There are no shortage of tips on how to have a successful job search. But when you fail to get the gig you want, you may be left wondering why. Hiring professionals are deluged with applications and don’t have time to write a “thank you for applying” letter. So candidates are left guessing.
I decided to go straight to the source and asked a seasoned career recruiter what the most common pitfalls are. In a far-ranging discussion with Tejal Wagadia, a career expert at Jobscan who has interviewed close to 10,000 job candidates in the past seven years, Wagadia shared the biggest things that can trip up job seekers.
The No. 1 thing that will derail you, according to Wagadia, is applying for a broad range of jobs that you’re not qualified for. It’s understandable that with so many jobs being advertised on job boards, and coming to you directly from sites like LinkedIn, you’ll feel you’re in demand.
But think again before you apply. “Unless you have 70% to 80% of the qualifications, you shouldn’t go for it,” says Wagadia. And that doesn’t mean you anticipate that you can do 80% of the job. It means you have already done 80% of that job. “It’s one thing to say ‘I can do this,’ and it’s another thing to say ‘I have done this.’”
For mid-to-senior-level positions, companies look for at least three to five years of experience. So for example, an account manager might apply for a Director of Sales position, but lacking any experience in that area, they won’t get the job. Instead, stay focused and apply only for those positions where you have several years of actual experience.
A second roadblock to landing a job is using a single résumé for all your job applications. “Candidates apply with the same résumé, over and over again,” says Wagadia. “They haven’t looked closely enough at the job description and made sure the skills listed are reflected in their résumé.”
“I’ve interviewed candidates whose résumé doesn’t match the job, and when I question them [about a skill] they say, ‘Oh yeah, I did that.’” But they hadn’t put it on their résumé. “We recruiters aren’t clairvoyant,” says Wagadia. “If you don’t show your skills and experience on your résumé, we have to assume you don’t have them.”
The solution, she says, is to customize every single résumé you send out. Make sure the skills you have on your CV align with those in the job description. If you want to know how well your résumé matches the job description, check out this site. “It’s particularly important to customize your résumé,” says Wagadia, “when applying for ‘bridge’ (contract) jobs or when making a career change, like going from one industry to another.” You will be evaluated on the fit.
The third thing that can trip job seekers up, according to Wagadia, is “not showing the impact you’ve had in the jobs you’ve held.”
“I don’t just want to know that you led a team,” she says. “I want to know how much you as a team generated in revenue each year.” You need to show the actual value you’ve created for your company in those roles.” This should be quantifiable (e.g., a recruiter might list the number of people she hired; a software engineer might list the number of programs developed and customers reached, a communications professional might share employee engagement figures or social media impact). Give at least three impact figures for each job you’ve held.
Not giving figures for your impact is a serious problem. “Almost every résumé I’ve seen just lists job duties rather than the value created,” says Wagadia. “Candidates copy and paste the job description they were hired into and forget to show the impact they had in that role.” If you want to impress the recruiter or hiring manager, give the quantifiable results you’ve attained.
Another thing that can derail candidates is their failure to ask the recruiter or hiring manager questions in an interview. “When they have no questions,” says Wagadia, “they appear not to be interested in the position.”
Wagadia has six favorite questions she recommends asking:
A fifth way to undercut yourself, is to misread people in team interviews. These group interviews are becoming more common, and they present challenges.
“Be aware how you are addressing the interviewing team,” says Wagadia. She has seen situations in which male candidates don’t address the female interviewers, especially in tech companies. Also beware of directing all your attention to the team leader or hiring manager. Treat everybody equally.
Group interviews can also be challenging because you have to customize your answers for each person. Think about who’s asking the question and choose a narrative that the person can relate to. For example, if an internal customer asks for an example, make it a customer-centric story. And size up whether the person wants a short answer, a big-picture answer, or a detailed “nuts and bolts” answer.
A final way job applicants can go astray is to appear disengaged by giving short, curt answers in interviews.
I asked Wagadia if there was a point in an interview when she made a decision not to proceed with a candidate, and she replied, “Yes, when they’re giving me one-word or one-sentence answers.”
She explained: “I might say, ‘Tell me about the kind of position you have been looking for.’
“The candidate answers ‘technical positions.’
“What kind of technical position? I ask.
“When it feels like I’m pulling teeth,” Wagadia says, “I decide not to proceed with that candidate. An interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.”