking here, and Juan doesn’t say this in his question, but if his goal is to find an IT position in the nonprofit world, to your point, Jessica, I would encourage him to look at IT chiefs, or chief information officers who’ve moved from the private sector to the nonprofit world in his community, and reach out to them and ask them what challenges they’ve faced and how did they address those concerns that might have been raised. And learn that language, learn that lexicon, because I think you’re spot on, Becky, about the value of transferrable skills here. And the skills that Juan has are very valuable whatever sector he’s in, whether it’s the nonprofit or government or the private sector.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well thank you all, and thank you, Juan, for that question. Thanks, Becky.  If you’ve got a question for Becky, please send her an email. Her address is: becky@macslist.org. You can also call our listener line. That number is, area code,  716-JOB-TALK, or send Becky a tweet, and our Twitter handle is:@macs_list

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of Land Your Dream Job Anywhere

We’ll be back in just a moment. When we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest expert, Jenn Swanson, about the top reasons you didn’t get a job interview.

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Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Jenn Swanson.

Jenn Swanson is the host of the Communication Diva podcast and the author of What They See: How to Stand Out and Shine in Your New JobThrough her podcast, online courses, coaching, and book, Jenn helps you get the job, love your work, and  advance your career.

She joins us today from Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.

Jenn, thanks for being on the show.

Jenn Swanson:

Oh it’s my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program.

Our topic this week, as you know, we’re talking about the reasons why we don’t get job interviews. The top reasons an employer rejects our resumes when we apply. Let’s start first with some context; typically when someone sends off a resume, what kind of competition might they be facing when it lands in the inbox of the hiring manager?

Jenn Swanson:

Well it depends on the organization that they’re applying to, but they can be up against hundreds, if not thousands, of other applications. So it can be a really tough job to distinguish yourself and to get past that initial screening. So it depends again on the size of the organization for sure.

Mac Prichard:

And I bring it up just because there are some things that we can control and others that we can’t. So I know that many of the reasons that you’re going to share with us that people don’t get interviews are things that we do have control over. Let’s talk though, Jenn, about the things that we don’t control. For example, I know that there may be internal candidates. Tell us more about that.

Jenn Swanson:

Absolutely. The job posting itself might be sort of an exercise in, “Well we have to do this, for policy.” It might just be that they’ve already got somebody in mind, somebody that’s working in the organization, or somebody that they are familiar with, who they want to slide into that position, but for external purposes they need to post it. And that is something that you can’t control. You have no way of knowing, really, if that’s why you haven’t been chosen to come in. So that’s definitely one of the possibilities.

Mac Prichard:

So let’s talk about the things that people can control, and start with some of the common mistakes you see people make when sending in an application. What’s the number one mistake people make when submitting a resume?

Jenn Swanson:

I think the number one for me is not paying attention to the detail when you are submitting. I think there are rules and details that need to be submitted, especially when you are filling in boxed forms, so you’re not just sending an attachment, an email attachment, but you’re filling in the software that the company has. For example, if you have to create a profile in their software platform, if you don’t follow the instructions and follow the details, then you’re not going to even be seen possibly, nevermind considered.

And also things like, if your attachments are in a format that they can’t open, that’s something that I’ve seen over and over again, and it’s really frustrating because your stuff will never, ever even get looked at if they can’t open it. So making sure that what you send is in a format that can be looked at, at the other end.

Mac Prichard:

So you need to understand the directions and make sure you follow them and complete all the boxes with all the requested information. I can imagine listeners wondering, “Well, how can I tell if someone can open an attachment?” Are there common forms like, say PDF, that will always work or what should people know about this?

Jenn Swanson:

Yeah, there’s some people that say to don’t send PDF’s, and I guess because I work in a Mac, and know that if I’m trying to send something to a PC, the formatting won’t come across the same way, I often will convert things to a Word document and send them because Word is typically a safer bet. So if you’re trying to send something in pages, it may not look the way you designed it when it gets to the other end. That’s why I do recommend PDF’s. I can’t recall the reason why people didn’t like the idea of PDF’s but to me they are actually solid, they don’t change, you should be able to open them across all platforms. Now that being said, there might be detailed instructions that say, “Send us a Word Document”, and those are the kinds of things that you need to pay attention to. If they say “Send us a Word Document”, don’t send a PDF.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so follow the directions here and particularly if you’re given clear instructions about what to use.

Jenn Swanson:

Exactly. Because if you don’t, then you’re violating a basic thing, and you are unable to follow directions. So not doing that speaks volumes, nevermind the material that you’re sending.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, it’s funny. We discussed that same point earlier in the show about the value of following directions during an application process.

