4 Job Search Mistakes That Can Cost the Interview

You take a deep breath and hit that momentous “send” button. Out goes the email that will deliver your cover letter and resume to your (cross your fingers!) future employer, and you breathe a sigh of relief. But that moment of ease doesn’t last long—for the next few days, you check your email obsessively, watch your spam folder like a hawk, and keep hoping for a call from an unknown number.

And after such optimistic anticipation, nothing can fully prepare you for the heart-dropping feeling you experience when you receive an automatically generated, dream-crushing rejection email, letting you know that you haven’t been selected for an interview.

What happened? Your application may have been perfect in your eyes—but if you didn’t land an interview, it’s time to take a good look at your application—from your potential employer’s point of view. While recruiting preferences definitely vary by company, here are four common reasons why you didn’t get that call back.

1. You Didn’t Follow Instructions

Sure, the job application process can be tedious and time consuming (“They want a cover letter, resume, three writing samples, and a YouTube video?”). But the first thing that will knock you out of the running for a new position is failing to follow instructions.

Whether you omit a required element of the application, send the email with something other than the requested subject line, or call the office when the company specifically requests no phone calls, you’ll likely be dismissed right off the bat.

These offenses seem innocent enough, but to a hiring manager, they come across as warning signs that you’re either blindly applying to as many jobs as possible (without actually looking at the application requirements), or that you lack attention to detail—something your future employer is probably not willing to risk.

2. You Lack Experience

When you come across a listing for your absolute dream position, it’s hard to evaluate the job description with an objective eye. No matter what the position requires—and how your experience measures up—you’re going to be 100% certain that you’re the perfect fit.

Unfortunately, if the job requires 10-15 years of experience, the hiring manager isn’t going to view the four years listed on your resume with such a lenient eye. Aiming high is one thing: If you don’t meet the required experience by a small margin, but make up for it with other stellar professional accomplishments and skills, you may still have a chance. But if a glance at your resume clearly indicates that you’re under-qualified for the job, you aren’t going to be getting that interview—so don’t waste your time, it’s better spent elsewhere.

3. The Hiring Manager Had to Make a Stretch

Once your resume makes it in front of the eyes of a hiring manager, you want it to scream, “I’m perfect for this job!” If you are qualified, but the recruiter can’t immediately tell—she’s going to toss your resume aside in favor of one from a candidate whose relevant experience jumps off the page.

Practically speaking, this means you can’t submit the same resume and cover letter for every job you apply to. Since each position will list different requirements, each application you submit should highlight past experience and accomplishments specific to that particular job. So, take a look at the job description and the company’s website and do some general industry research to determine how to present yourself as the perfect fit.

For example, if you’re applying for a management position, the line items on you resume should focus on your experience leading teams, overseeing projects, and coaching and motivating employees. The time you spent writing blog posts for the marketing department, however, probably doesn’t need a lengthy mention—or a mention at all.

4. You Got Lost in the Abyss

If you’re relying solely on an online applicant tracking system to decide the future of your employment, think again. While an automated system makes the process easier for employers, who no longer have to sift through the initial mountain of resumes, it presents a huge challenge for job hunters, whose applications tend to be passed over if they don’t include the perfect set of keywords and phrases.

Remember that the meat of the job application process lies in forging a personal connection with someone at the company, with the goal of getting your resume into real, human hands. That means your job-hunting process should have started long before you submitted an application—with networking.

Whether you accomplish this by attending industry events, reaching out via social media, or setting up an informational interview with someone at the company, creating a personal connection will allow you to skip the abyss altogether. Since you’ll have a business card in hand by the time you send in your resume, you’ll be able to follow up directly.

Applying to jobs can be frustrating, especially when the hard work you put into multiple cover letters and resumes doesn’t result in just as many interviews. But if you put the time into applying for the right positions, molding your resume to represent the picture-perfect candidate, and making a real connection with the company, you’ll have a much better chance of landing the interview—and ultimately, the job.

By Katie Douthwaite Wolf