All the reasons you might not have gotten that job
Many of which have nothing to do with you.
Over the last few months, I have spent time mentoring people finding themselves out of work courtesy of COVID-19. Some have applied to jobs at VMware; others are in the design/UI/accessibility fields and want advice on presenting themselves best when applying elsewhere.
Most jobs at large, stable companies are receiving hundreds of applications for each opening. One position I know of at VMware received over 700 applications. With that many applications, the odds of you being the person hired, even if you are perfect for the job, are honestly relatively low. Inherently, the one common denominator amongst all the people I’ve been trying to help is that most of them don’t get the jobs they are applying for.
Denial after denial can be emotionally damaging, especially for people who are under financial stress and may already be subject to imposter syndrome. Because I have some visibility into why people don’t get interviews or offers, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the reasons why that happens. Most of these reasons don’t have anything to do with the applicant.
Not every job posted publicly is intended to be filled by an external candidate
This fact is surprising to many early in their careers, who assume that every job posting has a 1:1 correlation to someone being hired from outside the organization. Just because a job is posted doesn’t mean that the company that published it has a position to be filled by an external candidate. The following four reasons are why jobs can be posted and no one gets an interview.
1. The job was destined for an internal transfer or contractor conversion
Many companies have rules about posting jobs externally for ten days before offering the job to an internal candidate or converting an individual from contractor to employee status. This rule is especially true for companies that involve unions (where the posting requirement is part of the collective bargaining agreement) or federal contractors. Some other large companies have voluntarily adopted these rules for transparency in hiring decisions.
2. The posting was “evergreen”
Evergreen postings are so-called because they are postings that never die. Evergreen postings are typically used by larger companies where there is a reasonably continuous need for people with a particular skill set but not an actual open position. If an outstanding candidate comes through the door, talent acquisition should align that candidate with a genuine available position. However, many people applying to evergreen requisitions never hear back because their submission was not aligned with an open position. Sometimes, evergreen postings can be detected by:
- How long has the posting been open?
- How old is the job posting number (if the employer uses sequential numbering)?
3. The posting was purely for visa reasons
Some visa statuses under certain circumstances necessitate the employer to prove that US candidates have been solicited for the job and that none of the US candidates satisfy the job requirements. These postings are sometimes detectable by the minute detail in the job description as if they were being crafted with a single individual in mind. That makes it easier for the employer to say that no one except the candidate who needs the visa is qualified for the job.
4. The job was posted to get local compensation information
There are many job categories (mostly in high demand) where compensation fluctuates frequently. Employers who need people in that category must ensure they are paying their current employees in the correct range, lest those employees leave for greener grass. I have heard of employers posting jobs and conducting “screening interviews” to determine what people outside the organization are currently being paid for similar roles. That type of inquiry is getting more difficult as more states make it illegal to inquire about current compensation. However, asking what an employee’s salary *expectations* are is still legal.
You applied too late in the cycle
You may have applied the day you found the posting, but if the requisition has already been up for 21 days or longer, chances are they already have many qualified candidates in the pipeline. Unless they all fall through, talent acquisition may not return to the new resumes that have arrived since they started doing interviews.
You were “the diversity interview.”
Many companies (my employer included) require a “diversity interview” before allowing jobs to be offered to non-diverse candidates. At VMware, we do not waste people’s time by bringing them in for interviews when they cannot get an offer. But some companies have been known for doing this shameful practice. If you belong to an underrepresented minority — it is evident in your name, your resume, or your internet presence — it is possible that you only received the interview so the employer could check that box. Unfortunately, they may have intended to make the offer to the non-diverse candidate all along.
The job was a stretch for your skillset
This particular reason impacts men and women very differently. A recent HBR article summarizes HP's research demonstrating a significant gap concerning applications and job qualifications between men and women. Women tend not to apply for jobs unless 100% qualified, whereas men apply when they are 60% qualified. So, men are more likely to apply for jobs that are a stretch and, thus, are more likely to be rejected for lack of qualifications.
Applying for a job that is a stretch should not be discouraged. My point is that rejections from stretch applications should not be taken to heart. You know why you were rejected. Instead, analyze whether that qualification you are missing is worth seeking so that your next application won’t be so much of a stretch down the road.
Your resume wasn’t aligned with the employer’s ATS system, or the ATS system rules were biased
98 % of companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) in the talent acquisition funnel, from the application to the final selection of a single winning candidate. 75 % of applications are rejected without a human looking at the resume or the cover letter.
To get the job, you have to get the interview.
To get the interview, you have to pass the screening.
To pass the screening, you have to get past the ATS.
Most ATS look at resumes backward — they aren’t trying to pick people to interview; they are trying to pick people NOT to interview. Here are a few hints to get your resume to a human for consideration:
Use the exact keywords that the job posting did. If the job description is long and you struggle to determine what is most important, use a word cloud generator and pick the top 5–8. Make sure they repeatedly appear in the data you submit. One strategy to ensure each word shows up at least twice in your resume is to have a “Core Competencies” section where all the keywords are listed and include them in the previous work history or education narratives.
Avoid resume gaps. If you have a gap in your official employment history, fill it in and talk about what you did then.
Don’t use multiple columns, fancy formatting, or ornate fonts. The information in any of those may never make it into the ATS.
Job searches are complicated, especially with the high unemployment rate that we are currently experiencing. They are even more complex when companies are reluctant to provide feedback on why another candidate was selected for fear of being sued. It is essential for one’s mental health not to stress over things that cannot be controlled (like whether the job you applied for is an evergreen posting) and control what you can, like ensuring that your resume has the proper keyword density to get past the ATS. Other things you should do to improve your chances include:
Submitting a well-prepared video with the application
Have a publicly visible brand associated with your name by building your presence via LinkedIn, blogging, or a professional website.
Volunteering in the area, you seek a job in, at boot camps, or with non-profits.
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