Kunjan reckons he's applied for more than 1,000 jobs online since being made redundant earlier this year. But, he said, he heard back from exactly… none.
For some job seekers, hitting the “submit” button on an online job application feels like launching a CV into a black hole, never to be seen or heard from again. For Kunjan, a former human resources analyst for Cisco, it sure feels that way.
“I haven't heard anything from anyone,” said Kunjan in an email.
Kunjan, who grew up in London and now lives in Lithuania, said he wouldn’t mind it so much if the rejection came after an interview. “It at least would give me a sense of satisfaction and present me with the idea of weaknesses and areas to improve.”
The lack of any response at all — even a polite rejection form letter — is jarring and frustrating. So, what should you do if you’re constantly hitting a wall of silence? You won’t likely be able to seek feedback from the black hole of applications, but you can do a few things to improve the odds of your CV being noticed, and getting a call for an interview.
Quality over quantity
For starters — and this might seem counterintuitive when you’re feeling desperate to land a job — be selective.
“No one should be applying for ‘thousands’ of jobs. Or even hundreds,” said Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert at online job-search website Monster.com, in an email. “It's simply unlikely that someone would be qualified for that many positions to begin with. You're setting yourself up for disappointment.”
Instead, focus on whether you have the right skills and training for the jobs you actually want.
“If not, it's time to find ways to develop them, even if it's through more education or volunteer activities,” said Slayter. “No (resume) formatting tricks can overcome a lack of provable skill.”
Peppering doesn’t work
Many people make the mistake of simply peppering their CV or resume with keywords, thinking that will be enough to get them through the applicant tracking system (ATS) software that 75% of large companies use to screen applicants.
But keywords alone won’t work, according to Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, a Boston-based job market and career analytics company. ATS software has become much more sophisticated over the past few years – and applicants need to adapt their applications to that. Newer search technology offers a more “holistic evaluation” of your resume or CV than in the past, according to Sigelman. Therefore, your resume should not be a list of facts but rather a narrative that tells a story.
"A narrative resume is essentially what every resume should aspire to be, that is, something that tells the story of your professional life in such a way that it’s clear that this new job — the job to which you are applying — is the next chapter in that story," Sigelman said.
Instead of writing a generic job description for each of your work experiences and leaving it unchanged no matter what job you are applying for, a well-written narrative would adapt each job description (and other sections too) so as to emphasize the specific experiences, skills, and vocabulary that the employer is looking for, Sigelman said.
“Really your resume is an elevator pitch: why you are a great for this [particular] job,” he said. If you have been working as the director of sales and marketing, for instance, and you want to apply for a position as vice president of sales, describe the work you have been doing in a way that emphasizes the sales experience that the vice president job demands instead of the experience you have accrued. “Similarly, you may want to reshuffle what you include in any skill lists on your resume based on what you think would be of value to this employer,” Sigelman added.
Do your homework
Mary Goldsmith’s biggest pet peeve when she was an executive recruitment consultant was applicants “who didn’t bother to edit their resume to reflect the needs of the organisation, or role requirements, even when a comprehensive position description was available.”
Not taking the time to customize your resume gives a really bad first impression.
“It looked like sheer laziness, which can appear disrespectful to the person screening your application at the other end,” said Goldsmith, now a Melbourne, Australia-based executive career coach.
Research the company before you complete your application. Check to see if the organization has a company page on business networking site LinkedIn. If it does, look for clues about how to develop your application, suggested Goldsmith. See if you know anyone working there. If you do, ask them about the company and what they look for in people. Check employee profiles to get an understanding of the type of people they recruit and what they value. “Use this information to modify your application and decide if you're a likely fit and if the application is worth pursuing,” said Goldsmith.
If you have experience at a well-known company (in the case of Kunjan: Cisco), take advantage of it, suggested Steven Yeong, a recruiter coach at Hof Consulting in Singapore. "Continue to highlight your experience [there] in your CV,” he said in an email. And send your CV to all of the direct competitors of the company where you worked.
“Most companies have a tendency to want to hire people who have worked for competitors,” he said.
Always a better way
No matter how well you craft your resume or CV,it still can’t beat a personal contact who can recommend you to a hiring manager or recruiter. “As everything changes in job search, some things remain the same,” said Wendy Enelow, founder and director of Virginia-based Resume Writing Academy, in an email. “Networking is still the number one way to find a new position."
Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.