Keep reading if this sounds familiar: You’ve been applying to tons of jobs, and you’re getting no callbacks. No email responses. No invites for an interview. Your LinkedIn profile is showing no activity.
You did your research. You prepared. What happened?
First off, I understand your pain! As a dual specialist career counselor, I know first-hand how bewildering and devastating the job search process can be.
Career is linked to identity. Who we are as people and how we perceive ourselves are strongly tied to the greater idea of “doing.” When we job search, we are essentially searching for a part of ourselves. On the other hand, the ‘identity’ piece may be a luxury – some of us just need to pay the bills. Putting in the work without seeing results can be debilitating regardless of one’s reasons for job searching.
That’s why we’re here to help!
Below are some of the most pressing questions DiversityJobs.com has received from jobseekers, answered by real professionals who work on the frontline of career preparedness. This Q&A will provide you some insight that should help with your job search.
- Emily Salazar, Career Counselor, St. Edward’s University
- Andrew D. Harper, Region V Vice President, Board of Directors, Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA)
- Brad Boggs, President & COO, DiversityJobs.com
Q: How much does a LinkedIn profile or other social media come into play with job applications? Do hiring managers do their own research into the candidate outside of the standard application?
Salazar: “LinkedIn comes into play in a big way. All employers – non-profit, corporate, start-ups – are going straight to LinkedIn. It used to be that LinkedIn was just another version of your résumé online…but it’s not that anymore. The things they can’t see on a résumé, they are looking for on LinkedIn.”
LinkedIn offers the opportunity to go beyond your résumé by incorporating media such as slides, websites, powerpoints, essays, and portfolios. Employers are looking at your activity, comments, recommendations, and to whom or what you may be connected. Keep your LinkedIn profile current and engaging.
Harper: Excluding government agencies, “I most certainly think private employers are looking at individual social media. And while it is not probably fair or even an accurate way to judge someone based on LinkedIn or social media, I think it is happening.”
Boggs: “When we hire at DiversityJobs.com, we check LinkedIn and other social media to make sure the candidate’s story is consistent with what they are telling us through their résumé and interview. We are a fully remote-based workforce, so it’s important to use everything we can to make sure we are hiring a great teammate.”
You may be acquainted with the idea of “culture fit” – employers wanting to ensure a good dynamic between the candidate and the company. An applicant’s social media may provide clues as to “fit appropriateness.” Social media has the potential to move you forward or weed you out. While actively job searching, keeping your social media clean and current is solid advice. Remember that wild weekend in Cabo? A potential employer might also if you’re posting pictures all over social media.
Q: What are some of the best current, quick tips for résumés and interviews?
Salazar: “When you submit a résumé, be it online or by going to a job fair to hand it to a person, it’s generally not going to be read by a human being first. It’s going to be read by an applicant tracking system or ATS. That is almost always the case now.”
A tailored résumé is critical. Does the language of your résumé reflect that of the job posting details? That does not mean copying and pasting the job description onto your résumé, but it does mean matching the language as much as possible if your experience and qualifications are relevant.
Harper: “Whatever makes you the most qualified for that position needs to be on the top of the résumé.” That means you don’t have to follow that résumé format you found on Word, or what another article advised should be the default template. Lead with the most relevant information for that particular position. Employers should not have to dig for your experiences or qualifications. Make the document easy to read and keep graphics to a minimum, if any.
As for interviews, “employers are going to be testing you to determine if what you’ve stated is true,” so be prepared with real examples. Show initiative by being prepared to verbalize experiences. The interview is also your opportunity to demonstrate soft skills and personality.
Boggs: “Be prepared to experience interviews more frequently via online video programs like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom. To echo Salazar and Harper, I would agree that you need to lead with the most relevant information on your résumé that relates to the particular job to which you are applying. Beginning with your most recent position, an employer wants to see if you developed the skills and demonstrated the accomplishments necessary to help their business and mission.”
Q: I’ve submitted tons of applications and résumés, but I haven’t heard back from anyone. It’s like the company’s career site is a black hole. What am I doing wrong?
