10 Reasons Your Job Application Was Rejected
Do your job applications keep getting rejected? Here are 10 common reasons you might be getting “no’s” and how to course correct.
This article on “10 Reasons Your Job Application Was Rejected” is part of the Coaching Collective series, featuring tips and expertise from Flatiron School Career Coaches. Every Flatiron School graduate is eligible to receive up to 180 days of 1:1 career coaching with one of our professional coaches. This series is a glimpse of the expertise you can access during career coaching at Flatiron School.
I see it time and time again. A job seeker launches their job search by updating their resume and firing it off to a few companies using the easy apply button. They complete a round of job applications but weeks later, all they get are rejections or worse, never hear anything back at all. The number submitted for each person is different. For some, it may be 3-5 applications. For others, it may be up to 100. But often, after this first go-round, discouragement sets in.
Before becoming a career coach I probably completed 1000+ job applications throughout my career as a tech project manager and program manager and had thousands of conversations on this topic with recruiters and hiring managers. All these experiences have given me an eye for determining why some applications fall flat, and others move forward to the interview round.
Here are the 10 top reasons your job applications keep getting rejected, and how to get around these common hurdles.
1. Not Using Keywords
Submitting one version of your master resume to all job applications won’t align with the unique requirements of each company. To get past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), you’ll need to align your resume keywords with each job description’s keywords. Speaking the same language greatly increases the chance a real human will see your application.
Before hitting submit, modify your resume to highlight the skills, talents, and achievements the company is looking for. You can do this by leveraging some of the keywords in the job description and rewording points of experience in a similar way to the “desired qualifications” section.
2. Funky Formatting
If your resume formatting is disorganized, not uniform, or overly graphic-heavy, it can make it hard for systems or reviewers to read. And a resume that can’t be read, is a resume that gets rejected.
It’s important to keep in mind that many, though not all, companies use Application Tracking Systems (ATS) to auto-screen resumes. Even if a person is going through resumes by hand, they will only spend on average 6-10 seconds scanning your resume. Making your resume easy to quickly scan is crucial.
While fancy resume designs may look pretty, here’s what to avoid:
- Tables, pictures, or graphics
- Fancy fonts that are light in color
- Over-stylized PDFs can be difficult for ATSs to parse words from
Tip For Success: Use a simple and clean design that includes basic black fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri. Stick to formatting with parallel lines between sections and bullet points to briefly describe experiences.
3. Not Highlighting Transferable Skills
Transferable skills are the acquired skills from past experiences that you bring to a new job. The best way for employers to know if you are qualified is to see that your transferable skills overlap with the role that you are applying for. Fail to clearly communicate these attributes, and your application will be deemed irrelevant.
Tip For Success: Common transferable skills include communication skills, attention to detail, and time management. They can also include tools and software you are proficient in using. Look for these requested skills in the job description, and be sure to highlight them on your resume.
4. Proofreading Errors
Small errors demonstrate a lack of professionalism or lack of pride in the work you do. A well-written, error-free resume demonstrated attention to detail and a good work ethic. Employers are looking for high performers that get big tasks done while maintaining quality. Proofreading includes spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This would also include accuracy with any included data and dates.
Tip For Success: Ask a friend or family member to review your application materials, or make use of digital review tools such as Grammarly.
5. Not Qualified
The requirements in a job description are the employer’s wish list. When the position is competitive employers will likely be able to find someone who meets most or all the requirements they are looking for.
There are numerous advertised and unadvertised jobs and it takes time to find the openings you are qualified for. Simply firing out applications to any job that sounds interesting, without taking the time to review the description and see if you’re qualified, is a sure way to become discouraged.
Tip For Success: Apply for jobs that you meet at least 80% of the qualifications for. Less than that, and you’ll likely be eliminated in favor of more qualified applicants.
6. Not Highlighting What Makes You Unique
After going through piles of resumes, hiring managers can start to feel like they are all the same. Those that don’t differentiate themselves with a compelling story may get tossed aside.
The best way to captivate a potential employer is to share what is unique about you and differentiate yourself from other similarly qualified candidates. Sharing your “why” behind your interest in the role or sharing your superpower strengths is captivating. For example, I recently had a Cybersecurity grad that grew up fighting off bullies and his passion story was protecting people and companies from cyber bullies.
Tip For Success: Highlight your unique skills, talents, and achievements as much as you can! If you have a passion story, be sure to include it in your cover letter.
7. No Cover Letter
Whether cover letters are optional or not, including one is always the safest way to go. A cover letter is one of your best options for personalizing your application and highlighting your unique value add. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done your research by explaining why you are interested in their company and that you’ve put some thought into presenting yourself. Not including a cover letter puts your application at risk by leaving the impression you are not serious about the job.
Tip For Success: Always include a cover letter! Include your “why” for the work you do, or why you want to work at this particular company. Employers want to know what you bring to the table, and that you’ll be committed on the job. Show them that!
8. Employment Gaps
If you don’t explain resume gaps adequately, employers may see you as high risk.
For employment gaps of up to a year, you should include this period in your resume in the same format as any other job experience, including points specifying what you did while out of the workforce. If it is a few months and not related to the job you are applying for, it’s alright to sometimes keep it off entirely.
If the gap is recent you can explain in the cover letter what you have been doing to keep yourself busy in the meantime. Maybe you took time off to travel, changed careers, decided to be a stay-at-home parent for that time, lost your job abruptly due to layoffs, or maybe you recently discovered a new passion for the industry you are pursuing and went back to school.
Tip For Success: Think about a strategy to address gaps beforehand. This may include informing the employer that the gap has since been resolved and you are ready to work again, or that you gained some sort of transferable skill that can benefit the employer. Don’t try and brush it off, they’ll want to know why you’re ready to reenter the workforce now.
9. Not Getting A Referral
If you’ve done everything listed above and are still not getting any interviews, it’s time to try something different. It’s time to put some real effort into networking and securing a referral.
Tip For Success: Try networking along with your job applications to bring a personal connection to the company of interest. Finding an advocate inside the company such as a recruiter can help you start to get the traction you need.
10. Circumstances Outside Your Control
Sometimes, the reason your application gets rejected is entirely outside of your control. Maybe departmental priorities shifted, decided to hire internally, budgets went overboard, funding wasn’t acquired, or the CEO’s nephew needed a job. No matter how qualified you are or how unique of a story you have, sometimes the answer is “no” based on everything outside of your actual application.
These situations are probably more common than you think, and often you either won’t be told the real reason or won’t hear back at all.
Tip For Success: In these circumstances, try not to get discouraged and lose your momentum. Rebound quickly is a valuable skill, so try to view this as an opportunity to strengthen your perseverance muscle. There are tons of jobs out there, so try to focus on the horizon!
About Julie Allen
Julie Allen is a career coach with Flatiron School. She also has a private career coach business called The StoryMakers. Julie comes from 20 years as a manager in the tech industry helping corporate America achieve its goals. She is located in the Phoenix area, where she inspires young professionals to go after their dream jobs. Julie holds a BA in English and Psychology from Washington State University and an MBA from Golden Gate University.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of April 5, 2023. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.