Why You (or Your Spouse, Kid, or Friend) Can’t Find a Job

Let me just start by saying – just so you know that this post isn’t uninformed rantings from an annoyed citizen – that a large part of my job is advocating for business owners when it comes to topics like Human Resource Management, policies and procedures, and leadership coaching. I truly have a passion for helping local businesses succeed, and understand what is required to make it happen. That being said, I also have a passion for using that knowledge to help individuals searching for employment better position themselves as viable candidates for hire. For years I’ve offered a free resume review to anyone who is interested, and have used my skills learned from both sides of the hiring desk to help friends and family members catch the attention from hiring managers and score interviews (I used to offer a free resume-writing service, but discovered that so much of the time was wasted on people who didn’t really have the desire to pursue the type of job we wrote the resume for; I still love writing resumes, but now charge a nominal fee for the service). But enough about me. This is about you.

I see so many people who are searching for jobs. Not even for the perfect job, just one that can pay the bills. And time and again, I see those people failing to find work, making the same mistakes, with no idea as to why they aren’t receiving calls for interviews or job offers. So I just wanted to share a few observances…likely reasons as to why you aren’t able to find a job.

1. Your Expectations are Unrealistic

I was browsing a Facebook buy/sell/trade group last week, and saw this: “Looking for a job. Must pay at least $20/hr plus benefits.” Nothing else. I figured it was a joke at first, the guy was actually serious. A few people made comments asking if he had any credentials – experience, education, etc. He replied that he didn’t have any higher education, and that his experience was in fast food and cashiering. While it’s admirable that someone would want to move up from those types of positions to a sustainable income level, you don’t get those jobs just by asking. He wasn’t particularly receptive to the comments advising him of this fact, and became angry at the suggestion that he wasn’t going to find what he was looking for. Some people are just a special kind of stupid.

Here’s the thing – it’s not impossible to make the big bucks without a degree. In fact, there are several billionaires who never finished college. You may have heard of a few of them…Dell, Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg. If not, you at least know their companies, and likely have contributed to their annual revenue this year. A college degree was not required to obtain their net worth – but what was required was innovation, dedication, hard work…I could go on. They didn’t just wake up one morning and roll over into a pile of cash, nor did they sit around and ask people to give them anything they didn’t work for (Silicon Valley politics aside). These aren’t the only examples I can think of. There are many hard-working individuals – blue collar workers, even – who do well for themselves without an education. Sure, they have to work harder for the money they earn, but they have the drive to do so.

“Well, I’m motivated… I have bills to pay and a family to feed. I’m not looking for a handout. Why can’t I find a job?” True, there are many people who do fall into this category – they aren’t expecting something for nothing. However, their expectations may be too high in other ways. Consider this type of job search posting: “I work M-F, but need extra income, so I’m looking for a job on Saturdays that I can take my child to work with me.” This person is obviously a hard-worker, already working five days a week and willing to work six. But they’re looking for something that’s going to be very difficult to find – a job that only requires the employee one day and allows that employee to bring a distraction with them. From a business perspective, it’s not realistic. Personally, I think this person would be better off looking for another parent or two who needs child care on that one day and offering an in-house daycare type of service to earn the extra income, but that’s just one opinion.

The other expectation I see often blown out of proportion is the career-changer. They have a degree in subject A, fifteen years of work experience in that field, but want (or are forced to make) a change to a different field. They have no education in subject B, or experience in this field… but they’re expecting to receive the same type of pay they are used to. I’m sorry, but your marketing career doesn’t necessarily translate into your desire to be a paralegal. Adjust your expectations and proceed.

 2. Your Resume Sucks

Speaking of marketing, let’s talk about a different kind… marketing yourself. That’s what a resume is. It’s a marketing document designed to allow a potential employer to see you as a good fit for the role they’re looking to fill. It is NOT:

* A comprehensive list of every job you’ve ever done

* A summary of your pending autobiography

* A form letter to blast out to every company with a job posting

* A forum to begin your creative writing endeavors

* A place to state the obvious

Let’s take each bullet one at a time. First, whoever told you that you need to list every job you’ve ever done – including the two months you worked at a fast food restaurant your junior summer in high school – is wrong. A resume needs to show your relevant work experience. Now, if you have less than 10 years of experience, or if you have gaps in your resume where you switched careers temporarily, for whatever reason (and be ready to explain that reason in an interview, btw), then yes, you should list those jobs to show that you weren’t just unemployed during that period of time. On an application you’ll likely have to list them chronologically, but on your resume you can have a section for “Other Experience” that includes the one or two jobs that may not be essential experience for the job you’re applying for. By no means am I saying you should have a ‘functional resume’ – which typically doesn’t include dates and groups jobs by skill – because smart hiring managers see that as an attempt to cover up a spotty job history, but you can strategically place these jobs to highlight more relevant experience. If you have jobs that were very short lived (think less than three months) and aren’t even close to your career goals, it may be wiser to leave them off your resume, situation dependent.

