Job Search: 20 Possible Reasons Why You Just Can’t Find a Job

No matter why you can’t find a job, my heart goes out to each and every one of you still looking and waiting – and hoping. Some of the most qualified, talented people can take months and months – and yes in some cases even a year or more – to finally find a job they want.

And there may be absolutely nothing wrong with what you’re doing in your job search. I don’t want you to think this is about blaming you. But, if you are looking for reasons why you aren’t finding a job as fast as you’d like, here are some possibilities you might want to consider – and work on!

Possible reasons why you aren’t finding a job

Your resume – This seems so obvious, but most people don’t know what isn’t working on their resume. Even if you look right at it, you may think your resume is great. And more times than I can tell you, it isn’t. Or at least it isn’t as great as it needs to be to get the resume screener to select you for an interview. You can have date gaps or poorly-written experience statements or just experience that doesn’t look like it matches the job, even if you have the required skills. It pays to ask someone else to look it over and tell you honestly whether it speaks to the job you want now.

Your cover letter – Ah. You’d think that if the resume was good, a cover letter won’t matter. Well, it might not. But then again, if the spelling, grammar or writing style doesn’t match what your resume says you can do, it can look like you simply had someone else write your resume, while you are weak on the skills the resume claims you have. Also, a cover letter needs to help sell you to the employer by matching you – targeting the cover letter – to the job. If it doesn’t, or if it is clearly the same cover letter you use for everyone, that may be enough to eliminate you, especially if it’s a close call.

You’re only applying to jobs you find on online job boards – If you are only looking for available positions online at places like Monster, Indeed, Careerbuilder, etc. you are competing with the greatest number of people (not that you shouldn’t apply on these sites), and also missing out on jobs that might not be posted there – or at least not yet. You’re also missing out on one of the biggest suppliers of jobs, the hidden job market.

Networking is of course one important way to circumvent the more-traveled path. You should also be looking at niche sites, like Idealist.com or Encore.org or TheNonprofitTimes.com/jobs  (for non-profit jobs) or government (local, state and federal) and military sites, or directly on the websites of specific companies as well as universities, hospitals, hotels, department stores, non-profits, etc.

Try googling “niche job sites” for even more resources. And look for local companies whose sites you might browse for jobs. Don’t wait for a job opening to show up on a major job board. Sniff it out online and get there first – or find something others might be missing completely.

You’re waiting for a job you really want to become available – I’ve worked with people who only apply here and there, and half-heartedly at that. They say they’re waiting for the ONE job they really want – sure that’s the only one that can make them happy. And then if the hiring process takes months, they wait it out, letting other openings get filled while they wait. Now I understand about going after what you want, but don’t stop looking with full determination in the meantime.

First, you might not get the job and you’ve pushed your chances for that first paycheck way back. Second, that “perfect” job might not be as great in reality as you think. And third, you may overlook a job that sounds only ok but turns out to be great. Or at least far better than no job at all.

You aren’t asking for enough informational interviews – Informational interviews help you meet people who, although they may not have a job for you (in fact usually they don’t), can help point you to others who might know of openings or at least paths to openings. This is an important way of sniffing out job possibilities and building a network of connections. Don’t think if you’ve spoken to a person or two that you’re done. Keep thinking about people you might ask for a few minutes of their time.

You aren’t networking enough – This goes hand in hand with informational interviews. I know how hard it is for some of you – ok, most of us – to ask for help, especially when it comes to job search. But networking is the best way to find jobs that others may not know about yet – and to which you may get yourself a direct link. So if you look back at the last few months and see that you’ve barely networked with anyone in all that time, please think about stepping up your networking game. Whom can you contact – think of anyone you’ve ever known – who might know someone who knows someone…

You aren’t networking in a way that works – This may seem strange, but an important part of networking is not always asking directly for a job. People can get put off if you sit down at their desk or meet them at an event of some sort and you just blurt out “I need a job.” So does everyone else. It helps if you’ve first managed to connect with the person, and then, rather than asking directly, maybe explaining what you’ve been up to and how excited you are about what you’re looking for – and then asking if they know anyone you might contact who can help.

Your goal is to get them to invest their time and concern in your job search. This way you not only find possible leads to jobs, but you start to build potential networking contacts for the rest of your career. Of course, if the situation lends itself to you asking directly about a job in their company, use your judgment. But make sure you’ve established a connection first. And don’t forget to take time to find out something about them and what they’re up to, if at all appropriate.