Salazar: “You may be doing nothing wrong. Employers are getting thousands and thousands of résumés. They are overloaded and don’t have to respond. One, don’t expect a response often. Two, after about a week and a half, two weeks, there’s nothing wrong with emailing the company. Still don’t hear anything? It’s perfectly okay to follow-up in another couple of weeks, then stop.”
Indeed, your application is more likely to stand out by taking the initiative and following up. Employers pay attention to a candidate’s willingness to inquire about their applications, and it could also let the employer you’re still interested. In the meantime, you can submit another application for the same job. As a general rule, the more you apply, the greater your odds are for a response, just don’t go overboard.
Harper: “Sometimes it’s not just this mystery ATS machine that’s rejecting everyone. It’s often just a matter of volume and timing. If an employer received 100 applications and found five strong candidates in the first 20 applicants, they’re going to stop looking.”
You may be a great candidate, but if you weren’t early enough with your application, or didn’t stand out among the first applicants, your materials might be overlooked. That’s another excellent reason why following up within a week or two is a great idea.
Combat the volume and stand out as a candidate by focusing on the things you can control:
- Ensure your résumé is always current – take a few moments to optimize the relevancy on your résumé by comparing it to the job description.
- Always tailor your cover letter to the employer and role for which you are applying, never use a generic document.
- Consider your value proposition
- Remember to follow-up on your application within a week or two.
Boggs: “That’s a good point about cover letters – I think they are somewhat of a lost art. However, if done well, an original cover letter can easily help land a job seeker at the top of the interview shortlist. Employers can tell if the cover letter is canned – or even worse – if it has language leftover from the last job to which the candidate applied. That will be taken as a sign the candidate is either not detail-oriented, doesn’t care that much about the role, or didn’t take the time to understand what the employer was after. And they’ll be skipped over.”
Q: Speaking of résumés, what are some red flags that stand out to recruiters?
Salazar: “Gaps. Explain the [résumé] gaps. Gaps are okay as long as you explain them in your résumé or cover letter.” Address gaps head-on to make sure they don’t raise any questions that prevent you from being interviewed. Be sure you can account for time out of your field by expressing the work you were able to achieve or any involvement, such as volunteering.
“Also, leaving dates off your résumé. This isn’t a red flag, but it can unintentionally speak to an applicant’s age. With some of the older population…they won’t put dates…because they’re afraid the employer will do some calculations, figure out they’re older and not call them in. Younger applicants typically don’t think twice about adding graduation and employment dates. “It’s up to the applicant, and it’s not right or wrong, that’s just something to think about. Is leaving dates off really benefiting you?”.
Also, you don’t have to put your entire work history – only the most recent ten years in many cases. That experience should be your most relevant to match the prospective job anyway. And if you are only showing the last 2-3 jobs and the most recent ten years, there is really no need to withhold dates.
Harper: “Be mindful of the basic stuff like structural consistency, spelling, and grammar. (There is no excuse for these errors when programs like Grammarly are so readily available.) If you’re detail-oriented, your résumé is the best opportunity to demonstrate that. Also, be prepared to explain roles that show reverse transitioning as opposed to upward movement. If your role was downgraded or showed a backslide in responsibilities, then be ready to address the issue in the cover letter and be prepared to explain your résumé in the interview.”
Boggs: “I would say it’s a red flag not to tailor your résumé to the specific job opening to which you are applying. Don’t make the hiring manager connect the dots between your experience, what you might have accomplished, and how that can help in the next role. Instead of simply listing responsibilities, your résumé should talk about the accomplishments and results you’ve produced in quantifiable terms. If you believe you’ve developed the skills in previous roles that will translate to the next role, spell that out directly.”
Q: Any tips for those currently employed and seeking opportunities elsewhere?
Salazar: “It doesn’t matter if you’re working or not working. If we’re talking about how to write a résumé or how to apply, the advice doesn’t change.”
However, if it’s a matter of anonymity – not wanting your current employer to know you are looking elsewhere – then be aware of your LinkedIn profile. What does your current status say about you – Employed? Actively Searching?
