why you’re not getting job offers

Frustrated with your job search? Sending out tons of resumes, maybe even getting interviews, but not getting any offers? Here are eight possible reasons why.

1. Your resume doesn’t indicate anything about your work beyond your job descriptions. In a market flooded with qualified candidates, your resume needs to show that you have a track record of high achievement. That means that your resume shouldn’t just list duties and responsibilities; it needs to emphasize your accomplishments in each role.

2. Your cover letter is putting hiring managers to sleep. If your cover letter just summarizes the same information that can be found on your resume, there’s no need for an employer to read it. Instead, your cover letter should take advantage of the opportunity to present employers with additional information: Show personal interest in working for this particular organization and in this particular job, and explain why you’d excel at it, without simply reciting your employment history.

3. You don’t seem enthusiastic about the job. Job seekers sometimes worry that they’ll look desperate if they show how excited they are about a job, but employers generally like enthusiastic candidates – and lack of enthusiasm can be a deal-breaker. No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t seem especially interested in the opportunity.

4. You aren’t paying attention to details. Job seekers frequently act as if only “official” contacts—like interviews and formal writing samples—count during the hiring process. They’ll send flawless cover letters and then check up on their applications with sloppily written emails with spelling errors. Or they’ll be charming and polite to the interviewer but rude to an assistant. Hiring managers pay attention to how quickly a candidate responds to requests for writing samples and references, and even how fast he or she returns phone calls.

5. Your interview skills are lackluster. If you’re not preparing for interviews by practicing your answers to likely questions and preparing examples from your past work that clearly demonstrate why you’d excel at the job, chances are good that you’re selling yourself short. It’s hard to interview well on the fly; if you don’t prepare in advance, you have a high risk of being passed over even for jobs you’d do well at.

6. You’re trying to “stand out” by using gimmicks. Fancy resume designs, having your application delivered by overnight mail, video resumes, and other gimmicks don’t make up for a lack of qualifications and will turn off many hiring managers. If you want to stand out, write a great cover letter and show a track record of success in the area the employer is hiring for.

7. You’re so focused on selling yourself that the hiring manager can’t assess your fit for the job. Too many job applicants approach the interview as if their only goal is to win a job offer, losing sight of the fact that this can land them in a job that’s wrong for them. Interviewers want to see that you’re thinking really critically about whether you’d do well in the job and whether you’d be happy with the work and the culture, or itching to leave a few months in. Part of this means being honest about your strengths and weaknesses and giving the hiring manager a glimpse of the real you, so he or she can make an informed decision about how well you’d do in the job.

8. Math. Yes, math. In a tight job market like this one, sometimes you can do everything right and still not get job offers. With more great candidates than there are jobs right now, simple math means that even fantastic candidates can have a frustrating job search. So if you know that you’re doing everything above correctly, you might just be facing the reality that it’s a tough market right now.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. JfC*

    I get a lot of interviews, but no offers. The organizations I interview with tend never to contact me again, not even to reject me, so I’ve had little feedback. So that means I’m suffering from 5, 7 or 8. It’s frustrating, because I don’t know if that means I should change what I’m doing or keep doing the same thing until I overcome the math. The few people that have contacted me tell me that I did well but they went with someone with more experience, so it seems like a math thing, but I guess it can’t hurt to try to improve my interview skills.

    1. Liz*

      That must be so frustrating! I’ve only had one interview fail to contact me at all. I can’t imagine going through that multiple times.

    2. Miss Displaced*

      Video record yourself.

      Have a friend interview you, set up a camera and record yourself. If you have access to a career center they may offer this service, but you can DIY as well.

      You’d be surprised at the result.

  2. Steve G*

    and # 8 – you’re just plain uncapable of the job. Many people want a good paying job where they get to sit at a desk and shoot out emails, process some paperwork, do some spreadsheets, but not really have responsibility for anything and not have to deal with anything difficult or problematic. Many jobs require a level of soft and hard skills that aren’t met by the masses.

