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“Why doesn’t anyone respond? I’ve been submitting 20 resumes a day!”
“I had a baby, and I haven’t worked in three years. How do I explain my employment gap?”
“I am 57 years old and overqualified. How do I convey to the employer that I can do the work better than a fresh college graduate?”
I hear these questions being asked over and over again by concerned job seekers. When I was looking for a job last year, I had the same concerns. It took me months of anxiety-filled job searching and reading TONS of resume and interview books before I finally got a job.
Fortunately for us all, there are simple solutions to common job hunting issues. And by simple, I mean “straightforward,” not “easy.” You still need to put in the work.
In this article, I am going to address six common mistakes job seekers make when looking for a new job:
1. Not understanding how employers review resumes
A hiring manager may see upwards of 100 resumes a day. Just imagine looking through 100 resumes EVERY SINGLE DAY. You can’t possibly read through all of them, so you scan through the resume, looking for keywords.
When the hiring manager is looking at your resume, they’re thinking: “Is there anything in the resume that will eliminate this person?”
Employers today are overwhelmed with the number of applicants they get for each job, so they have to separate the good ones from the bad ones as quickly as possible. You must write your resume so you will not get put into the reject pile.
The hiring manager may take as little as three seconds to scan your resume. They will likely ignore summaries and career objectives and go straight to the most recent work experience. From there, they’ll look for keywords that are relevant, such as skills, accomplishments, and projects. If they doesn’t see relevant keywords, your resume will be put into the reject pile — along with 93 out of the 100 resumes.
How to avoid the reject pile:
- Make your relevant work history clear.
- Make appropriate skills and experience BOLD.
- Highlight the keywords from the job description in your resume.
- Write short sentences so that the employer can scan your resume easily.
- Add numbers, when possible. For example: “Increased sales by 3%.”
Remember, the hiring manager is likely scanning, not reading your resume. The easier you make it for them to scan your resume, the better chance you have of getting that interview.
2. Writing the resume all about YOU
The main purpose of your resume is to convince the hiring manager to give you an interview. So, you need to focus on the employer’s needs, not yours. What actually are the employer’s needs? Let’s take a look at the needs of the hiring manager first.
The hiring manager is the person who has the power to hire you. They have a lot of pressure from their boss to find an employee who:
- Can do the work.
- Will not quit in a few months.
- Will make money, or save time for the company.
You must write your resume to cater to the hiring manger. Focus on your work history, and emphasize your past history of doing similar work. Also, show that you are committed, and not going to quit right after they hire you.
The most important thing to remember is to write down how much money you made for your last company (or how much time you saved them). Employers like to see NUMBERS, because numbers give a concrete picture of what you’ve accomplished. Here are some examples you can write:
- Wrote new 7th grade curriculum used by 400 students.
- Designed new database that saved company $300,000 in maintenance costs.
- Managed eight call center representatives and oversaw two divisions in the company.
- Wrote research paper that won my laboratory $10,000 in grant funding from the government.
3. Getting your resume lost in the ATS
A big issue with applying on the internet is that a good majority of resumes never even land in the hands of a real person. Instead, they’re automatically stored in an applicant tracking system (ATS). The ATS is a machine that scans a database of resumes, looking for keywords that fit the job description.
If your resume doesn’t contain the exact keyword that the ATS is looking for, it will reject your resume. Most resumes that go into the ATS don’t get seen by human eyes. To avoid this, copy the exact phrases of the job description into your resume. It must be the exact phrasing, otherwise the ATS will reject it. So, if the job description says “blogging,” you must write “blogging” and not “article writing.”
4. Not sending your resume to the person who has the power to hire you
The hiring manager is the person who has the power the hire you. They serve as the boss of all recruiters, and they are the only person who can offer you a job. Therefore, you want your resume to get to the hands of the hiring manager. A recruiter cannot make any decisions without the hiring manager’s approval.
After you submitted your application online, you want to find the email of someone who works at the company (by looking at LinkedIn), and send them something like this:
“Hi [Name], I applied online to [position] at your company, and I don’t want my resume to be lost in the applicant database. May I have the the email of the company hiring manager so I can send my resume to him/her? Thank you.”
Once you get the email of the hiring manager, send them your resume directly. Be persistent! After all, it doesn’t hurt to show persistence and interest in the job.
5. Not being prepared to explain employment gaps
If you’ve been laid off for a while, or have been raising young children for a number of years, you need to explain your employment gap. You have to be prepared to do this.
First off, you want to tell the truth. Hiring managers are people too, and they understand if you say: “I was caring for my sick mother” or “I was burned out and took a year off to travel.”
Continue to say: “When I was taking my break, I learned important skills such as X, Y, and Z”. Whether you took care of someone, volunteered, or traveled, you definitely picked up new skills: communication, adapting to new situations, or being able to quickly make rational decisions.
Take out a piece of paper and write down why you have an employment gap. Then, write down what skills you learned during the career gap and how these skills make you a better candidate for the current job you’re applying for.
6. Not addressing overqualification
If you are over the age of 50 and are looking for an entry level position, the hiring manager will be raising eyebrows. They might be thinking: “Oh, this person is just going to take the job and quit in three months. Let’s put them in the reject pile.”
You must address overqualification in the cover letter and during the interview. Hiring managers won’t take a risk on you if you’re so overqualified that it’s obvious you will leave as soon as another opportunity comes up.
You can say: “I understand that I am overqualified, but at this stage in my life, I am looking for rewarding opportunities while still being able to attend to my family’s needs.”
If the hiring manager is worried that you will pack up in three months to a better job, make sure to address this. While it’s OK to say to the employer that you are overqualified, you must tell them how you will make a positive contribution to the company.
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