12 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job Interview

Sitting in my inbox right now is 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 anyone could pound out 15+ job applications every single day, for 120 consecutive days. It also truly bums me out to think how much time overwhelmed job seekers invest in strategies that simply do not work.

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.

1. You’re spraying the universe with unfocused resumes and cover letters.

If you remember anything from this article, let this be it: the spray-and-pray approach of sending out hundreds (thousands!) of unfocused applications rarely works. Avoid the machine-gun approach. 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 and cover letters.

Applying for jobs 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 a job though 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. 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. Chronological resumes, however boring, are generally the best approach.

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Or, better yet, skip the online application and try to hand your resume directly to a human being!

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 the job anyways, don’t be surprised that you didn’t get the interview.

Sometimes, you don’t have to meet all of the requirements. Sometimes you do. (I know… it’s confusing and frustrating!) Unfortunately, you can’t expect the resume scanning software to wave your resume through if it was programmed to go look for that one specific requirement.

So what if you’re missing a mandatory requirement and still want to take a run at the job? You need to find and endear yourself to someone on the inside, and explain why they should give you a chance.

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 publicly advertise job openings for a set amount of time, even when they have a “favorite” candidate 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. You better believe that everyone and their brother wants to work at Nike; about a zillion people (my rough estimate) around the world apply for their jobs every day. The 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 need to be the best of the best. Sending in resume, after resume, after resume 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 savvy 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 or you gave them no clue on why a guy in Boise was applying for a job in Baton Rouge.

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Decision makers within organizations sometimes get nervous about relocating people, especially if they don’t do it often. Not only are there expenses involved but also 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, try to make it instantly clear, via your 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 you an interview. 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; 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 a “fatal error” on an assignment, we could get no higher than a D 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 D.

As a job seeker, if you make a similar error on your resume or cover letter, you won’t get a D, 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.

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10. You went to an informational interview expecting it to lead to a job interview.

When someone agrees to have a coffee with you to talk about their job and hear about your career aspirations, they are not expecting (or desiring) you to ambush them with your resume 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.

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 must realize that you and scores of other people are all trying to cram their 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.