Another formatting mistake can affect the readability of your resume. Trust me, I love writing as much as the next blogger, but when it comes to resume editing clear, concise, strategic bullet points are your friend. Detailed paragraphs describing every function of the job you held are difficult to read, and the ten seconds a live person will be initially scanning for keywords is wasted in an ocean of text. Try and keep your bullet points leaning in the direction of highlighting your accomplishments in the position you’ve listed. If a hiring manager wanted to know what the job description is, they could look it up. Tell them what you did, not what you were supposed to be doing. Avoid phrases like “responsible for” and “duties included.” We’ll bring this topic back up in a minute, but also keep in mind that this includes trimming down sections like “Education.” If you’re out of college, take off the lines about your high school (including extracurricular activities). If you’re three to five years out of college and have held down a professional position for a few years, take off your sorority volunteer work, unless it’s super relevant. Also, at this point in your career (and for every job you apply to later), keep your Education section at the bottom of your resume. Your work relevant work experience is what matters to most employers – even if you went to an Ivy League school. I still cringe remembering a resume I viewed while working in retail – it was four pages long, and the first one and a half was detailing the young lady’s achievements at the college she attended. My manager had to flip halfway through the resume to find any relevant work experience before he tossed it into the ‘no’ pile. Don’t make this mistake.

The third bullet addresses the resume content, more than the format. You should have a resume that is tailored to each job description. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to rewrite your resume every time, but different job postings ask for different skills. This is especially important for job seekers who don’t have a definite career goal in mind. This isn’t the place where I tell you to make a decision about the direction your life is going – I get it, sometimes you just need a job. But if you are applying for every position under the sun that you qualify for (please, don’t waste your time on positions that you don’t meet at least 75% of the criteria) then you need to at least have a stock resume for each industry in which you’re applying. Beyond that, I like to suggest that in lieu of an objective statement, job seekers have a “Qualifications” section at the top of their resume listing a summary skills they have that the job posting specifically asks for. This makes it easy to go back and quickly update your resume for each post. Oh, and please, for the love of Starbucks, make sure you change the file name when you create a resume version update. Nothing’s worse than to upload a file for CompanyB that’s entitled “John Doe – Resume – Company A,” or almost worse, “John Doe – Generic Resume.” By the way, the same advice applies to cover letters, although you should really try and write a new one for each company you apply to. They sound more genuine that way.

As a side note on that topic, one of the most common cliche phrases is “detail oriented.” Seriously, listing this ‘skill’ is going to invoke Murphy’s Law. One of the funniest (for a hiring manager) mistakes on a resume is someone who says they’re ‘detail oriented,’ and then makes a grammar, formatting, or spelling mistake. Just leave it off.

The fourth bullet point is directed toward those of you who wished their resume was just a little bit better…and might get a little creative to make it happen. You worked at that job for three weeks? Two months sounds better. Your title was “Receptionist”… but maybe Executive Assistant is more likely catch their attention. You supervised an intern? That’s  managing a team, right? Wrong. There are many ways to make your resume sound better…lying is not the most effective one. Your potential employer will find out. It may be while they’re checking references, it may be on a background check. It may be eight years later, like the scenario in this article about a Walmart employee who omitted the fact that he was a few credits short of the degree he was alleged to have obtained. You may be able to get away with it for even longer than that – but eventually, the truth will come out. Why is lying on a resume such a job-seeker-sin? Because it calls into question your integrity, compromises your reputation, and makes employers question your judgment. Don’t. Just don’t.