    1. Esra*

      This seems unnecessarily harsh. Also, considering the increased number of people receiving post-secondary degrees and diplomas as well as the different talents and interests people have, ‘the masses’ are a pretty varied bunch as far as skills go.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Steve’s point was that one reason you’re not getting offers is that you might not be a strong candidate for the jobs you’re applying for. It’s true that there are a lot of jobs that most people aren’t going to meet the requirements for.

    2. Steve G*

      Esra – sorry I was a little too gun-ho when I said “you” (I was not talking about anyone in particular), and “the masses.” However, as cliche and obvious as it sounds, lack of qualifications is still a reason why people don’t get jobs, I think. I am saying this coming from a high tech industry in NYC where I don’t hire, but I help with interviewing. Alot of people – despite their degrees and sometimes stellar experience – don’t seem a good fit for jobs where many difficult and long-term problems and issues are faced. They may be able to handle the rote financial reporting and standard analysis, but it is very hard to find people to recommend to my boss that think on their feet to handle a high volume of ad hoc analysis, and to take the initiative to make decisions and risk being wrong and make deicsions that put $ at risk. Many people convince themselves they can find high paying jobs and avoid these unpleasantries, which would be my #8 reason why people don’t get offers.

    1. Charles*

      “Lots of managers are bad at hiring.”

      HA! Oh so true!

      So many managers see interviewing and hiring as something that sucks and they approach it with such dread that they do not do it well.

      Also, depending on the position, they may have never hired for that type of job before.

      As a trainer, I know this last to be true. Most folks simply do not know how to hire a trainer. They don’t know what they want, therefore, they don’t know what to ask. They simply haven’t got a clue!

      A common phrase that I often hear is “we’ve never hired for this postion before.” Recruiters will add “we’re doing it as a favor for client XYZ because we do a lot of business with them already.”

      And the types of positions that they normally fill are IT, or medical, or, pharma, or engineering, or admin assistant, or legal, or accounting, etc; but, never before have they dealt with trainers – they just do not know anything about training – and now they are in the position to decide who to hire for the training position. WTF?!

      There are so many interviews that I have been through that afterwards I think, “great now that I have given them a free education on what, how, and who to hire I’ll never hear from them again!”

      So, here’s a suggestion for hiring folks – do your homework before you interview. No, wait, scratch that – do your homework before you even post the job. What is it that you are looking for? What is it that you expect? What is this person suppose to accomplish for your organization? Do you need a SME (subject matter expert) or do you need a training professional? How are you going to decide who is the best candidate? What standards are you going to use to determine if the training is effective?

      So, hiring folks, please have a clue before you waste everyone’s time.

      1. John B.*

        Well said, Charles. I couldn’t agree with you more. I. Asimov had a quote in one of his books along the lines of: against stupidity the gods themselves strive in vain.

  3. Anon*

    Another problem: the fact that the economy has driven you to apply for jobs you’re overqualified for, and hiring managers are suspicious about whether or not you’ll really stick around if something better comes along. Thoughts on dealing with this?

    1. Piper*

      I have this problem…I’m way overqualified for 90% of the jobs I applied for. I’m either finding jobs I’m way under qualified for (like senior executive) or way overqualified for (like barely out of the gate, entry-level type jobs).

      I got laid of from a director-level position last year and I’d be happy taking a manager position (which I do not feel I’m overqualified for in the least; I find this is appropriate for my career level and experience). The problem is, those types of jobs don’t exist. At least not where I’m looking. It’s just entry-level “coordinator” and sometimes “specialist” jobs, but even those are hard to find. So yeah. Good times.

    2. Rana*

      Or the related problem, when you are not overqualified, but look like you are. When I apply for entry-level jobs, it’s because I’ve looked at the qualifications needed for similar positions higher up on the rungs, and I don’t have those skills or experience yet, but a 40-something person with a Ph.D. is not your typical entry-level applicant, and I know the apparent mis-match looks weird to most employers.

      Career-shifting is a major pain in the ass.

  4. Andrew*

    “Your resume should show your track record of high achievement.”

    Isn’t this assuming a lot? There are many jobs which do not lend themselves to high achievement, and are instead little more than day-to-day repetitious grinds. Attempting to dress up these everyday mundane jobs with pathetic lists of “accomplishments” will fool no one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve yet to see a job where you couldn’t separate the high achievers from the not-high achievers. It’s possible in any job to be awesome.

