Winston Churchill, the famous British bulldog in human form, had a few things to say about persistence. He made that pretty clear in a commencement speech from 1941 in which he said,
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty…”
Churchill, I think, would make a pretty terrible career coach. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the middle of a long, hard job search. You’ve heard “No” more times than you can count. Or, worse, you haven’t heard anything at all. And a common piece of advice given in circumstances, is to “never give up!” To “keep at it!”
Slogans like that make for great motivational posters. But it’s terrible advice for job seekers because it implies that you should just keep doing the same thing over and over. Eventually, it’ll work. But that’s often not true.
It’s time to take a break, take a step back, and consider these seven reasons you’re probably failing.
1. You’re probably not trying hard enough on your application
Applying for jobs is hard. It’s like a job that has no clock-out time. Where the unspoken instruction is that you’re always supposed to do more work than is asked. Where you don’t get paid.
And even though everyone’s heard “finding a job IS a job,” the number one reason most people I know have trouble finding a job is lack of effort. I think part of the problem is that people misunderstand what hard work means when it comes to job applications. It does not mean that you just need to send out more applications.
I call this resume spamming. It happens when someone spends five hours a day sending resumes to every company on LinkedIn or AngelList. I’d rather you apply to half the jobs with double the effort.
Consider this, most job applications get an average of 250 applications. Is yours really going to stand out without a little extra oomph?
That’s why you need to be researching each company you’re applying for. You need to be sending out those applications as soon as they’re posted and ideally early in the day. You need to be looking for unique ways to demonstrate you have the skills and the drive to rock that job. This also means customizing each application to the job poster, rather than sending out generic emails.
You should be exercising creativity in looking for jobs to apply for as well. Did you know that only about 20% of open positions are ever listed online?
The other 80% are filled through referrals, internal hires, and preemptive applications. The only way you’ll have access to those jobs is by getting your name out there, shaking those branches, and pestering people at companies you like until they give you an interview.
Sound like a pain? Good, it is. But it’ll be worth it when you land that dream job.
2. You’re probably not trying hard enough in your interviews
When was the last time you really, I mean really, prepped for an interview? I’m not talking about some googling the night before.
I’m talking about a week of research. Practicing questions in the mirror. Figuring out who’ll be interviewing you and examining their work history on LinkedIn. Getting a friend to pose as that interviewer.
Lots of people go to those sorts of lengths while finding their first job, but shelve these proven tactics later in their career. They treat a job interview like a pickup basketball game. They’ll pop in, field a few questions, joke around a bit, and try to take it easy.
And then they’ll wonder why they’re not getting called back. Every interview, even the seventh personality fit interview at a company you’re feeling iffy on, deserves your full effort. Job seekers fall into a similar trap after the interview. They’ll shake some hands, and move on to the next thing the second they walk out the door.
And they’ll lose points compared to other candidates who do the things you probably know you should be doing. Like sending thank you notes to all your interviewers (yes, they want them) and following up if you haven’t heard back after a week.
So, let me ask you, are you really giving your all to your interviews? I bet the answer is no.
3. You probably need to add to your resume
To get the job you really want, your resume needs to be better. I don’t mean it needs to be reformatted. I don’t mean you should play with the fonts. I mean it doesn’t have the stuff on it that it needs to have to get you the job.
As in, you do not have the right experience.
Statistically speaking, that’s the most likely reason you didn’t hear back on your last application. According to one study, hiring managers throw out 98% of the resumes they receive for a typical job post due to lack of qualifications.
If that’s the case, no amount of hustle or brown nosing is going to land you the job. You need to go get more experience. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to add to your resume in as little as two weeks. But some kinds of certifications and education will take longer.
If that’s the case...
4. You need to start looking at “Safety Schools”
Putting extra effort into interviews isn’t the only lesson that people seem to forget once they’re more established in their careers. Listing out some safety schools is another one.
