The job search often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Recruiters and hiring managers however know exactly what it takes to win the job offer, a.k.a. where the needle lies.
In a recent study, hundreds of career advisors weighed in on their top reasons applicants didn’t get the job.
We expanded the research to capture the 15 possible reasons you can’t find a job and how to fix them.
No more guessing why you can’t find a job. Let’s get started.
1. Not Differentiating Yourself
The average job posting receives 250 applications (ERE). At this volume, recruiters only remember applicants who stand out.
Luckily standing out is easier than you might realize. Sharing interesting traits, hobbies, and projects demonstrate uniqueness, which differentiates you from others. As simple as it sounds, this is the #1 reason folks aren’t getting hired (Workopolis).
Hiding unique and quirky details keeps applicants camouflaged among the others playing it safe. Instead, choose to stand out by simply being yourself.
Make sure to include these unique parts of your story on your LinkedIn bio, cover letter, and job application.
As a result, recruiters will notice you more often, and view you as a high value applicant due to your one-of-a-kind persona that you shared.
2. Un-Optimized Resumé
Resumés are still your admission ticket into the job market. Software scans them initially, and then hiring managers use them during phone interviews and in-persons.
Despite being a critical element in your application, recruiters only spend 6 to 10 seconds reviewing them (The Ladders). Under such brief time constraints, applicants with un-optimized resumés won’t be noticed.
See below for an optimized resume format, guaranteed to wow recruiters.
If you’re in a competitive field, people early in their careers sometimes even pay for resume feedback.
For example, an extra way to make money for accountants could simply be reviewing resumes of new grads and offering pointers.
3. Ignoring Culture Fit
Some people make the mistake of thinking company culture is nothing but corporate jargon. In reality, culture fit is the 2nd biggest hiring factor for recruiters (Jobvite’s National Recruiter Survey).
Culture establishes the code of conduct for a workplace, which fuels success. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” as Peter Drucker famously said.
Every business champions qualities in their culture, like extreme honesty or attacking the status quo.
But recruiters aren’t actually comparing you against that type of culture, because it’s simply not possible to judge traits like that from a phone interview.
Instead they look for positive qualities like these to gauge culture fit: enthusiasm, industry knowledge and conversation skills (Jobvite’s National Recruiter Survey).
These are universal traits that everyone appreciates and welcomes. Meaning that culture fit basically includes anyone that’s upbeat and easy to work with.
Remember to always be positive and friendly in interviews, and you’ll fit right into any company’s culture.
4. Not Sending Enough Applications
The average response rate is 10-20% for job applications – or 1 response per 10 applications (ZipJob).
If the average applicant sends 1 application every other day, they might not hear a reply for 3 weeks. If they send 3 applications per day however, the timeline shrinks to 3-4 days.
After 3 months, the first scenario would generate 4 replies, while the second scenario would generate 26.
Nothing changed except the number of applications going out the door, and yet our chances of landing a job improved significantly.
5. It’s Unclear You are Qualified
It’s up to job seekers to explain how they are qualified for a new opportunity. Recruiters won’t do the heavy lifting, and piece it together.
In fact, career advisors agreed that doing a poor job explaining your qualifications was a top reason candidates didn’t get the job (Workopolis).
To build your case, job descriptions are an excellent resource. They outline exactly what the business is looking for in a new hire, from character traits to daily responsibilities.
Use this information to your advantage, by sharing stories and examples from previous roles that exemplify the needs listed in the job summary.
There will be no question that you are ready for the position. Creating personal projects is also a great way to show proficiency in a skill. That’s exactly what I did to land my first marketing job without traditional experience.
6. Weak LinkedIn Profile
If your online presence is unprofessional it’s likely stopping recruiters in their tracks. 87% of recruiters visit candidates’ LinkedIn profiles (National Recruiting Report by Jobvite).
Maintaining an optimized LinkedIn profile demonstrates you take your career seriously, and improves your odds of a job offer. Things like great photos, bio summaries, and work history updates are common knowledge.
3 Quick Ways to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile:
- Always showcase your awards, skills, and certificates. LinkedIn includes a dedicated section for these accomplishments because they help you stand out.
- Use a variety of keywords in your LinkedIn profile, specific to your industry. In marketing for example, some great keywords are: data-driven, SEO, content marketing, and optimizations. Recruiters actively search for these terms which brings more visibility to your profile.
- Make sure to list volunteer experience and personal projects.
7. Skills Not Up to Par
We have to be honest with ourselves and realize our skills are not up to par sometimes.
If unsure where you stand, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I proficient in the right tools and programs for the job?
- Can I successfully accomplish the tasks required on a consistent basis?
- Do I feel comfortable enough in the skillset to talk about it confidently?
If you answered “no” or “I don’t know”to any of those questions, spend some figuring out where the gap is.
Job descriptions reveal industry expectations for every career out there, including: task requirements, tool proficiencies, and more.
If your skillset doesn’t currently stack up to the industry standard, dedicate some time to improve it.
Creating a personal portfolio is also an excellent way to showcase your skill level, and stand out. Learning a new in-demand or high income skill is also a great idea.
