Waiting to hear back from a job application

Only 2% of applicants actually get interviews: Here's how to be one of them

Peter Harris|

I was doing a radio interview this morning. I thought the topic was going to be hiring trends for 2014, but the first question that Colleen Rusholme asked me was, “what are the biggest mistakes that job seekers make.” Having worked for online job sites helping people get hired for over ten years, I didn’t have to think too long before answering: “applying to too many jobs.”

Here’s the thing. When you’re looking for work, of course you should seek out as many opportunities as are available to you – and you should apply to all of those that you would really like to have and that you’re qualified for.

But if you’re qualified for a job, and you’d really like to have it, then you should also put the time and effort into preparing an application that really gives you the best shot at actually landing the job. And that’s the most common mistake that we see job seekers make: mass applying to a myriad of jobs using one generic resume.

The internet has made it very easy for people to search out and apply to many job opportunities. But sending out more applications doesn’t increase your chances of getting hired. Sending out better applications does. Employers have told us that sometimes as many as 75% of applicants for a given role aren’t actually qualified to do it.

Experts say that only an even smaller fraction than that are selected for an interview. “98% of job seekers are eliminated at the initial resume screening and only the “Top 2%” of candidates make it to the interview”, says Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts. “Fixing the employment market requires helping job seekers become “Top 2% Candidates” who can meet employer’s rigorous requirements and easily hit the “bulls-eye” of employer needs to ensure they don’t make bad hires” continued Meier.

Applying for jobs you’re unqualified for can hurt your chances at future positions with the company too. The online recruitment software company Bullhorn surveyed 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers and found that such irrelevant applications was the biggest turnoff for 30 percent of them. (And of that group, 43 percent said they would ‘blacklist’ those candidates from any other jobs as well – by suppressing their names from even coming up in future resume searches.)

With that in mind, here are three ways that you can elevate your job applications to the top of the list:

    Only apply for jobs that you actually qualify for. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to have every single bullet point listed in the job posting. There is such a thing as ‘credential creep’ where employers flood a job ad with a wish list of qualifications that any one candidate is unlikely to possess. Read the job posting carefully. Make sure that you understand the actual duties and challenges of the job, and if you can make a significant contribution in the role, then go ahead and apply.

    Explain how you can stand out on the job. Employers want to hire someone who will make their lives easier. So your resume should demonstrate what your past successes can accomplish for them. Avoid listing just your work duties and tasks, but instead focus on your achievements. Make sure the employer knows the added value that you specifically brought to your role. Bear in mind that these should be described in such a way as to highlight their relevance to the challenges of the job you’re applying to.

    Apply to the job that you’re applying to. That’s a grammatically-interesting sentence, but it’s nonetheless true. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier about people using a one generic resume to apply for numerous jobs. If the job title on your resume doesn’t match the job that you’re applying to, there’s little chance that you’ll make it into the top 2%. Similarly, even if you have the qualifications for the job, if your career objective doesn’t match with the role, you’re unlikely to be hired for it. It gives the impression that you would be a bad fit for the job, and that you wouldn’t stay very long in the position.

Find jobs that you can do and that you would actually like to do. (There’s no point in applying for jobs that you don’t actually want.) Research the company, the industry and the specific role. Write a resume and a cover letter that specifically show why you would like to work at that job for that company. Highlight how your past accomplishments demonstrate what you can achieve for them.

A resume that is tailored and specific to a job will always stand out from the crowd of generic applications, and that’s how you can make it to the job interview.

Peter Harris
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Category: Job Search Strategies, Resumes
  • Andrew Kerper

    This sounds like good advice and makes a lot of sense, but the reality is that life costs money and you aren’t allowed to print your own so you need a job to pay the bills. This is ultimately why so many job seekers apply to jobs they aren’t entirely qualified for. If you live in a region where work that pays worth a darn or work in your field of interest is hard to come by, are you going to move somewhere else in the hope of finding work? That’s taking quite a risk to incur the expense with no guaranteed ROI, and if you don’t already have an income the expense may be prohibitive. I don’t think the recruiters who are so easily frustrated realize this, since they are comfortable and secure in their jobs and wrongly assume that all job seekers are just shopping around for their dream job. I think most of us dream of having a job that we love doing but chances are not great of actually living that dream.

    • Matt

      It sucks to be in a situation where you are forced to accept a job that you’re not passionate with. When you get a job, you need to save money. At least 10%. Because you wont always have a job. But that wont help you now.

      The best way to find jobs is through friends. Use your Facebook! Talk to people, and mention you’re looking. Ask if they know anyone who’s hiring. If the place they work is hiring, you can mention them in the cover letter, (assuming they are a good worker).