What about qualifications, Jenn. Should people apply for jobs for which they may only have some percentage of the qualifications, say eighty or ninety percent? What’s the cutoff?

Jenn Swanson:

If it’s high, if it’s ninety percent, then you’re taking your chances. It doesn’t hurt to do it. But you might expect that you won’t get chosen if there’s someone else with a hundred percent of the qualifications. If you’re not suitable for that job for multiple reasons, then there’s really no point in applying for it. I think there are people who send out blanket resumes and blanket cover letters even though that’s not recommended at all. But people do that, they’ll just paper the town with their resumes and their cover letters that are exactly the same and lots of the positions that they’re applying for, they don’t qualify for. So taking that extra time will really make a difference in the end.

Mac Prichard:

What do you say, Jenn, to people who say, “Well, I need a job. This position interests me or I could learn how to do it. I just need to get in front of a hiring manager to make my case.”

Jenn Swanson:

Well there are ways that you could do that if you had at least some of the qualifications. If you have volunteer work that is relevant in any way, you could include that. Because volunteer work is highly regarded. And for some reason only about thirty percent of job applicants actually bother to put it on their resume. So it doesn’t have to be a paid job with the experience that the company’s looking for. You can be an event planner in a volunteer organization and apply for an event planning organization.

So it depends on how you word it, and that comes back to tailoring your application and making sure that you are being careful with the job posting, and that most of what you’ve got will fit.

Mac Prichard:

So you need to make a case in writing, both in your resume and your cover letter, don’t assume that you’re actually going to have the opportunity to present yourself until you get through this application process.

Jenn Swanson:

Absolutely not. You have to get through the screening process first. When I was screening resumes, I do some auxiliary work for the HR department of a city, and I was one day given a hundred and fifty resumes, a hundred and forty-five resumes, something like that, and my job was to look for three things: it was an education in the industry, it was three years of related experience, and I forget what the third thing was, but there were three definite things I had to look for, and I would spend about six seconds on each application.

So when you’re spending that little amount of time, certain words need to stand out, certain items have to be there. And if you’re dealing with four or five resumes, applications, that’s one thing, but when you’re dealing with a hundred and four, forty-four, or forty-five, then your chances are better if you take that time.

Mac Prichard:

Now I can imagine listeners thinking, “How do I figure out what those top three things are that a hiring manager would like?” In this case you were doing, was looking for, because it may be that the position you were screening for had a long job posting or description and I probably had a long set of qualifications. But in the end it was three things that really mattered. How can job applicants find that out?

Jenn Swanson:

Well you read the job posting very carefully and pay attention to the keywords in the job posting. What exactly is it that they’re looking for? And if there are definite things that you aren’t qualified to do and don’t have and don’t have in any way in your volunteer experience, then you might want to rethink that. But if you can come up with the qualifications that are needed, you can use some of the keywords that are in the job posting in your material, in your cover letter in particular, or in your resume if you’re putting it into a platform, a computerized system rather than just attaching it as an attachment. Then being really careful about the details, the submission; make sure your spelling is correct, your grammar is correct. Have somebody proofread your material before you hit submit, or before you hit send. So that you’re not discounted for a silly mistake. I think those are three of the things that I would say are the most important.

Your cover letter is your initial personality introduction and so make it memorable and not in a bad way. Make it memorable with good grammar, good spelling, and a little bit of passion or a little bit of excitement about why you’re applying for that job.

Mac Prichard:

And again, I’m hearing you emphasize the importance of tailoring materials, both the cover letter and the resume for every position. Not following that spray and pray approach.

Jenn Swanson:

Right. Absolutely. If you can know the person’s name and find out their name. Our seventeen year old got her first job about two weeks ago and my eldest daughter helped her write the cover letter. She found out what the name of the hiring manager was and then she talked about why, even though this was her very first work experience, why she really wanted to work at this particular place. And the way it was constructed, the hiring manager actually phoned her and said, “I was captivated by your cover letter, I’d like you to come in for an interview.” And she was hired pretty much on the spot, so the cover letter does make a difference.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, we were talking earlier in the show about the value of getting the spelling and the grammar right. In your experience, Jenn, why does that matter so much to hiring managers and employers?

