Young man contemplating his future prospects

The most common reason why people don’t get hired

Written by Peter Harris
Posted on

Many people email me to ask for career advice. Because summer is ending and the back-to-school / back-to-work period is upon us, there has been a sudden influx in my inbox. This is a time of year when people often look to start something new, and many are changing cities or towns as well.

Here’s a question I received late last week – and I am writing about it because it is very similar to queries that I often hear from people looking for work.


    “I am planning to move to the Toronto area in the coming weeks. I have a degree in linguistics and I am willing to start at the bottom and work my way up. I just need someone to give me a chance. I have experience in call centres, customer service and retail from while I was studying, but no local connections. I have sent out over a dozen resumes so far, without any response at all. How can I crack the Toronto job market?”

It sounds to me like this candidate is making the most common mistake that job seekers can make. And you know what it is? It’s just applying for jobs randomly. The number one reason that people don’t get hired is due to a lack of focus.

When moving to a new city, or even just looking for a new job, you can’t just think of ‘the local job market’ as one entity. There are jobs in manual labour, high tech, finance, healthcare, media, hospitality and much more. You need to think about what you want to do, what you’re good at, and where you can stand out from the crowd.

Mass applying for any jobs that you see advertised with a generic resume rarely leads to interviews – or even a response at all. Employers want to see what you can do for them specifically. (See: How to break into an industry where you have little or no experience.)

A degree in linguistics – or any liberal arts education – gives a candidate many of the most in-demand skills on the job market right now. (See the complete list of the most sought-after skills in job postings.) The key to a successful job search is to choose a position in an industry where you would actually like to contribute, where those skills that you have are valuable and then to write a resume demonstrating how you’d be great at it.

Carefully read the job posting. What skills and experience is the employer looking for? What seems to be the primary responsibility or challenge of the job? Customize your application to show that you not only have the ability to do the job, but that you also understand what is required to excel at it. It is all about focus.

Here is an infographic illustrating how to closely match your resume to the job you’re applying for.

The same goes for job interviews. Employers say that the biggest mistake candidates make in interviews is showing up having little or no knowledge about their company. Do your homework. Research the employer, the industry, and the kind of job you’re applying for. Show up to the interview armed with smart questions about the sector and the role.

My colleague Elizabeth has prepared a list of suggested smart questions to ask at the end of an interview.

Oh, and when it comes to applying for jobs in a new region prior to your move, consider leaving your physical address off your resume. Employers often have a bias towards local candidates. They may think that if you live some distance away that you might be difficult to interview, there could be a long delay before you’re available to start, or that they may be hit up for relocation costs.

If you know that you are changing cities shortly, you can transfer your phone number over to the new area code in advance, and apply with that and your email address as your contact information. You won’t need a mailing address until you’re actually filling out payroll details once you’ve been hired.

The most common mistake that job seekers make is in focusing on their own wants and needs rather than what’s in it for the employer. This is understandable since we need a paycheque and we want a good job, but it doesn’t work. Sending carefully customized job applications highlighting your key qualifications for a specific role is how you stand out from the crowd of generic applications.

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Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter

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