      It’s also workable to stay with a friend or family member while you search for work, and if you spend a few hours each day cleaning their house to really give back, it’s a good deal for them. This will buy you some time to find a better job.

      If you need a quick source of cash, go door to door and offer to shovel people’s driveways when it snows. If you’re not afraid of heights, you can clean eavestroughs. Get a lawn mower and mow lawns in summer. Rake leaves in the fall or spring. Most people are super busy and they need things like that done. You can make decent money and it’s great exercise.

      If you apply for jobs, do your best to apply in person, and to actually talk to and get to know the people there. Remember little details they tell you so you can have an ongoing rapport next time you see them. That’s the kind of person who people want to hire.

  • cybersun

    Pretty elemental and basic. Don’t waste yours or anybody’s time.

  • Pierrette Brousseau

    There is a lot of truth to this article. However – as a job seeker for two years, I have a folder full of applications for which I spent great effort and time making sure that: a) my skills were an almost perfect match for the position (i.e., 100% of the “essentials” and at least 50% of the “optionals”); b) that my résumé reflected that reality so that hiring managers do not have to “read between the lines”; and c) that my cover letter addressed the important points of the posting. Every résumé and cover letter I submit are different.

    In spite of that, in well over 75% of the cases, I do not get an auto-reply acknowledgement of my application (how difficult is that to set up for the organization?). Of the remaining 25%, I get an acknowledgement of receipt, and some of those were invitations for testing and an interview, all of which went reasonably well.

    It is indeed a challenging market out there for candidates…

    • turkeyspit

      The sad truth is that it really comes down to networking. After 7 months and about a dozen interviews it came down to a job that was posted by a LinkedIn contact.

  • TheKurgan

    This is all bullshit. Want to get hired? Convince the interviewer and or your prospective boss that hiring you will make that person money. I guarantee it, if a fully qualified, excellent interview candidate, educated, polite, go-getter applies for a job but the unkempt slob who may not have the qualifications but will make the interviewer money personally also applies, the slob will get the job.

    Research the company. Find out what the bonus packages are and how they work. Then, tailor your skill set so that your skills stand out in ways that will fulfill tasks that create bonus opportunities for your prospective boss and/or interviewer. The more money you make your boss, the more your boss will like you, no matter your personality, qualifications, water-cooler gossip tree, or anything else. Everything else is window dressing.

    Once you get hired, continue working like heck at tasks that make money for the people above you. Your own bonus is secondary to keeping your bosses happy. Within reason, forget rules and regulations. Believe me, I worked in a bank, and there are LOTS of laws on the books. The bank also had LOTS of internal rules and threats of write-ups and termination if the rules weren’t followed. Here’s the truth. If you closed four loans and created 20 new checking accounts in a month, they’d sweep a $1,000 shortage in your cash drawer under the rug. If you had a bad month in the sales aspect, you’d get written up if you were short $20. My co-manager even told me to ignore written policy in order to make sales and/or satisfy customers with unreasonable requests.

    • Caggles

      Your idea of how people get hired is WAY out in left field. The idea that your average interviewer will hired a slob with the skills over someone who is polite, professional and motivated but needs a little training is totally incorrect. It’s easy to teach someone the basics of how to do a job, assuming they have a basic level of skill/intelligence (which is something you can pretty easily pick up during the interview). The real test is whether that person is enjoyable to work with. If the hiree is unpleasant to be around during the interview, that isn’t going to change once they’re hired.

      The great majority of interviewers will pick a pleasant and professional candidate in need of training over a slob who already has the skills every single time.

      • TheKurgan

        You completely missed the point, Caggles. If the slob makes the company and/or his or her boss more money, the slob wins … even with no qualifications. Having lived it myself, that’s the way it is.

    • M Chisty

      This is reality. Could not agree more. A simple question to ask: why should a company hire me if I am not profitable for them? (It is all about money after all). Harsh but true.

    • Nick Kossovan

      @TheKurgan … You should be writing these article! Sounds like you have real world experience that others here could greatly benefit from.

  • therimisrolled

    And every resume should only have text on the first quarter of the page too…

  • Peggy O’Neill

    Most companies use software used in the United States which looks at specific words to assess an application. If those specific words are not included, then the application is deleted. Perhaps it would be easier for HR to LOOK at applications that could very well be accepted, but doesn’t always adhere to a computer-generated scanning.

  • Guest

    I applied to a job that did not align with my experiences. However, the recruiter contacted me saying he is interested in interviewing me for other roles. How about this case? hmm???