You haven’t asked for enough help – I know I’m probably over-stressing this point, but I’ve met people who say they are networking and yet when I dig deeper, their family and sometimes even friends don’t know they’re looking. Look, I know it can be embarrassing to let family and certain friends into such personal things, but if you feel good about yourself, then you’re just asking them to help someone get a great employee.

And why not let them have the fun of helping? If they say no, don’t give up trying with others. Often, it’s how you ask. Oh … and remember when asking not to make it a “poor me” story, even if you’re having a tough time. Mostly just let them see how you are moving forward with determination. Most people like to invest in that positive energy.

Your interview skills are working against you – If you’ve gotten to interviews and yet no offer, it can simply be a matter of not having found the right fit. That happens to the best of us. But don’t assume you’re doing everything right. Think about the way you handle interviews and what impression you leave behind. It’s not only about the job skills – you might just want to brush up on your interview skills.

Something about your attitude during interviews – I’ve interviewed talented people who came in with a know-it-all attitude, maybe thinking that shows them as strong and self-confident. If you really know it all, you don’t push it on others – you show it through things you’ve accomplished. And you tell it positively, but not bragging. Conversely, you can’t be all “aw-shucks, I do my best ma’am.” Interviews are conversations. Treat them as if you know and respect each other, and show who you are through accomplishment stories.

You haven’t opened yourself up enough to job possibilities – Sometimes you have an idea in your head about what kind of job you’re willing to accept. Job search is so vast, it often helps to focus in on certain areas. But if your search has gone on too long, please think about new possibilities. Look at job boards for ideas. Think about temp jobs. There comes a point where you just need a chance, and once inside and getting a paycheck, you can slowly look for ways to do things you really want.

You let being “overqualified” stop you – If you’ve ever heard the words “we like you, but you’re overqualified” you know how frustrating that can be. While I’m not telling you to hide all your experience, your resume and cover letter can help you reshape it to better match the job you want. You don’t have to emphasize everything you’ve done – and you can emphasize matching transferable skills from past jobs. The main thing is to have a good career story about why this is exactly what you want, and make sure your resume backs you up.

You let not having enough experience stop you – Job search has to do a great deal with how you present yourself, in person and in your resume and cover letter. I once got a job offer for a job that required a PhD, something I don’t have. But I didn’t let that stop me from applying. I just made a strong enough case for why I was a great fit, pointing out a unique blend of skills and experience that I bet none of their PhDs had. Not that I’m telling you to apply to jobs you aren’t remotely qualified for, but think about how you might make a strong case for yourself and give it a shot.

You haven’t asked anyone for the truth – This is a hard one. And not everyone will tell you. But if you’ve been getting interviews and never even get to the next stage, you need to ask someone for some clues. Maybe a willing interviewer, maybe a friend. Maybe someone who will do a mock interview with you and provide some feedback. It’s not easy to listen to, but if you go with an open mind, it could make all the difference.

Your skills aren’t strong enough or up-to-date – Quite simply, you may need to upgrade your skills. I was once working with a woman who had almost no computer skills and she never got past the first interview once this was revealed. She chose not to do anything about it, and as a result, she closed off her chances. Whatever skills you can get yourself while waiting for that job offer, will be worth it both for your job search and for career advancement. Don’t assume you can’t. Try.

You seem high maintenance – Even in the interview process, we often get a feel for how much extra effort the person would be to work with. Try not to make demands during the process or show how “wrong” the process is. Be cooperative and use how they approach you to learn about them and what they require. Not suggesting you be a doormat, but everything you say and do reflects on what you would be like as an employee. And it matters.

Your references aren’t as good as you thought – If you get to the final stages and never get the offer, it’s worth checking your references carefully.

Your interviews are mostly about you – What? You must think this is weird. Aren’t interviews about you? Well, yes. But not exactly. You are telling them what about you matches the job opening and their company. So you need to be aware of who they are and what they really need. If you make your answers all about your needs and wants (same is true of a cover letter), it raises a red flag. Talk about how you can help them and use experiential examples to show it.

You are depressed and it shows (even if you don’t know it) – Job search can be emotionally draining, especially an extended job search. The best thing you can do for yourself is keep active physically and mentally. Volunteer work. Special projects. Classes. Regular exercise. Staying social. It all helps inside – and that shows outside.

Try as you might, you don’t leave a strong, positive impression – In the end, it’s all about the impression you make and leave behind. Think about what kind of overall picture you are conveying. Are you really coming off as someone they’d enjoy having to see and work with every day?

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