It is really easy sitting on the other side of the interview table and critiquing the mistakes candidates make – however, it’s also easy to learn from other people’s mistakes than muddle your way through the process not knowing what you have done wrong.
Quite often these days you won’t get any feedback after an interview so reading articles and blogs is your next best option. It’s becoming all too common not to even get closure after interviews. I’ve recently been a candidate again myself and quite disappointed with the number of poor interviews and the candidate management I’ve experienced has been significantly worse this time round. I’m the first to know exactly how busy recruiters can get but not having any update or even being told you’ve not been successful after spending time preparing and going through the interview process is fairly poor to say the least.
The world has gotten in a real big hurry and unfortunately, it’s the candidates going through the process that suffer and are left with a poor impression of the organisation. When the market starts to pick up and the demand for talent increases then we may see a switch. Just keep going and brush off any previous rejections and don’t let it cloud what you can bring to an organisation.
Until then have a look at some recent mistakes candidates have made before being invited to interview.
1. Too Senior or Too junior
Over the last few years and certainly at the start of the global financial crisis when lots of people were being made redundant we would see a lot more applications from individuals that just didn’t “fit” or “match” the essential job criteria. We also received a lot more applications from candidates that were either “too senior” or “too junior” for the role. Of course since the Equality Act came into force in 2010 it was deemed risky to label candidates as senior or junior – however, rightly or wrongly these candidates were unlikely to be invited to interview for several reasons.
Too Senior: Employers weren’t sure how long the recession would last in the early days (2008 / 2009) and the fear was that hiring someone who appeared “too senior” for the role would move on once the labour market picked up. Employers would fear that the candidate would get bored too quickly and be difficult to keep motivated or much more difficult to manage in a role they could do with their eyes closed!! Of course candidates think very differently and would argue “But I can bring so much more to the role”. This is a mistake to think just because you have experience and knowledge beyond the role you are the best fit. The tasks and duties for the role ‘today’ have to be done and that’s one of the biggest concerns that the person deemed too senior in the role will want to move on or progress quicker than the organisation can satisfy.
Too junior: Conversely if you have lack of work experience and cannot “hit the ground running” then you are likely to be ruled out early on in the process. Particularly in a recession there’s a big emphasis on reducing costs but getting as much experience and knowledge and skills as you can for your money. At first glance hiring graduates would seem the most logical cost cutting way of hiring but those candidates will need a lot of time and money invested in their learning and development curve and so employers tend to go for the middle option – someone who can do the essential tasks, learn the desirable ones and fits within the salary band. They also look to recruit individuals that will stay in the organisation for a reasonable “return on investment” period.
2. Missing internal opportunities
I was “in-between” jobs a decade ago and took a temporary job in a local organisation (Pitney Bowes). It wasn’t what I wanted to do at all – I was working in their credit control department and sorting out the back log of incorrect invoices on SAP. It was actually the nicer side of credit control as I was tasked with phoning up customers to let them know the company owed them money! However, I had a career plan mapped out for the next five years in Human Resources (HR) and it didn’t include any side of credit control. So I was busy looking in London for opportunities, registering with recruitment agencies and setting up job alerts for suitable vacancies. Until one of my colleagues said “Have you seen the internal job board? There’s a Recruiter vacancy in HR.”
If I hadn’t mentioned to my colleagues my career goals and ambitions I would most definitely have missed that opportunity – the opportunity right under my nose. It turned out to be my first job in HR as a Recruiter – they paid for my MCIPD qualification (£10k investment), they also paid for me to attend the SHL psychometrics level A and B course (£7k) and the job itself gave me plenty of opportunities to develop a very wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in a relatively short space of time. I stayed there for six years until I secured a job in London in the banking sector.
3. Poorly written Cover Letter or CV
Certainly in the UK the cover letter and CV is still extremely important in securing an interview. You must spend quality time ensuring your CV is tailored to the requirements of the job. Pay particular attention to the original job advert and the job description if there is one.
The advert will be either a menu ad – which is just a copy and paste of the job description or it may well be more of a marketing document – selling the opportunity. Either way it should give you lots of information to be able to carefully craft the cover letter to convince the employer they must bring you in for an interview.
The job description should give you lots of information so that you can match your knowledge, skills and experiences to the criteria and write a compelling and relevant CV.
4. Poorly completed application form
We live in a very fast paced world today – messages and most forms of communication can be sent in less than a second these days. As a result we have perhaps started to expect everything to be done in seconds – we are creating an impatient culture if these high expectations are not met.
Filling out an application on-line would be easy to do in a rush and its likely (if you don’t complete applications every day) that this tactic is not going to secure you an interview.
I’ve been working recently with an ex-police officer (who has completed his fair share of application forms and screened many) and we’ve had many conversations about the recruitment process in the public sector. The application stage of the process is absolutely critical to get you in front of the hiring managers and a stage you can so easy lose valuable points if you don’t spend the time, planning, drafting and proof reading. Application forms in the public sector are very closely scrutinised and scored against specific indicators. If you rush into completing this stage you will most certainly miss a valuable opportunity to secure an interview.
5. Career change
Even at the best of times in the labour market it’s always a challenge making a career change however, in the wake of the recession it’s becoming even more difficult. Employers are mostly looking for candidates to add value and “hit the ground running” so to speak. They want the best and most qualified candidates in every sense of that statement – can do the job, fits in with the culture, fits with the rest of the team and has the knowledge, skills and experience to fulfil ever increase demands in the working environment today.
It’s ambitious to change careers at the moment – not impossible but very challenging. Particularly if it is quite a dramatic change and there’s little transferrable skills or knowledge to bring to the new role. There’s all sort of considerations too when changing careers – are you happy to take a drop in salary? Are you happy to lose some status? The job title is likely to be “assistant” or “administrator”. Think carefully about making a career change at this time and consider what you are willing to compromise.
6. No achievements
This section relates again to your CV and making sure you don’t just include duties and tasks. Duties and tasks only tell the recruiter about your responsibilities and what you were supposed to do in the job, it doesn’t tell them anything about what you’ve delivered in the job. Make sure the recruiter knows what you were hired to do and how you achieved or better still how you exceeded the objectives.
For each position in each company list the things you achieved and add a commercial element. How did you reduce costs in the organisation? Did you improve the efficiency of processes by automating? Did you meet or exceed set targets? Did you put controls in place to prevent incidents causing possible financial risks or legal risks to the business?
7. Scattering CVs or being too selective!
If you think you’ll get away with applying randomly for lots of jobs then I say go for it. A better approach is to spend a reasonable time searching for the best fit vacancies and you definitely don’t want to apply for one job at a time. If you don’t keep a proper record of applications it’s likely you could be applying for the same roles or to the same agent over and over again.
I’ve coached candidates that have been very selective and wanted to concentrate on applying for one job at a time. In today’s labour market this tactic just isn’t going to generate the best results. With the best will and plan in the world “stuff” happens to hold up the recruitment process – salaries change, job requirements change, internal candidates apply late in the process, market conditions change, someone else in the team leaves and the backfill vacancy changes as a result and so on and so on. All these things in the background can and have happened that have changed the recruitment plan.
We hope this has helped you think about some of the reasons that could be preventing you getting your foot in the door! Good luck in your current job search.
Photo by: cat klein