      1. Andrew*

        Perhaps, but often this is not possible to quantify on a resume. If your job consists of moving box A to truck B, or entering lists of names and numbers into a spreadsheet, it just is what it is, to borrow a cliche.

        Intangibles like enthusiasm, curiosity, and dedication can make a difference, but can really only be observed in an interview.

          1. Piper*

            I guess this is true, but in my particular situation, those types of accomplishments look super silly compared to my previous creative and strategic accomplishments. “I moved 1000 widgets in the fastest time ever and ahead of schedule” doesn’t really matter when it comes to my goals nor does it align with my past career path.

            Either way, I think this particular job is killing my resume since it’s the first thing employers see on it (and I keep it very short because I don’t want to highlight it at all).

              1. Andrew*

                I can see your point, but I have a related question:

                If every job on every resume has to show that the employee was in some way “awesome,” doesn’t that debase the whole concept of superior performance? It becomes meaningless puffery and real accomplishments will end up being ignored.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Every job doesn’t have to — just as much as you can. Some people can’t do it at all, because they’ve never really gone beyond average at a job. The point is to do as much as you realistically can.

            1. Anonymous_J*

              I am right there with you.

              It’s very frustrating.

              I find that, IF I get to the interview stage, I’m able to make employers see why I’m a good candidate, but it’s not because I’m talking about the current job. It’s because I’m talking about OTHER activities, that are not paid work, where I am doing great things.

              A lot of employers JUST see the jobs on the resume, though.

              I DO cover these sorts of things in my cover letter, but it seems like it still doesn’t matter to some employers.

    2. Piper*

      I sort of agree with this. There are jobs out there where you hit a brick wall every time you try to “accomplish” something, making accomplishments pretty difficult.

      For example, in my current job I’ve straight up been told I’m “just a robot,” I have “no right to an opinion about anything,” and I “better not try to change anything.” So, how do I actually accomplish anything above and beyond my normal, “robot” duties? (For what it’s worth, I have a laundry list of accomplishments from my previous jobs, but this one is killing me.)

      1. Liz*

        I know what you mean, Piper. I’m not that old, but it seems like a lot of tasks in white collar jobs that used to allow more room for individual effort and decision-making have been standardized now.

        Sometimes, honestly, the only way to be a “top performer” is to be an employee who keeps her head down and just does the work EXACTLY as directed. I’ve been on contract gigs where it was possible to finish my job much more quickly than anyone else or perform projects on my own initiative that could have been helpful for the end goal. But both of these “achievements” would have caused problems for other departments or created uncertainty about the reporting process for project results. Instead, the point was to be a good team player who kept pace with everyone else and other departments in accordance with the supervisor’s instructions.

        An “awesome” employee in that environment is someone who sticks to the schedule and meets expectations precisely as directed. You don’t want a self-designated superstar running around showing initiative because that would cause chaos. It’s just really hard to make that sound exciting in a resume. What do you say? “I worked at the same pace as others on my team, following directions as specified, to produce consistent, measurable results as expected in support of a team effort?”

        The manager’s favorite employees in these environments were the people who didn’t talk or ask questions, too. I think their recommendations for a superstar employee would have been really different than you’d find at a more self-directed job, too.

        1. Piper*

          This. And that’s why this job is the worst fit ever for me. I’m not the type of person who will just put my head down, be a good little robot, and not try to improve the projects I’m working on and to be willing to step up to more challenging projects. It just isn’t me. I’ve worked in incredibly bureaucratic environments previously and still was able to make significant contributions and take on more challenges (mostly because of the types of positions I held).

          The problem with this job is that they thought they wanted someone like me (so they said), but once I got there, they were like, never mind. We want a robot, sorry we lied to you in the interviews, we know you’re grossly overqualified for this work and this job sucks, but please don’t quit because we need someone to do this crappy work. Seriously. They said that. This is also a contracting job, which I’m really not a fan of and will never do again. It’s too easy for employers to treat contractors like dirt.