If you’ve gone through the college application process, you know that it’s foolish not to include some safety schools. Ones that might be your first choice, but that you’re fairly sure you can get into.
The same logic applies to jobs. If you’re spending months applying to jobs and not hearing back, it’s probable that you’re only applying to your “Ivy Leagues.” Time to find some safer picks.
Tumblr posts and airline commercials love to tell people to chase their dreams. And you should do that. But you also need a paycheck. And health insurance. That’s especially true when you consider that employers start to count long periods of unemployment against you after about nine months.
Bottom line: you need a job. Nothing will stop you from continuing to chase the dream once you have a gig that pays, whether it’s at that snoozy insurance company or Starbucks.
5. You’re Overqualified
It’s also a waste to apply to jobs that you’re overqualified for. That’s a tricky Catch 22. It sucks to finally admit to yourself that you need to aim a bit lower, only to be turned down from a job you secretly think you’re too good for.
Underemployment happens all the time. In the United States alone, 13.7% of the workforce is considered underemployed. It’s also a problem in the United Kingdom, where about 8% of the population is underemployed.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hang up your executive name tag and move down the career ladder a few steps. Employers have practical reasons not to hire someone who has dramatically more experience than the role calls for. Some of those include:
- Salary expectations may be higher.
- That person is likely to leave if given the chance at a position closer to their experience level.
- That person may be tougher to manage if they have an experience level on par with or greater than their manager.
So if you’re wondering why that position you thought you’d be a shoe-in for isn’t calling you back, you might be looking too deep in the bargain bin.
6. You’re too far away
A local candidate will always have an edge over a non-local candidate. That sucks if you’re not in a location with a ton of access to the types of jobs you want, but it’s true.
There are actually tons of reasons why a hiring manager will be biased towards someone living right down the street. These are some things I’ve heard from HR pros that I know:
- Someone local is likely to be able to start faster because they don’t have to move.
- They won’t need to be flown in for the in-person interviews.
- They’re more likely to be plugged into the local community, which means more referrals.
- They have more flexibility to run down to the office for last-minute interviews or projects.
- The emotional investment in the employee will be less because the concept of moving someone out for a job and potentially letting them go on a later date is stressful.
So if you’re trying to find a job in New York from Dayton, all these forces are working against you. You can solve this problem in two ways.
First, you can refocus your search to jobs that are nearby you. Consider looking at large national firms with offices in other cities that you’d like to work at so you can request a transfer at a later date.
Or, if you know you want to find a job in a particular city, it might be time to move. That’s definitely the riskier, more expensive path. But you’ll be amazed at how much easier your job search will be once you're on the ground.
7. Churchill was right after all
Up at the top of the page, I made a pretty bold stance against Mr. Churchill’s stubbornness. But it is true that some job seekers just give up too easily. I don’t think it’s because of weak character though. I think it’s because of a lack of patience.
Let’s talk about why you clicked on this article. Are you actually failing in your job search, or are you just looking for a reason to toss in the towel because you’re discouraged? Giving up is the easiest way to turn a few months without a job into a year, and no one can afford that.
So it’s important to keep in mind that the average length of a job search in between jobs is 22.5 weeks. That’s almost six months. Anyone who gets a job in less time than that is above average.
Plus, there are lots of conditions that will cause you to be outside the average. Fivethirtyeight recently found that average job search times vary hugely depending on the time of year, the city you live in, and more. So if you’re sincerely trying your best and haven’t found a new job yet, you may just need a little patient.
Discretion is the better part of valor
Now that I’ve spent two thousand words stomping on your best efforts, I have another Churchill quote for you:
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
Admitting failure isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. It’s also a critical step to moving on to a new strategy that’s going to work.
That’s why I encourage you to take every botched interview and every rejection letter as a tool to use in your effort to fine tune your job-search. Use your failures rather than denying they ever happened. And always remember that you’ve only lost once you’ve stopped trying.