Help, I am not getting any response from my job applications!

As with almost every type of business, Computer technology and the Internet has fundamentally changed recruitment. If you thought your CV always gets read when you apply for a position, think again. It is common for hundreds of CVs or resumes to be received for a typical position advertised in the Times or FT.

In the past these all had to be read individually, a very time consuming and tedious task. Imagine if several hundred turned up on your desk!

If your CV was received in the first days post for a new job advertisement, there was a good chance it would get read and that your details would be properly considered. After this point, you are pretty much wasting your time. Once the consultant gets bored, the chances are that your CV will get a cursory glance at best.

The IT industry has developed a number of tools designed to automate the processing of job applications and CVs. These work in a variety of ways, but their basic aim is to extract the information in the CV and convert it into a form that can be searched. In order to search your covering letter or CV, they both need to be in an electronic form. Yes, you can scan documents and use Optical Character Recognition, but this is a costly, time intensive and error prone process.

Agencies much prefer an electronic application either with your details sent via Email or entered into the registration form on their web site. This allows them to eliminate data entry or re-keying. Once they have your details electronically, the fun starts. It is very expensive to use staff to sort through hundreds of CVs, although some agencies still do this. However, most are looking to use automated approaches to reduce their costs and improve their margins.

Once your CV is received, it is then placed into an electronic queue containing each application for this position or it’s added to a giant database full of candidates. All of the applications for a position are rarely read by the recruitment consultant. When they are ready to build a shortlist of applicants, they will perform a search of their database looking for suitable candidates. This search uses selected keywords to identify any CVs that contain the terms they are looking for. Some will also use other filters such as salaries.

For more senior positions, there is sometimes an assumption that someone earning £100K should not be considered for a position earning £150K simply because “If you were good enough you would already be earning this sort of income”. You probably are already doing an identical job, but your company or industry simply pays less for those skills. Ill-informed attitudes like this show that you have to play the game

The problem lies in the choice of the words they search for. Very often, their search will only bring back a small number of candidates who have explicitly mentioned a particular word. There may well be many other, better qualified candidates, but these are not found as the search did not match their details. For instance a search that looks for “accountant” may miss applications who mentioned FCA or any other accountancy qualification in their CV but did not say they where an accountant.

During a conversation with a headhunter last week, they complained that they often accidentally stumble across great candidates who had been sitting in their databases for months, but simply not turned up on a search. Their details only appeared when they were looking for another unrelated role.

It may seem shocking, but this is the way that most of the recruitment systems work. This often explains why you did not even get considered for a position where you should have been a very strong contender.

What do you need to do to ensure that your CV gets read and shortlisted??

Key Point

Make sure that you really are a very close fit for the position. When there are hundreds of applicants, only those exactly matching the criteria will get considered. If you are an 80% fit, then don’t waste your time. Make sure that you are a 90-100% fit! If you are not selective, then the chances are that you will get demoralised by lots of rejections letters. You should always tailor each response carefully to bring out your most relevant experience. If you are targeting every position, then you are not giving sufficient care and attention to your applications.

Once you have carefully picked the best positions that match your skills, you need to think how the recruitment consultant might try and locate CVs that are a good fit for the role.

You need to carefully scrutinize the advert or job description if available. Your covering letter and CV need to replay as closely as possible the wording the agency have used. If they say “Outstanding senior accountant with business development experience needed for a busy practice”, then you should try to repeat this at the start of your covering letter and in the summary of your CV. If they then search for all CVs that contain senior accountant and business development, there is a very high chance they will look at your details.

As an example, don’t assume that because you mention that you are an accountant or that you are registered with the ICAEW, that the recruitment consultant will find you when they search. You should spell out that you are an accountant and mention your qualification and professional body within the document. You increase your odds of being found enormously if you do.

Every CV you send out should be tailored for the position to maximise your chances of success. It may take a little more time, but it helps to make sure you are found. There is nothing more demoralizing than not even getting a response to an application.

For more senior roles, this gets even more involved. It is more difficult to find top people just using keywords. For instance, the agency may have 500 partners on its books, but how do you find one who is “dynamic, go-ahead and will grow my business”?? The consultant will still use their search tools, but they now have to look for words that describe the ideal candidate. You really have to understand exactly what they are looking for to “tune” your CV appropriately. If your skills aren’t a strong fit, then you are wasting your time applying and need to find a more suitable position.

Another trick that can bypass the search issue, is to ring the agency up and talk to the person who is looking after that position. Tell them you are interested in the job and ask them if they can tell you more. Very often you will get extra clues that help you to target your skills and experience effectively. The other benefit is that if you can whet the appetite of the consultant, they may well be looking our for your CV when it arrives. This makes a dramatic difference and radically increases your chances.

Action Summary

1. Select only completely relevant positions
2. Precise the advert and write down the key requirements.
3. Make a note of the words that they use
4. Save a new copy of your CV and tailor this specifically for this position bringing out your best and most relevant experience.
5. Use the same words as they do, particularly mentioning any keywords
6. Do the same for the covering letter

In each document, place the keywords at the end using white text on a white background to make this invisible. The search engines will still see this, but the reader won’t.

When you send the documents to the agency, wait a day and then contact the consultant handling the position. Explain your interest, why you are a close fit and ask for their feedback. At the least, it should ensure that they do read your CV.

If there is a big difference in your current salary to that in the position, don’t provide details of your salary even if it is asked for. If the agency likes your CV and then rings you back, then they are potentially interested.

Never discuss the salary until much later on. Once an employer has decided that they want you, you can often get the salary you deserve! Very often you can get the right salary, once you have convinced them that you are the right candidate.

At least 80% of applications are nowhere near the mark and will get instantly rejected! Don’t waste your time applying unless you really are a very good fit!