Jenn Swanson:

Because if you have such volume and you have somebody who’s taken the time to proofread and to make sure that everything is correct, then that is a communication in itself. That person has paid attention to the detail, has put in the time to make sure their material is right, they might be more like that in their actual work experience. Rather than somebody who is blanketing, who doesn’t bother to take the time, that speaks to how…and it might not even be true, but the perception is ninety percent of the reality. That speaks to how that person might actually function in a job. So right there you’re doing yourself a disservice, that might not even be true, if you don’t take that extra ten minutes to take a look at it, have it proofread, and have somebody else make sure that you’re not missing anything.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned keywords earlier. Can you talk more about the importance of keywords, particularly for employers who might be using applicant tracking systems, the acronym is ATS?

Jenn Swanson:

Right. Those fun little robotic tools that are coming out more and more now.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. They’re becoming more popular, aren’t they?

Jenn Swanson:

They are, and video submissions and all these exciting things that are happening now. Well the keywords are often what the computer is programmed to look for. So again, if you’re looking at a big company that has hundreds of applications, they’re going to be screening for a number of things, and some of the things that they will screen for are keywords. So you don’t want to stuff it so full that it doesn’t make any sense, but you want to make sure that you’ve read that job description carefully and that you are using some of the exact keywords that the job posting lists in your cover letter, or your resume, the material you are able to submit, your profile.

Mac Prichard:

So as we go through these steps that people can take, the picture that you’re painting is when sending an application it requires research, preparation, and then getting help in reviewing spelling and grammar, and making sure that it’s tailored to each employer. It’s not something you dash off in five or ten minutes on your iPhone, is it?

Jenn Swanson:

No. Well, you can but you might not expect great results from it. It takes a little bit of work, but if you are careful in your targeting and in your tailoring, then you are going to get more response than if you’re just doing…what did you call it, “Spray and pray”? You’re going to get better response, and are more likely to get a callback for that interview. If you take the time up front, and it is work. It is work, but it’s worth it, it’s work that’s worth it. Because so many out there don’t bother and this is something that you can control.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, it is and it is a way to stand out. When I speak to job seekers, so many of them want to do that; they want to get in front of a hiring manager, they want to make their case, and what I’m hearing you say today is, by paying attention to the basics, and being focused, and tailoring your material, you can stand out from the crowd.

Jenn Swanson:

Absolutely. You can.

Mac Prichard:

Alright, well it’s been a terrific conversation, Jenn. Now tell us what’s coming up next for you.

Jenn Swanson:

Well we have a lot going on. I’ve got a couple of online courses on there already, at CommunicationDiva.com. We’re launching a course that is going to be open about four times a year called, How To Ace A Job Interview When You Haven’t Interviewed In A Long Time, and that is coming up for us pretty soon. But the one that I recommend people start with is called, Resume Secrets. It is a short course and it walks you through all of the things that we’ve been talking about today, and how to get your resume and your submission materials to the point where they will be considered and not discounted for grammar and spelling, and those kinds of things. So I’d like to offer your listeners a coupon for that, and I’ve sent the link and I’m offering fifty percent off of the Resume Secrets course for your audience.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well that’s very generous of you. We’ll include a link to that in the shownotes which is on our website, and that will live on long after we first publish this episode, so I hope people will check that out and take advantage of it.

Jenn Swanson:

Fabulous.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. And I also know that people can learn more by visiting your website which is www.communicationdiva.com.

Jenn Swanson:

That’s right.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Jenn Swanson:

There’s also links to all the social media stuff there and a podcast and all sorts of stuff so I’d love for people to come by and say hello.

Mac Prichard:

Well I encourage them to do so. I had a chance to visit your website, as well as listen to your podcast, and you’ve got just a killer introduction to your show, plus terrific content, so I encourage people to go to iTunes and download it as well.

Jenn Swanson:

Well, thank you.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Jenn, thanks for being on the show this week. It’s been a pleasure.

Jenn Swanson:

Take care.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Becky, Jessica, and Ben. What were some of the key points you three took away from my conversation with Jenn?

Ben Forstag:

Well I think it was telling that one of the reasons that you don’t get the interview that no one articulated was that you don’t have the skills for the job. Obviously you need to have the right skills, but I think what weeds most people out isn’t the absence of skill, it’s the absence of following directions or presenting their skills in the right way or clicking with whoever’s reviewing the resume. So there’s a lot of emphasis on style, really, over substance, at least when it comes to that initial screening step, that I think people need to think really hard about.

Jessica Black:

That’s an interesting point.

Mac Prichard:

I was actually encouraged because so much of what she talked about were the basics and things we can control: spelling errors, grammar, following directions, and putting time into applications. While she didn’t specify a number, my experience has been that it takes about ninety minutes to two hours to do an application right and those are all things that people can do.