Harper: “When you begin a job search, you have to know that there is a minimum risk of the employer finding out, particularly in certain industries. People just know each other, and they talk.”
Consider at what point you need to disclose your job search, as it will be in your best interest to keep a positive relationship with your current employer. Assume a “minimum risk” if you are job-seeking while employed. Keep in mind, “With the unemployment rate being so low and the sheer number of job openings today… you’d be foolish not to keep your eye open. If you’re really good at what you do, other people are going to try to recruit you.”
Q: Is there a difference in how the job seeker should approach the application process for a small organization, as opposed to a larger one?
Salazar: “The only difference is volume. At a smaller place, maybe you can drop by and do some informal follow-up and the small courtesy behaviors that you likely could not do with a larger employer. There’s not much else you would do differently, but if the company is smaller, try to make an extra effort in being visible.”
Boggs: “The difference I see is with a large employer, you would rarely know who the individual is doing the hiring. With a smaller organization, you have more of an opportunity to ‘sell yourself’ by relating to the hiring manager or individual you can tell is responsible for the team. Networking and research are key here.
Here’s a real-life example: A few years ago, my wife applied to be the nurse at a local elementary school. She spent a considerable amount of time researching the school – their population, what they stood for – and reading the Principal’s periodic newsletter to parents. When she was called in for an interview, my wife was thrilled to see the Principal on the hiring committee because she had the opportunity to echo the schools’ motto ‘Heroes have heart!’ and the Principal’s personal mission to ‘prepare kids for college starting in Kindergarten’. After one particular answer, the Principal exclaimed, ‘Yes, finally someone paid attention!’. My wife stood out by doing her homework and showing she cared about being part of the specific school’s mission.
That’s how you sell yourself – by understanding the real needs of the individual employer and then communicating that understanding with a tailored solution you can offer. You can also do that when applying to a large employer, but it’s easier to build rapport with the individual stake-holders if you can identify them.”
Q: What are your thoughts on following up post-interview?
Salazar: “Definitely! You get an employer’s attention and stand out from the crowd because thank you notes happen so rarely. Courtesy matters. Employers complain about a lack of courtesy. Anything that makes you stand out from the crowd.” Even a short thank you email or handwritten note can put your application on the radar.
Harper: “A handwritten thank you note is nice…but it may not reach the people you want it to. At a minimum, I think an email is absolutely acceptable. What’s important is that you took the time to show people you’re interested in the position.”
Harper also points out that the absence of a thank you note indicates to the employer that you may not be interested in the position. Ultimately a thank you note, or the lack of one, speaks on your behalf.
Boggs: “A thank you email is a must. When we are interviewing, we won’t even move candidates to the next step in our process without it. It shows us the candidate is interested, which is essential because we want to hire people who genuinely want to be part of our team. A good follow-up note also helps to remind us about highlights from the interview, which is important if we are interviewing many candidates. And it acts as a real-life example of how the candidate will facilitate communication with our clients, partners, and staff once hired.”
Salazar: Have an awareness that there is a lot of competition out there. I can’t stress enough – in this digital age, employers are bending over backward to find ways to sift through thousands of résumés to find the perfect match. Employers are inundated, trying to find that perfect person. Just sending out résumés is not enough. You can’t just be a sheet of paper to the employer. You have to network. You have to be on LinkedIn. You have to join professional associations. You have to go to job fairs. You have to make cold-calls. You cannot be just a sheet of paper. The résumé is not enough. Anything you can do in-person is what you need to do on top of the résumé.
Harper: You can’t become emotionally invested in every résumé. It can be very frustrating…this is still a truly human-to-human experience. And I think because there are so many variables that are human to the process, it’s going to be a little messy. There certainly are unfair and inefficient practices out there. Trying to connect humans and companies… there’s not a perfect way to do that.”
The hiring process is often muddled. Make things more transparent for the employer by optimizing your résumé, tailoring your cover letter with a value proposition, and taking the time to develop your LinkedIn profile. When you demonstrate that you are more than your résumé – someone who understands the employer’s needs, someone who has developed the skills to help them – the employer will realize that too.
For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.