  • uplatejoe

    The real problem is the huge influx of applicants and overworked HR professionals who use keyword searches to skim through the 1000’s of applicants. You may be the best person for the job hands down but if your resume doesn’t register with these search programs your not even looked at. Now Savvy applicants with no skills other than writing to the job application are filling the inbox’s. I’ve seen so many crap resumes with fluff words that make the pass but have no substance as an applicant. And basically this article is telling you to do the same to try and beat out those other crap guys. Maybe HR professionals have to actually start reading the applications to weed out those that are only writing to the Application.

    • Mark

      That’s why I actually bother to track someone down in HR and force them to at least read my email when I apply online. Just a note and a ‘heads-up’. Not that its helped, but it might drive a few HR clerks to insanity.

  • Chantal Hylton-Tonnes

    So jobs are hard to find, even with relevant experience, a well-written cover letter and customized resume. I suggest that each of you struggling job seekers start considering starting a small business that allows you to use your talent/skill. I know, this sounds hard and I am sure the objections will pour in: I have no money to start a business, we need money, there are so many competitors out there, I am not sure what to do….as Nike says, just do it! After 6 months of not finding a job, I decided to advertise a bedroom on airbnb.com. After 2 months, I got my first customer, treated her royally and have never looked back since! no money spent, just used what I had – extra space and time to take a guest around my city!

  • Adeleke Fagbohun

    A. What I learnt from this article is the biggest mistakes we make as job seekers and there are few points I wrote out from this and they are:

    Mass application to a countless number of jobs using same resume

    I also learnt that sending a better application thus increases someone’s chances of getting hired

    You should also apply for jobs you know you are qualified for.

    B. The writer wrote this article so that we can all learn from our past mistakes while applying for jobs and also guides us through what is needed when applying for jobs.

    C. The main points of this article are as follows:

    You have to apply for jobs you know you are qualified for.

    You also have to describe and convince your employer you can accomplish the job that is giving to you.

    Also, you should apply to a job that matches your career objectives.

  • Pooja Kotian

    The article informs us that only 2% applicants usually get job interviews and helps us how to get them. This article helped me understand the importance of a resume. The author very well quotes,” Sending out more applications doesn’t increase chances of getting hired. Sending of better application does”. This is a very simple and easy way of saying that not the quantity but the quality matters. Sending out applications is important but not all jobs are made for us, so we should choose wisely before applying to any job.

    The writer was first doing a radio interview on the topic, ‘Hiring trends for 2014′. But when one of the listeners asked him a question on the biggest mistake that job seekers make, he could not wait to write this article. He very well explained the query of the listener in this article as he knew; this is a common enigma for everyone.

    Mainly, the author is trying to convey that applying to a number of jobs using one resume is big mistake. We can always modify and format our resume according to the job by editing all the unnecessary qualifications and using only those things which are required for the job. If you have to apply for your dream job, then time and effort should be put in preparing a resume that really gives a best shot at actually landing at that job. Employers always hire those who make their lives easier, thus we should clearly mention only those points that make us better than others.

    • Darcy Hudjik

      Actually, Poojah, I’ve applied to multiple job openings that were posted simultaneously at the same company, if I was sufficiently qualified for them. I think that was a factor in my being hired at my current job; the fact that I was interested in more than one position showed flexibility.

  • T.H

    I’ve gotten more interviews with the generic resume than I have with the tailored resume. My question is this: do these employers even know what they want in an employee? How many of them are actually hiring or are they just fishing? I’ve also noticed that there seems to be more and more agencies, rather than actual companies doing the posting and hiring. At any rate, back to the generic vs. the tailored resume, it’s not easy to tailor a resume when some of these companies offer up a vague and unspecific job posting. Should you even apply when you’re not sure who or what type of company is posting? It seems to me, some companies are looking for the person who will do the most work for the least amount of money. Just saying!!

  • 1MegaBeast2

    We can all rest easy with these statistics knowing Obama is allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to enter the job market and compete.

  • Jan

    Hi All,
    I read this advice, yet another article in how to land the perfect job, and think about my situation. I was in a professional job at the local council and due to government cuts made redundant, since the legislation changed and you now need to be licenced to do the job. I listened to good advice and retrained, I went back to uni at 39yrs of age and got myself a degree. It has been 12 moths now job hunting and only one interview by pure luck. I have read and listened to so many advice and had my CV professionally changes, my CV changed with every application, cover letter done professionally for every job application, the structure of my CV and cover letters changed to suit the many now online recruitment filtering software and zip, nahda, nothing!!! I do about 100 applications a week with my CV and cover letter tailored to suit the specific application, professionally checked over and apart from the one only interview had only three companies at least replied with a ‘no thank you’. I have networked with linkedin, directly approach companies and so far through all this it was down to this new era of filtering software and even with that I have changed and re-changed and formatted and re-formatted my application, CV and cover letters and not even getting pass the first stage of this filtering systems online recruitment is now using, so how does one stay positive and stop yourself from throwing the jobcentre staff out the window when they try to make out you are just another one of those trying to con the government out of funding and you are just a lazy git not wanting to work, this bloke nearly fell of his chair when he saw my history of job hunting and the extreme lengths I went through to get a job and then to make it even more interesting I had to teach him about things happening out there and websites one could use to help??????????