Ben Forstag:

I think that’s true of most things in life and definitely most things in a job search, that it’s the little things get you ninety-five, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, percent of the way there. It’s shocking to me, as an observer, how few people do the little things that seem very simple to do, they just don’t do them. That’s why a lot of people struggle. And I know that’s true for getting the interview, and…shameless plug here, it’s also true of the interview itself, which is something I’ve been working on a lot, because we’re working on our own interview course.

Mac Prichard:

I think you and Becky have been writing a lot of content about interviews.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, thinking a lot about that. But I think that process of sending in an application and then waiting and not knowing is the worst part. But I think that a lot of what Jenn was saying, the simple mistake stuff is definitely ringing true. I was thinking too, as she was talking about the hiring manager, is looking for two or three key things that are either going to send you to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile. I feel like a lot of times it’s a guessing game for the job applicants because it’s not super spelled out in job description.

Mac Prichard:

I was thinking that too.

Becky Thomas:

And I just wonder if there’s not some, a lesson here for employers too. Just be really clear about what you’re looking for and what your absolute needs are, “If you don’t have this number of years of experience, don’t spend the two hours and apply because you’re going to waste everybody’s time.”

Ben Forstag:

I also think it was telling that her story that she shared was her experience working HR in the city. Governments are very rigid about their requirements. I don’t know why they pick some as being hard and fast requirements and others are like, “Oh whatever”, but I think there’s a lot more flexibility outside of the government space in hiring. You have a whole lot more leeway to apply for a job where you might not meet all of those qualifications.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, do your sales pitch, but it still seems like it would help everybody out.

Jessica Black:

Make it easy for people…not make it easy for people to apply, but don’t make it a guessing game. I think that’s a really good point of..spell it out, exactly what you’re expecting, so it’s not, “Sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that.” And people don’t really know what to do.

I also thought it was really interesting, her points about Word vs PDF.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

That was interesting wasn’t it?

Becky Thomas:

I know, I think about that when I’m submitting stuff too.

Jessica Black:

And I thought that she brought up an interesting point about how she uses a Mac and if she sends it to someone with a PC, she puts it into Word. But in my experience, even Word to Word from Mac to PC, can still make the formatting all wonky so that’s why I’ve always done PDF’s, and that’s to me a common practice. I thought that was really interesting that she said, and again, heed that employer’s note about, if they say put it in a Word Document, put it in a Word Document. But there is so much more room for error because of the way various settings are set up, and all of that stuff, that you don’t want to take that risk of having the formatting be weird. Then have your application or resume or cover letter get knocked out just because of that. I just thought that was really interesting that she said that.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I know. I always usually do PDF’s too, and I wonder if there’s a standard. I wonder…maybe we should follow up with Jenn and say, “Why not PDF’s?” She didn’t really say.

Jessica Black:

I think she was saying that it was employer’s personal preference.

Mac Prichard:

Right.

Becky Thomas:

That’s what I was asking.

Jessica Black:

So I think the reason why, in my interpretation, is why PDF’s have always been encouraged and acceptable is that they are…you know other parts of Adobe are…you have to have an account and sign in and all of that stuff, but with PDF’s, anybody can access them. So I don’t see, unless I’m missing something, about why they wouldn’t be opened. I’m not the expert here but in my interpretation, that’s the way to go.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. I agree.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think what I heard her say was, if an employer asks for a Word file, provide that, but otherwise, probably a PDF is okay. But the key was to follow directions.

Jessica Black:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Pay attention to the instructions.

Jessica Black:

Follow the instructions, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well good. Well, good conversation, and that was a great conversation with Jenn, as well.

Thank you, our listeners, for joining us for today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

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Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

When you submit a job application, you could be up against hundreds or even thousands of others. It’s hard to stand out in the crowd, but there are things you can do to improve your chances of getting an interview.

This week’s guest, Jenn Swanson, reminds us of simple mistakes that can sink your job application: missing key details, not following instructions, and submitting your attachments in the wrong format.

There are many reasons you didn’t get an interview. The top two:

  • You’re just not qualified.
  • You didn’t customize your resume and cover letter.

Jenn also shares advice for applicants to figure out what the hiring manager really wants, how to write your resume to get through automated applicant tracking systems, and tactics to land an interview for your dream job.

This Week’s Guest

Jenn Swanson is the host of the Communication Diva podcast and the author of What They See: How to Stand Out and Shine in Your New Job. Through her podcast, online courses, coaching, and book, Jenn helps you get the job, love your work, and  advance your career.

Jenn also shared a discount for our listeners on her Resume Short Course! Get the discount here.

Resources from this Episode