Unfortunately, rejection is an unavoidable aspect of the job search. With so many different companies looking for different qualities, you cannot be everything to everyone — and as such, you’re going to get rejected (or even more likely, hear radio silence), every now and then.
But if you’ve sent out 10 or 20 applications and haven’t heard a word in response, it’s time to stop thinking of it as a series of flukes and start thinking of it as a pattern. More likely than not, there’s a reason you’re not hearing back. The good news? It’s often entirely in your power to fix what’s wrong.
In the spirit of radical candor, here are a few of the most common reasons you’re not hearing back from recruiters and hiring managers, and what you can do to pivot to a winning strategy.
1. You’re Not Being Thoughtful About Where You Apply
In their first-ever job search, most people take a “spray-and-pray” approach, which involves applying to just about every position that catches their eye. While many quickly learn that this isn’t the best strategy, others never grow out of it — perhaps they lucked out with this tactic early on and mistakenly credited their success to it. But this game plan will burn you sooner rather than later, cautions Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
“Individuals in the job search often send out resumes indiscriminately. They have been programmed to believe that more is better,” Cohen says. “But if the fit is imperfect, no matter how many are sent, the resume will be ignored — and, despite the fact that it was wrong from the start, it still feels like a rejection.”
Sure, you may be excited about a job, but that isn’t reason enough to believe it’s a good fit — especially if you don’t have the relevant skills and experience needed to succeed.
“If you don’t meet at least the minimum qualifications of the role, your resume may be screened out of the pool… You don’t necessarily have to meet every single listed qualification on the job description, but you do have to demonstrate that you are a good match for the role,” says Mary Grace Gardner, career strategist at The Young Professionista. The fix for this is easy: review job descriptions carefully and don’t apply if you don’t think you’re quite there yet.
On the flipside, you may not be the right fit for the role because you’re overqualified. “If your experience far exceeds what the job requires, your resume may be pushed to the side because hiring managers may assume they can’t afford to hire you,” Gardner shares.
If that’s the case, you have two options: either “look for positions that require experience and skills either equal to or slightly above what you have,” or, if you’re willing to accept a more junior role, “make sure to highlight only the relevant parts of your skills and experience for the specific job you are applying to,” Gardner suggests.
2. Your Resume Needs an Overhaul
To paraphrase Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is usually the best one. Sure, it’s possible that your application slipped through the cracks or that the recruiter just can’t recognize a good resume when they see it, but the odds of that happening over and over again are slim. When you constantly hear rejections, it’s time to take a good look at the most important document in your job search: your resume.
There are many reasons your resume may not be up to par. One of the most common reasons could be that you aren’t using the right keywords.
“Resumes are scanned nowadays for keywords and phrases to demonstrate fit. If a resume is generic in its content and tries to cover as many bases as possible, it will lack the precision that is essential to demonstrate both qualifications and passion,” Cohen says.
In order to prove that you’re a strong contender, “highlight key experiences you’ve had that match the description of the role you’re applying for and make sure to strategically use industry-specific keywords on your resume and cover letter,” Gardner adds. Make sure to tailor this section for each position you apply to.
Other resume mistakes you could be making: typos, failing to demonstrate the impact of your actions, burying the lede, exaggerating, unexplained resume gaps, etc. If you want to avoid errors like this, share your resume with others — especially any recruiters, HR professionals, resume writers or career coaches you feel comfortable reaching out to — and incorporate their feedback.
3. You’re Not Networking
You might have heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” before. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration — skills and experience matter plenty — it is true that a referral can help you get your foot in the door.
“It’s no secret that the resumes that float to the top of the pile are oftentimes the ones that have a warm connection in the form of a referral from a trusted colleague. For highly competitive roles, there may be thousands of applicants and dozens or even hundreds of people who sound just like you on an application,” Gardner says. “To stand out from the crowd, ask your network of family, friends and colleagues if they know anyone at the company you are applying to. If so, ask if they would be willing to refer you.”
Don’t worry, though — you’re not totally out of luck if you don’t already know somebody at the company.
“Applying online is great, but you also need to follow this up with outreach to the hiring manager or other contacts within the company,” says career coach Angela Copeland. “Taking the time to do something extra will ensure you get noticed.”
A more subtle, but nonetheless powerful, way to network your way into a job is to ask for an informational interview with someone at the company.
“If the informational interview goes well, you can tactfully mention you’ve submitted an application to the company and ask if they have any recommendations as you pursue the role… Having someone with clout vouch for you can dramatically increase your chances of hearing back from a recruiter,” Gardner shares.
Outside of these activities, “focus on building your LinkedIn network, or your social networking tool of choice. The goal is to establish key contacts at desirable companies,” Cohen explains. “Embrace the company by reaching out to multiple points of contact and entry. That is how you will hear about openings and potential opportunities; some that may never reach the posting stage. Plus, these are the folks who will serve as your advocates; lots of companies actually offer incentives for introducing terrific candidates who eventually get hired.”
4. The Company Dropped the Ball
As mentioned before, receiving rejections over and over again is probably an indication that you’re doing something wrong — but if it’s just a select few companies you’re not hearing back from, it’s possible that there are things occurring behind the scenes that you’re not privy to.
“Companies may not fill every role in the way that we picture as job seekers. For example, they may have an internal candidate that’s preselected” but post the position anyway, Copeland says. In cases like these, it might be “standard company policy to keep a position open for some specified period of time” even if they already know they have a strong internal contender, Cohen adds.
Other times, “they may put a position on hold due to budgetary constraints or because the reporting structure has changed. Companies rarely communicate these details to the job seeker,” Copeland says. Still other times, they could just “be slow to process applications. They are filling many positions at one time, with many moving parts.”
The most important part when you encounter roadblocks like these? “Don’t give up hope,” Copeland says. If you’ve verified that you’re doing everything right, “keep applying and eventually, you will begin to receive responses.”