    • http://14andafter.wordpress.com/ Shot Times

      Maybe we’re dealing with an economic system that is crumbling down. It could be an opportunity for change, but I can sympathize that change may not come from those in such a state of scarcity, neither will it come from the others (as they lack the motivation for it).
      That aside, you could try to apply in other locations and in other fields/ for other types of companies, still at your skill level (it’s hard to get specific, since I don’t know exactly what your degree is on). Fill-in your unemployment year with something- make it look like you’ve been active, with a hobby, whatever. If you can’t, start getting active now, volunteer etc. If possible, don’t disclose your age. Include employment references in your CV, good ones. Follow up on every application via phone. Also send speculative applications- e.g. via e-mail as specified on the companies’ website. Propose an informal/ preliminary meeting. (You may at least get free coffees, a chat that gives you a feel of the market and some training for interviews).

  • Carman Montague

    greetings i have read your information on getting selected for an interview and i would like too add a little something,you it good to get feedback from another individual because you will never know unless you ask and try.I also would like to say that over selling yourself can be a big turnoff be truthful about your work history and always have in opened mind,be confidant be at the same time do not be over-confidant I applied for a job that i did not expect would get any attention but it did,and now i have been selected for an interview.all of this happen with in a week of my applying for the position.

  • ivo03

    Michael, just another normal piece of advice for you: if you’re not able to discern between ‘advise’ and ‘advice’, please don’t try to advise others.

  • steve forbes

    I noticed that too. Maybe Mr Harris should hire Ivo03 or me to proof-read his posts.

  • Michael Harris

    Just offering some advice to Andrew and I’m sure you got the jist of it ivo03, however, your reply implies an anal retention disorder. Sorry for the misspell, Andrew.

  • Guest

    Your rudeness, and insults to otherwise polite Commentators, denoted a pathology of narcissistic sociopathy…

    You could very well, have just corrected your previous spelling error. Without insulting others.

    But, no, that is not who YOU are, is it Michael?

  • Pierrette Brousseau

    Do not give up, Terence. I am sure you have a lot to offer! Your “honest truth” might not be enough, however, to show employers what you can do for their bottom line. While still being honest, you can highlight your accomplishments (I know, it is difficult for us to blow our own horn!). Have someone you know (but who is unbiased) help you in that regards.

    As for employers being “lazy”, I can tell you that although it is way too often the case, sheer volume is difficult to contend with. I was in the staffing industry for 26 years. When a recruiter (or employer) gets 200+ CVs for the same job, it is nearly impossible to read every single word in every CV. Rather, they look for what “jumps at them”, or they use scanning software to look for key words. Sadly, these methods do not dig out the best candidates (I’ve had more than my share of padded, dishonest and embellished CVs which bear little resemblance to the reality).

    Good luck!

  • Chris Ashcroft

    The quickest way I have found to land a job is to go the unconventional route.
    You don’t want to run the guantlet that every other applicant does. For instance, I apply for sales positions. Instead of submitting through the HR weeding out machine, I call up the owner of the company, or the VP of Sales directly. Even if the job posting says specifically to submit through HR. You can do the “right” thing and end up in the rejected bin, or take a more direct approach and increase your chances of hitting a note with the key decision maker. I have landed jobs in the past after my resume was rejected by HR by going over their heads. Of course a job search “expert” would never condone this, but what’s the worst that can happen? Not getting the job by not being persistant enough is worse than getting through to the decision maker who is being sheilded by HR. Businesses make profits by being innovative and doing what works. If they pooh pooh this from their applicants, maybe you want to keep looking anyway.

  • martin f
  • Nick Kossovan

    I know several people who claim white fonting has worked for them. I guess it depends on the company / software they use, etc.

  • http://14andafter.wordpress.com/ Shot Times

    I’m with the job-seekers on this one. The major issue here is the financial crisis. Assume employers only interview the top 2%- ever wondered how have they come to such a privileged position in terms of choice? And what happens to the other 98% of candidates for that matter? How wide are their choices in comparison?