As a candidate, getting useful feedback during the job search process is difficult. Even after closely reading the job description and researching the organization, you don’t know the nuances of what employers are looking for and how they might interpret your skills and experience. And when you are not selected, no one tells you why. (Did an insider get the job? Did someone misinterpret your background? Or were you competing with ten people with experience the employer found more relevant?) It can feel like you are wandering in the dark.
The good news is that you can increase your chances of landing the position you want by evaluating your results at each stage of the process, focusing on how you present your skills and experience in context. Here are our team’s suggestions for how to diagnose and improve your job search results.
When You Don’t Hear Back at All
If you are applying to jobs you are qualified for and aren’t hearing back, review your resume and LinkedIn profile. How are you presenting your skills, experience, and career story?
- Organize your resume with the most relevant information at the top, matching the job description. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see your linear job progression. In chronological order with dates, list relevant experience only and include the names of your prior organizations. If the jobs you are applying for list a Ph.D. as a top qualification, highlight that toward the top. If they don’t list a degree as a qualification, move education to the bottom.
- Describe your accomplishments in the language used by your future organization, functional area, or industry. Do your research. Read the job description closely, but also research similar job postings and the LinkedIn profiles of professionals with similar titles in adjacent organizations. Look for common keywords and use those to describe your applicable skills. The person reading your resume may not be an expert in your field and will be looking for key terms and concepts. This can also be helpful if the organization uses AI to sort resumes.
- Add easy contact links to your resume. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile, email, and personal website or portfolio. Most recruiters or hiring managers will click a link to learn more when they are interested.
- Update your LinkedIn profile and/or personal website to tell your career narrative. Your resume should be brief and factual, highlighting the relevant business results you achieved in previous jobs. On LinkedIn, you can share more of your career narrative; write about the challenges you like to solve and the work environments in which you thrive.
“If I am reviewing a candidate’s resume and am not sure they are a great match for the job, I look at their LinkedIn to see if I can find the missing pieces. On LinkedIn, I’m looking for more detail, context about key projects and outcomes, and why you do what you do. Take advantage of the format and provide details in the about me section. Show your passion vs. just experience.”— Staffing Advisors Project Director Lilly Khan
When You Don’t Advance Past the Screening Call or First Interview
If you aren’t getting callbacks, practice how you verbally present your skills, experience, and career story. Particularly if you have something uncomfortable to talk about (a gap in employment or a job that you held for a short time), rehearse your answers to be direct, factual, and brief—without drama or backstories.
- Develop an example for each key skill or competency in the job description. Consider using the CAR method to structure these: context (the situation you were in), action (the actions you took), and result (the impact of your actions). Make sure your answers give just enough information to answer the question, then stop.
- Let your interviewer guide the conversation. Don’t assume that the interviewer wants to know anything other than what they ask—be careful of veering off on tangents. They will ask follow-up questions if they want to learn more.
- Research to ensure you understand the job and what the organization is about. Read about their strategic plan, their mission, and the job. Avoid talking about results you can achieve that don’t relate to the position (for example, talking about bringing in revenue when the job is about community engagement). Find more tips on how to research a job here.
- Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse in the mirror or with a friend. Practice enough times so that even when nerves strike, you can convincingly talk about your competencies and how they will benefit the organization.
“Nerves are real—even the most experienced executives sometimes bomb an interview—so preparation and practice are so important. Even if the interviewer lacks experience, you can guide the conversation toward focusing on the right things, make a great impression, and demonstrate why your skills are a good match for the job.”— Staffing Advisors Vice President of Client Engagement Aileen Hedden
When You Don’t Advance Past Panel Interviews or One-On-Ones with Top Executives
- Prepare for panel interviews by focusing on how you work with other departments and colleagues. Panel interviews typically involve people you will collaborate with in the new position. Your responses should focus on how you support others in the organization. Develop relevant examples of how you communicate with and across teams, keep people up to date, and ensure everyone’s needs are met.
- For interviews with top-level executives, leverage your relationship with the hiring manager or recruiter to ask for advice. You likely have a rapport with your main hiring contact at this point in the process. Ask if they have any guidance on what the CEO may be looking for. Most have questions they typically ask or topics they explore with every candidate.
Align Your Message to the Position and Organization
The interview process has a structure and rhythm. At every step, organizing how you present yourself relative to the positions you are applying for is essential. You may have an outstanding resume and LinkedIn profile and interview well, but if your message is out of alignment with the position and the organization, you won’t stand out against other candidates. You aren’t being evaluated solely on whether or not you can do a job. Your future employer is looking at how your skills and experience compare against other candidates and how well that aligns with their needs.
For more about developing your career narrative, writing a resume that aligns with the positions you are applying for, and interview strategies that work, read our Guide to Senior Executive Job Search.
And if you are just getting started in your job search, read our first post in this series, Job Searching 101: Where to Start.