Lastly (actually, I could go on, but we’ll stop here for now), one of the biggest wastes of space on a resume occurs when job seekers state the obvious. I’ve seen so many resumes where the applicant thinks that things like “punctual,” “manages time well,” “can answer a multi-line phone,” “great communication skills,” etc., will get them an interview. First of all, being punctual and managing your time while at work are qualifications any professional should possess, and are therefore pointless on a resume. Well-written resumes help you stand out from a crowd of applicants. If you have to say that the reason you stand out is that you show up for work on time, you need to reevaluate your job skills. On that note, including bullet points for commonly used software is another “duh” you shouldn’t need to include, unless the job posting specifically requests it. Think, ‘advanced Excel experience, including pivot tables, etc.” That’s acceptable. Saying you know how to operate Microsoft Word and Outlook really aren’t going to help you stand out. Unless it’s on the job description as a requirement, leave it off your resume. Save the room for more relevant and eye-catching experience.

 

3. You Aren’t Actually Searching…

…for yourself, that is. Yeah, maybe you’ve filled out a few applications, but you’re relying on (or allowing this to happen at any rate) other people to conduct your job search for you. You’re expecting that friend who works for that company to put in a good word for you and move your resume to the top of the figurative pile. You’re letting your mother, spouse, or friend who happens to live in the town your’re moving to to ask around or send out a social media request on your behalf looking for available jobs. While it’s all fine and good to network within your legitimate contacts when job searching (and actually, that’s one of the best places for it) you should not – EVER – allow anyone else to head up your job search. This particularly applies to well-meaning family members. Moms, I know you just want to help your teenager find a summer job, but please, let them do it themselves. That is the best age to learn the right way to search for a job, and they can’t learn if you’re doing it for them. Spouses, same thing – I know you want to be supportive, but allow your significant other to be the grown up they are and conduct their own job search. A manager won’t discuss work or disciplinary issues with anyone outside of the company, so why do you think they’ll respond well to someone other than their future employees handling a job search? Why not? Because…

4. You’re Unprofessional

Not being able to conduct your own job search is the first sign that you aren’t a professional. Businesses want to hire professionals. I don’t mean that in the sense that every applicant has to have a degree and ten years of experience – I mean that every applicant should be able to conduct themselves in a professional manner. This means showing up for your interview on time (not thirty minutes early – the interviewer is likely busy and will feel uncomfortable making you wait), wearing clean, modest clothing that fits in with what you know the dress code is at the location of business (how do you know this? ask!), and sending a thank you note after the interview. How do unprofessional people conduct their job searches? By walking business to business with a stack of resumes while wearing flip flops and a tank top asking if there are any openings (personal experience – her jeans even had holes in them *twitch*). Even mores so by walking around with a group of friends to apply – even at retail or restaurant locations. By calling and demanding to speak with the owner or hiring manager to schedule an interview, even though there was no job posting, and completely disregarding the company’s hiring process. By allowing other people to do your job search for you.

By not staying organized. If you’re seriously job searching (think, unemployed and need a job fast) you should be applying at five to ten companies per day. That’s a lot of applications, a lot of jobs, and a lot of information to keep straight. I suggest job seekers keep an Excel spreadsheet of the jobs they’ve applied to, including the company, position title, contact person and their information, a link to the job posting, date applied, and a section for any notes from call backs. This makes it easier to quickly refresh your memory when a company calls you. It’s unprofessional – and extremely embarrassing – to answer a call from a recruiter or hiring manager and not remember having applied for the job. It doesn’t convey a lot of interest in the position to the person calling, who is forming a first impression of you that very minute.

Other ways you’re acting unprofessionally are discussing your previous or current employer(s) in a negative way. I don’t care if the reason you’re leaving your current position is because your boss is a nightmare who berates you constantly and illegally withholds your paycheck. You don’t vent to a potential future employer about it. You may also take a look at how you speak to employers, and how your written communications are reflecting on you. Punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization – it matters! This isn’t a text message or an AIM conversation (I think I just dated myself – I didn’t even know I was old enough to do that). Language on voicemail messages are another consideration. You’d be surprised how unprepared and unprofessional some people sound when leaving a voice mail for a hiring manager. It’s appalling. Clean up your writing and try to be as well-spoken as possible.

 

5. You Listen to the Wrong People…

I absolutely have respect for the wisdom and advice given by people who are older and/or smarter than me. However, there are certain times in life when the advice given doesn’t always translate into today’s world. One of the more glaring instances of this can be seen when job seekers are given advice by… well, anyone who hasn’t searched for a job in the last five to ten years. And by ‘searched,’ I mean was unemployed, laid off, or were actively looking to change companies. This can include family members, friends, coworkers, and even the odd career counselor who has somehow missed that boat on the current situation of the job market (you often see this person in government sponsored counseling positions and college career advisory offices, for reasons completely unbeknownst to me).