          The only reason I haven’t quit is because the job market in my area is so pitiful for what I do that there isn’t even anything to apply for and networking has been fruitless, too. And honestly, putting “I did this task quickly and efficiently” is absolutely laughable when you look at my past accomplishments. I’m sure employers are wondering what in the world I’m doing at that job and it can’t reflect well. I do try to deflect it in the cover letter, but it’s still tough, especially if people don’t read the cover letter (which I know some people don’t).

      2. Kelly O*

        I so understand what you mean, and the confusing part is when a company says “We want people to come up with ideas and make this place better” but when you actually DO that, you get ignored or shot down. Then, if you have the nerve to say something about it, you’re a problem.

        If you want robots, say so. If you want people to think, say so and then don’t punish them for thinking. Just be honest about what you REALLY want, not what your consultant thinks you need to say.

        1. Liz*

          “If you want robots just say so…”

          Ha, yeah, I definitely saw the managers who were least likely to reward imitative giving it the most lip service. It was confusing. I really think they just didn’t know how to say “The less I have to think about what you are doing, the easier my job will be.”

          It isn’t that easy to always monitor everyone else and keep your own work completely predictable. I’m just glad you know what I’m talking about because I think a lot of people wouldn’t.

        2. Miss Displaced*

          So agree! There is nothing wrong with telling an applicant that the job requires a lot of routine work and they just need someone to fulfill that work without trying to change the world.

          Lots of people actually WANT jobs just like that!

  5. Liz*

    PS – I think the managers really liked me on these jobs, and I was definitely one of the quiet employees who worked hard to fit my job to everyone else’s needs. I hope the above post didn’t come off as any sort of criticism directed at that kind of standardized environment.

  6. Kelly O*

    You know, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. I wonder if the problem is me, or my resume, or just not meeting the right person yet, or something that I can fix.

    Then I wonder if I’m getting this non-response because I’m asking the wrong questions, or approaching it the wrong way.

    Three weeks ago I met with a third-party recruiter who was all gung-ho about me. Said my test scores were the highest he’d ever seen. Had only personal preference changes to make to my resume. Coached me on answering questions. Said he’d get me right out there. And I’ve heard nothing. I sent an immediate thank-you note in snail mail. I followed up with an email, to which he has not responded.

    I met with another third-party recruiter a couple of months ago. She sent me on one interview, and then no one eve heard a word until somehow they found out the company hired an internal referral. So far, nothing else there.

    I’ve sent out quite a few resumes directly to employers, or filled out applications online, but nothing yet. I know that administrative work is affected more by a company’s sensitivity to the economic climate and all that, but there are a lot of people, and although I have an Associates and more than ten years of experience, I’m still butting up against brick walls.

    So this was really timely for me, I guess is what I’m saying. I’ve really had to remind myself that it’s not just me, and that this does not mean I’m not as good as I used to be, just that things are changing.

    1. AD*

      Third-party recruiters are often super gung-ho about you, but just don’t have any companies asking them for candidates. They want you to be around when a company does contact them with an opening, so many try to string you along and ensure you aren’t going to look elsewhere. So, the good news is that they think you would be an easy candidate to place in a job, the bad news is they don’t have any jobs at the moment.

      Your best bet is to stay casually in touch with them, but continue looking elsewhere with just as much alacrity.

      1. Kelly O*

        I just wanted to thank you for using the word alacrity properly in a sentence. I’m a bit of a word nerd, and that made me smile.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    Kelly O’s post really rang true with me. I’m having the same issue. And it’s really difficult to stay positive and be gung-ho about the crappy corporate cheer-face I’m expected to wear all the time. I feel so phony in interviews.

    I went back to the temp agency I worked for last time I was unemployed, and told them what I was looking for (admin/clerical with higher-than-minimum wage starting salaries). They were all, “Oh we do have jobs like that, blah blah blah!” I told them I was looking for something fairly low-stress because I have health issues that my last, high-stress job caused. Then nothing. They offered two: one was a towing dispatch job, very high stress, and the other a manufacturing job at minimum wage 45 miles from here. Ugh.

    Trying the other agency now; hopefully they’ll find me something. I indicated to the staffing consultant that I’m interested in actually finding a job as opposed to temping for a long time. This one seems to have better positions, so we’ll see. I suspect that I’m going to have to think outside the box and start selling tomatoes by the side of the road or making stuffed animals or some dumb crap like that.