8. Not Using the Right Job Platforms
When trying to find a job, many people aren’t looking in the right places.
The job marketplace has 2 types of posting platforms – general and specialty. General platforms act as a catch-all for all types of careers, such as sites like: Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter.
Specialty platforms, on the other hand, curate job openings for specific industries. Sites like Dice, TripleByte, and IHireEngineering only post programmer jobs, making them hotbeds for these positions.
Most people use 1-2 platforms total, exposing them to only a tiny slice of the job market.
Instead, job seekers should engage with a mix of general and specialty platforms, to get access to all the opportunities in their market. Otherwise you’ll miss out on tons of new positions, which might include your dream job.
9. Unexplained Employment Gap
To recruiters, employment gaps are giant question marks. Naturally, hiring managers assume the break in career history is something negative, or else why leave it off.
Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager for a moment, and recognize a new hire is an investment for the company.
If you planned to invest in a house or vehicle, how would you feel if certain information was withheld?
Unknowns on investments might become liabilities, so we typically assume the worst. For this reason, applicants should always address employment gaps so it’s not a major point for recruiters.
Here are few ways frame those events in a better way (it should still relate to your situation):
- Medical issues, now resolved
- Taking time study to transition careers
- Realized my previous role was not a great fit, and needed to change industries
10. Overshoot Experience Requirements
Job postings can sometimes be unreasonable, such as entry level roles requiring 5 years work experience. That’s an example of inflated employer expectations. On the flip side, applicants occasionally make this mistake too.
Imagine you are browsing Indeed, and come across a mid-level position requiring 5+ years experience.
It might appear that the minimum acceptable level of expertise is 5 years, but in fact the threshold is lower. It could be around 3.5 years, if the candidate dazzles in every way.
But even the most impressive candidate wouldn’t get through with 1 year experience. At some point, there is a cut off. Applying for positions significantly beyond your expertise level is asking for an uphill battle.
Two years below the “requirement” is often the actual bottom limit. Stay above that range unless you enjoy job hunting on hard mode.
11. Not Following Up
Thank you notes send the message you are deeply interested in an opportunity. Despite being a small gesture, it can still tip the scale more in your favor. Follow up notes can even be sent after a rejection, to pinpoint exactly why you didn’t get the job.
Here’s an example: “Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about Blank Company.
I respect your decision to pursue other candidates, and would greatly appreciate any feedback from your team on specific areas of improvement. Thanks!”
Instead of walking away empty handed after a rejection, you built a bridge with that company. Interview feedback from employers is invaluable, and helps us learn about potential blind spots.
Companies have also been known to re-engage candidates who kept the conversation going with better fitting opportunities.
12. Not Showing Enough Enthusiasm
Get this wrong and you might as well hold a sign over your head that says: “I don’t want this job.” If that sounds harsh, put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter. Would you hire someone acting disinterested?
Struggling to find a job is draining. But we can’t let that feeling sabotage our chances with future job prospects.
Hundreds of career advisors agreed “not enough excitement and interest” was the 3rd most common reason people don’t get hired (Workopolis).
We should always put our best foot forward, even when we don’t feel like it.
13. Not Sending Customized Applications
Tailoring your application to fit a specific job offer presents you as the perfect candidate. Many applicants make the mistake of skipping this step, due to the extra time involved.
Yes, adding custom details into your applications adds a step to the process, but it multiplies your response rate and helps you edge out the competition.
For example, let’s say we notice innovation is mentioned multiple times in the job description. With that theme in mind, revisit your resumé and provide examples that demonstrate times you were creative.
Repeat this process a few more times, and you’ll have a much easier time landing the job.
14. Interview Jitters
If nervousness is getting the better of you in interviews, recruiters will notice and assume it’s a confidence issue. Fortunately there are several things you can do to get this issue under control.
The first strategy involves your thought process leading up to the interview. Instead of picturing yourself getting tongue tied, believe it will be a home run, and remember there are always more opportunities.
“Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Even more powerful than mindset is preparation. Every interview focuses on 3 topics: the company, your craft, and you (the applicant). Dedicate time to each of these areas, including the “you” section.
4 best ways to prepare for interviews:
- Memorize your resumé since it will be at the root of many interview questions
- Practice answering different types of interview questions, especially case based and behavior based questions
- Brush up on the latest industry news and information
- Research the company’s history, core values, and business model
Mastering this material will help you ace the interview so you can ultimately win the job offer.
15. Not Asking Questions
Asking questions conveys interest. Imagine going on a first date, and the other person doesn’t ask you a single question the whole evening.
Even for those who claim to struggle in the romance department, it would be obvious they are not interested.
This is a universal concept and most certainly appears in the hiring process. Recruiters expect applicants to ask questions, not only to enhance the discussion but to also show they are interested in the job.
Not asking questions sends a signal of disinterest to the interviewer, so make sure you always ask about a couple things towards the end.
If coming up with questions is typically a challenge, prepare a few questions ahead of time.
John-Paul Cody has been an avid online seller for years, across platforms including eBay, Mercari, Craigslist, and more. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from UNC Chapel Hill, and works in data analytics and marketing.