Outdated advice can sink your application to the bottom of pile. Believe it or not, walking business-to-business with a stack of resumes is not the best way to job search anymore. The Internet and successful networking are your best bets (by that, I mean people you actually know, not a blast on social media platforms). Gimmicks, tricks, and flashy resumes with your picture on them will not get you an interview (unless you’re in an industry that would require a photo, such as modeling, or appreciate the marketing gesture, such as advertising or graphic design). Sending a shoe to “get your foot in the door” is not a cute way to get a call from a hiring manager, nor is sending gifts, chocolates, plants, framed pictures of yourself, or anything else other than a strong, tailored cover letter and resume. In the hiring manager’s mind, if you have to resort to a gimmick to attract an employer, you’re probably covering for some deficiency on your resume and not worth their time.

On that note, there are several pieces of resume advice you still hear from old-fashioned job seekers that could hurt you rather than help you. The “Objective Statement,” for example. Guess what – your objective is to get a job. Hiring managers know that simply by the fact that you’re applying, and reading that you’re “seeking a position that will best utilize your unique skill set, blah, blah, blah” is wasting precious real estate on your resume that could be put to better use by emphasizing your accomplishments. For the most part, employers don’t care whether you want to be challenged, or support your three kids, or whatever personal reason you put in your objective statement. Sorry, but they don’t. And some of the language job seekers use in these statements can actually open them up to being discriminated against (yeah, I know, not legal, but guess how much hassle you’ll have proving it if you never make it in the door for an interview). Your personal life does not belong on your resume, no matter who tells you it does.

Outdated education, certain certificates, unrelated volunteer work, college societies, your GPA if you’ve graduated more than five years ago (and then, only if it’s like a 3.8+) and your high school job from twenty years ago don’t belong either. Again, these bullet points take up space that should be used to show your value to the company you’re applying to. You risk creating too long of a resume (I tend to suggest one page for most industries, and 2 pages for certain tech, professional, and management positions) and looking like you’re unable to edit, to make judgment calls about what is important.

Another seriously outdated piece of advice is the ‘follow-up call’ to ‘check the status’ of your application. When counselling job seekers, I suggest they keep an Excel spreadsheet of the companies they’ve applied to, the position, date of application, any relevant information and names, plus a link to the job description. Submit your application and necessary documents, record the information, and then forget about it. Don’t get hung up waiting around for any one company, and don’t waste your time calling every company you’ve applied to to see where they’re at in the application process. Most companies have their own timeline for hiring – they may be waiting until the closing date to review applications, they may have already decided against you and just haven’t sent a rejection letter, or they may have your application in a stack ready for pre-screen calls. You don’t know, the person you get in touch with probably won’t know off the top of their head, and you’re going to waste your time and theirs trying to find out what’s going on with your application only to get an answer that isn’t really all that helpful. You’ve applied. If they want to contact you, they will. Chill out and be patient, and in the mean time, continue your job search.

6. You’re Too Pushy…

Adding to that last point a bit, some job seekers are advised to call the week or so after submitting their application. While this isn’t really necessary, doing it probably won’t put you out of the running. You know what will? Calling weekly – or, ugh, even more frequently – to continuing to check on the hiring timeline. Another dis-qualifier – harassing hiring managers after an interview. If you’ve actually managed to make it to a pre-screen call, then have had the savvy and luck to actually be called in for a face-to-face interview, don’t blow it by obsessively following-up with the company to see if they’ve made a decision. Send a simple, professional thank you note, and forget about it. Unless you were told to expect a call or follow up interview on a certain timeline, there is no need to keep checking back. If they want to talk to you again, call your references, or make you an offer, they will let you know. Don’t get over excited (or be seen as desperate) by

I’d love to know what you think is a mistake many job-seekers are making. I get that it’s a hard market right now, but making a few simple tweaks to your job search strategy can increase your chances of at least getting in front of a hiring manager. I have hours worth of tips, suggestions, and in-depth strategies I’d be happy to elaborate on, or help you customize your search. Add any questions to the comments, or if you’d rather send me an email I’ll respond that way. Happy job hunting!

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