  8. Shahida*

    I had been to an interview where they were not interested in finding out my skills, did not question me about anything, it was more like a meet and greet, sat around chatting and I finally perked up and asked a few questions.

    I talked to a Manager, friend of mine afterwards, and she informed me that this was probably due to the fact that they already had an internal candidate in mind, but still had to go through the process! What a waste of time for me. How can you avoid that?

  9. DD*

    It looks like everyone is spot on with their comments. It is just so frustrating!
    I have been searching for 18 months due to the fact that my FT position is now PT. I was promised a few things at the time this was laid out in front of me and it was not expected to last three years……..the issue being that the individual I am job sharing with is refusing to retire!
    Anyway, I have interviewed extensively and have not received any offers….not sure if it was an issue with the “fit” or the way I am interviewing…I may have to try a mock interview at my local workforce office.
    I am also in the process of upgrading my Microsoft Office skills to learn Publisher, Powerpoint and Outlook at the workforce office..I am able to utilize their computer to take the tutorials for free, which definitely helps!
    I remember way back when “fit” was not an issue…you came in on time, did your job and even went above and beyond normal expectations….stayed late if needed and usually that was more than enough….now all this other stuff is just a load of BS, in my opinion.
    Good luck to everyone!

  10. Anonymous*

    I am not getting a job!! What should I do?? Whichever job I apply, next day I get rejection mail..I am badly in despair now. It’s been 6 months now since I am actively looking for jobs but no luck yet. I have got my CV done from professional writer, uploaded on job portals, registered with recruitment agencies but not been called even for once for an interview. I am completely clueless as whats wrong. Its even more frustrating to read a rejection mail without knowing the proper reason..

    1. Miss Displaced*

      Sometimes there just IS no reason.
      Re-check your resume… sometimes those “professional” resume services can be off.

      As for relying on job boards, well they are hit or miss and not your best method.

  11. Scott H.*

    Since I’ve begun my job hunt after changing careers, the only thing has netted any interviews at all (jobs I turned down) has been from networking. I used to think negatively about networking, that it sounded cliche and that people are not specific enough when they recommend it. What I did though was get in contact with people I’ve known for years in respectable positions.

    For example, I met with a bank manager, former mayor, priest, local teacher, etc. When you get in touch with them, explain that you have just left or having been looking and that you are looking for contacts. If you just start asking for a job, they’re not likely to show any interest or have anything for you. But they do have friends. They will give you names and numbers of influential people they know. All you have to do is call and/or email those people and mention you were referred to by that person.

    Again, do not ask for a job. Show interest in the sector or industry and ask if they are aware of any contacts that would be valuable. This makes you come across less desperate but also actually will increase your network. Again, these networks sound lame but the reality is hardly anyone is hiring online.

    In 2013, the only ones emailing you for a job offer are the MLM schemes. They are the ones that send you the cookie cutter interview offer and talk about how great you are, without actually mentioning anything specific. They are usually in the marketing, sales or insurance industries. Check their websites first. They are incredibly ambiguous, brand new, really messy and cheaply designed.

  12. Anna Adair*

    I left my job as an auto manufacturing assembly worker seven years ago to start home schooling my son who was diagnosed with behavioral problems. During my time as a stay-at-home mom, I did five years of online-accredited college classes. I received my BS in psychology with minor in child development and MS in general psychology with highest honors. I have two professors to use as references. My problem is, I graduated May 7, 2013. I have spent the last one year, one month sending out resume after resume but all I get are rejections and no interviews. I have applied to all fields of employment, education, counseling, government, Human Resource generalist, Wal-mart, Home Depot cashier, and temp services to name a few. I am not just applying to jobs in my field of study. I have given my cover letter and resume to two experts to look over and they say everything looks great. I have high-level education with little to no experience in any field other than factory work. That is the only reason I can think of as to why I keep being looked over. Unemployment in Charleston, SC is 10% or higher right now. I have also been told in today’s society people hire friends of friends regardless of their lack of education or job experience. In addition, veterans and military spouses are first on the hiring list. Please, any advice is helpful. I need a job!

Comments are closed.