Ask LH: Why Do Other Applicants Always Get The Job?

Ask LH: Why Do Other Applicants Always Get The Job?
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Dear Lifehacker, I have been looking for a full-time job for more than six months. I have a commerce degree and a fair amount of experience in the financial industry, but I keep coming up against people already skilled in the particular job I’m applying for. I’m living in a major (non-capital) city but it now seems very small to me. I frequently get rejection emails (if I get them at all) saying “we were overwhelmed by both the quality and quantity of applicants”. What can I do to stand out? Thanks, Job Jilted

Job applicants picture from Shutterstock

Dear JJ,

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! Well, obviously you’re already doing that and it doesn’t seem to be working out for you. Assuming you’re not terminally unlucky, I’d wager your methods require some significant tweaking.

The first place to start is your resume. Most people treat resumes as a formality to get the ball rolling or a mechanical hurdle they need to cross. Instead, you should think of it as an opportunity to make a great first impression and stand out from the crowd.

Career expert Amanda Augustine recently published a model resume that highlights 19 key elements that can help your resume outshine others (handily, her example is for a job in finance). Some noteworthy tips include the avoidance of pronouns (space is at a premium, so don’t waste words), quantify your achievements (specific details always trump vagueness) and list work history in reverse chronological order.

Bear in mind that you don’t need to list every job you have worked in. As proud as you may be of them, leave out achievements and bullet points that aren’t relevant to the job you’re applying for. Instead, focus on those areas that demonstrate relevance to the role you’re seeking. As an added bonus, this will help to make your resume more compact which most managers will appreciate.

It’s also imperative that you customise your resume and cover letter for every position you apply for. Even if the roles are virtually identical, there may be subtly different skill-sets that each business is looking for (these should be highlighted in the job ad.)

Plus, it’s usually pretty easy to spot a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ resume — if you can’t be bothered to tailor it for a specific business, why on Earth would they want to hire you? An extra bit of effort can sometimes go a long way.

Naturally, the above advice also extends to your cover letter. Our IT Pro columnist Anthony Caruana offers the following tidbit:

The approach I favour is to read the job ad carefully and look for the specific skills and experiences that the employer is looking for. In the cover letter, address each of these specifically. For example, if the position requires that you manage a team then use a phrase like “In my current role, I manage a team of five people” in the cover letter rather than relying on the employer discovering it in your resume.

If you’re still not confident with your resume, this article highlights six of the most common resume flaws and how to fix them. You can find plenty of addition resume tips in our Careers/Resumes section.

The next step is to hone your interview techniques. This is obviously trickier than tweaking your resume but it’s entirely possible to improve in this area. This handy infographic outlines the logic and purpose behind 19 common interview questions, which can help you to formulate good answers. You can also find advice on answering particularly tricky interview questions here and here.

Basically, you need to treat each and every question seriously because the answers are all being assessed. For example, many interviewers kick things off by asking the applicant to tell a little about themselves and their work history. This is more than social etiquette — the interviewer may be checking your communication skills and how confidently you present yourself.

If any of your friends have sufficient knowledge in your industry, it could be worth holding a mock interview prior to the real thing. If you typically get nervous, you could even try playing the role of the interviewer yourself. Conducting an interview from the other side of the table can help you to understand how an interviewer’s mind works and make you more comfortable with the whole process.

Another good tactic is to think of three or four sweeping stories that describe times you did excellent work, worked with difficult people, or rose to a challenge. Regardless of the interview question you get, you can tie your answer back to those specific stories, and continue to draw from them over the course of your interview. This allows you to satisfy their question without improvising on the spot and should also make you a memorable applicant. Head to our Interview and Job Search sections for even more tips.

Above all, it’s important not to give up hope. Constant rejection letters are enough to get anyone down in the dumps, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. The fact is, you have employable, qualified skills and relevant workplace history. To quote a great sage of our times; “it won’t happen overnight — but it will happen!”

See also: What Shouldn’t You Mention On Your Resume | How To Write A Resume That A Recruiter Will Notice And Love | Customise Your Resume To Your Profession


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  • I recently tried making the jump to the next level, getting first order of merit on pretty much every job I’d applied for, with no real constructive feedback, ie, “we would of hired you but the other guy just got over the line a little further”. What I did manage to get out of two of them, was that myself and the other guy interviewed just as well, had similar experience, and it was a hard decision. The other guy had the degree to back him up, I didn’t.

    Now back at uni, although I decided the opportunity of spending 3-4 years at uni was a great time to switch careers, and having a ball 🙂

  • I can’t justify going to uni for 3-4 years for that sole reason.

    I’m reckon I’m doing okay for where I am at now.

    I don’t have any formal qualifications besides finishing highschool at year 12, I have no regrets as I have been able to live the life I have wanted and have been able to enjoy myself with out having to worry about exams, hecs fees, the mi-goring a day uni life etc…

    no doubt there have been times where I have just scraped by but that’s all part of a life I guess.

    I’m 22, on 75k a year + super (IT industry started from feeble level 1 helpdesk) – With room to improve and move up/sideways.

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