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career changer woman wanting to be a devlopment worker
Young graduate looking for an internship

Not get getting an interview?

Here are some common reasons why your application is not working.

No matter how strong your skills or experience are, you won't land a new job without first securing an interview with a prospective employer. Job seekers often consider this step of the hiring process the most difficult – and perplexing. After all, how many times have you considered your qualifications ideal for an open position only to never hear from the HR about the application you submitted?

If you're looking for an edge, make sure you're not falling into these common traps:

You don't follow directions

Each company has a different procedure it asks applicants to follow for submitting employment applications. Some ask that you use a form on their web site while others prefer traditional phone calls or faxes. Make sure you understand what the prospective employer seeks by carefully reading the job listing. Then, follow the directions to the letter. If you don't, your application will not be considered.

Not targeting your CV to the position

Sending out the same cover letter and CV to all companies isn't likely to capture the attention of prospective employers. HR wants to know why you're a good match for their specific business needs. So take the time to research employers and customise your job search materials by explaining why you're interested in a particular position and how you could make a contribution to the company and their work.

Writing a generic cover letter

If your cover letter looks like it could have come from a word processor template, right down to the "To Whom It May Concern," don't bother sending it. HR look for a candidate who wants that specific position, not someone who sends out applications en masse. Write a new cover letter for each job application and include details specific to the job and company.

Your cover letter isn't enticing

Think of your cover letter as an appetizer that convinces HR your CV, the main course, is worth sampling. The best cover letters take select details from the CV and expand upon them, explaining in depth how your talents and experience can benefit the prospective employer.

You don't reference keywords

Companies that receive a high volume of CVs often use scanning software that looks for certain keywords to determine which candidates to call for interviews. More often than not, keywords come directly from the job description. Terms such as "Microsoft Office," "accounts payable and receivable" and "Cisco Certified Network Administrator" are examples. As much as possible, ensure your CV and cover letter contain keywords.

Your application materials aren't perfect

Submitting an application that contains typos and grammatical errors is perhaps the quickest way to foil your chances of securing an interview. In fact, 84 percent of executives polled in a recent survey said it takes just one or two errors to remove a candidate from consideration. The reason: These types of mistakes show a lack of professionalism and attention to detail. Make sure to carefully proofread your CV prior to submitting it and ask a friend or family member to do the same.

Sending a cover letter or CV filled with grammatical mistakes and typographical errors shows HR you don't care about the quality of your work and probably not about the job, either.

Including your current work info as the best place to contact you

Making sure employers can get in touch with you is important, but they shouldn't be contacting you at work. "Potential employers are going to question if these people will search for a new job on their time," says Kathy Sweeney, CV writer for the Write CV.

Focusing on yourself and not on the company in the cover letter

"When 'I' is the predominant subject – and there are times when it is the only subject of all the sentences in the cover letter – it indicates to me that they don't understand my organization and its needs, and, in fact, says they don't care to know," says Dion McInnis, associate vice president for university advancement at University of Houston-Clear Lake. "And therefore, I don't care to know them."
You must focus on the needs of the company and not on you. Don’t use ‘I believe’ or ‘I think’ they are not interested in your beliefs. HR wants to know how you match the person criteria as advertised.

You don't know who to send your CV to

Though it's fine to start your cover letter with the generic salutation "To Whom It May Concern," HR pay special attention to applications that are addressed directly to them. If the job advertisement doesn't include the HR manager's name, call the company and speak to the receptionist or a member of the person's department. More often than not, you can obtain the information fairly easily if you're candid about your reason for wanting it.

You don't have an 'in' with the company

Using the name of a common contact to make the connection between you and the hiring manager is by far the best way to ensure your cover letter and CV get optimal attention. So, keep in touch with members of your professional network; you never know who has a contact at the company you hope to work for.

You don't follow up

One way to improve the odds that HR gives consideration to your CV is to follow up with him or her. Job seekers should contact HR within two weeks of sending a CV and cover letter. Often a brief phone call or e-mail reasserting your interest in the position and strong qualifications is enough.

You're not as qualified as you think

The bottom line may be that you're simply not as perfect for the job as you think. Before submitting your CV, take a close look at the job description and compare your skills and experience with those required for the position. If a job calls for five years of overseas management experience, and you have only two, you might not be as qualified as other applicants. While sometimes it's possible to make up for skills gaps if you excel in other areas, HR frequently have specific criteria in mind, and they use it to determine whom they call for interviews.

By avoiding common pitfalls, you can improve your chances of landing a job interview. Often something small, fixing a typo, for example, makes all the difference.

If you are not getting interviews then something needs to change. Turn your shoddy applications in to interview invites, by working with me in a career consultation.


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Many thanks again for all your help in getting me this far! MH
Just to say thanks again for all your help and for looking at the CV and covering letter. The help was much needed and is much appreciated! PO
Your advice was absolutely perfect. I feel I have come on leaps and bounds now, thanks to you. SSB

Thanks for yesterday. It was definitely an eye-opener. ZH

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Kevin Cusack
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International development jobs, volunteering overseas and international development career advice for people in transition: new graduates, career changers and international development workers. Working with you in support of the Millennium Development Goals.