Preparing your resume for a new job is difficult, but not impossible. You have the benefit of time — no one is going to burst into the room and demand to look at your CV before you send it — and the comfort of multiple edits to help you feel alright about the part of your history you’re showing to the world.
Interviews are an entirely different beast. You only get one shot one opportunity to look great and whether or not you do is entirely based on your ability to improvise around an interviewer’s pet questions.
Here’s a sampling of a few odd questions I’ve personally been asked:
Can you fold a fitted sheet?
How do you feel about your name?
What kind of animal would you want to reincarnate as?
Thoughts on karaoke?
(In a windowless room) Which way is north?
These questions are meant to startle, to get you thinking creatively or to get a sense of your priorities without asking about them directly. And because they are so rare they can be hard to prepare for, leading to the dreaded moment of actually having to sit and think about your words before you say them (a big no-no in the job hunting world and nowhere else).
But you can smooth over any potential speed bumps by preparing yourself with a few solid answers to questions you know are going to be asked. I know we just said that interviewers are trying to rattle you with let-field queries, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few questions that almost every recruiter is going to ask.
Tell Me About Yourself
This is the opener for 99% of interviews for obvious reasons. It’s a good, open-ended way to get started talking about the subject at hand, allowing multiple jumping-off points for the interviewer to move forward with the conversation. Or, at least, it will if you don’t completely bungle it.
Knowing that this question is coming is half the battle, as a long-forgotten war hero said. And since you can almost guarantee that this question will kick off any interview, there’s no excuse for flubbing it.
The interviewer wants you to recap your experience in your own words, hopefully leading up to the point that you’re clearly qualified for this gig and ending in an explanation of why you decided to apply.
Job Search Tip: Write out your response, going through your history chronologically and run through it a few times until it feels natural.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This question is truly tough. It flies in the face of a lifetime of home training, asking you to talk bluntly about things you’re good at. It’s akin to straight-up bragging, but within limits.
Both knowing how to brag on yourself and knowing when to stop are difficult, but that can be fixed if you think of it in terms of resume bullet points. What they want to hear is your most relevant skill backed by an example of you using that skill in the past. “I’m really good at X and I got that way doing Y.” Keep this formulation in mind when practicing for your next interview.
Weaknesses can be even trickier. You don’t want to share anything that might disqualify you, but you don’t want to give a non-answer that will leave the interviewer rolling their eyes. Be honest here and share something that you have struggled with in the past, but follow that up with an explanation of the steps you took or are taking to change that. They want to know that you’re self-aware and adaptable.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is a great one for all the dungeon masters out there, because it’s plotting out a bit of a fantasy. Imagine a magical land where job security is assured and you’ve found a job you like doing. Might as well throw in some orcs at that point, right?
What the interviewer wants to hear from you here is how you plan to grow at the company. What do you see yourself doing when you outgrow the position they have offered? What skills will you have honed by that time? And what passions will the job be fulfilling for you? You need to show that there’s something about the job that interests you and that you’ll be willing to grab that part of the gig and run with it.
Job Search Tip: Plot out several trajectories based on the requirements of the job at hand and try and use the one that you feel will resonate the best with the interviewer. If you need to know which skills they are looking for, look out for the points where they ask follow-up questions.
To even get to these questions, though, you have to leap some pretty big hurdles. That’s where we can help. Allow us to optimize your resume and automate your job search to ensure that you’re sweating over interview questions quicker. For just $10, we guarantee that we can land you the interviews you’ve been after.
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We all know that sending the same canned cover letters to every job opening is a waste of time. Even if we ignore the fact that every job is different, making it impossible to meet all the requests of every posting in one single document, there’s the person on the other end to consider. Scanning cover letters is their actual job and they’ve developed a strong sense of when they’re being fed a form letter.How Long Should A Cover Letter Be?
It would be a waste of time to send out letters about your [INSERT SKILLS] to [HR MANAGER NAME GOES HERE]. But writing custom letters from scratch for every application is an equally unjustifiable timesuck. Luckily, there’s a happy medium: a cover letter cheat sheet.
A cover letter cheat sheet is a form of plug-and-play elements that you can insert into any letter depending on the asks and qualifications of the position you’re throwing in for. It gives you the ability to address the needs of every posting without writing out every last letter by hand.
Beyond the need to save time, a cheat sheet can also save you from costly mistakes. The more you have to type out, the greater chance of typos and other errors appearing in your application. With a cheat sheet, you only have to proof your premade paragraphs.
How’s It Work?
Make a list of skills that you think are relevant for the jobs in your field. It should be easy to find these, they are probably in the “Skills” section of your resume. For every skill, write out a paragraph explaining how you have used or came to possess that talent in the past.
Check out two examples below:
Organization & Administration
I honed my administrative and organizational skills during my time at SaveTheWhales.org. Tasked with taking minutes, case management, phoning patients, data entry and general filing, I’m able to handle any administrative duties given to me with little to no supervision.
During my time at the King County Health Department, I conducted hundreds of clinical interviews with AIDS victims. By being sensitive, sympathetic and understanding of their situation, I was able to distill useful information that subsequently helped educate the community on risk factors of the disease.
With this list of skills in hand, you can quickly customize any cover letter to address the needs of any position.
Of course, cover letters aren’t the only thing that need to be tweaked in order to catch a recruiter’s attention. And they are far from the only bit of the application process that can be a pain. Luckily, we can help!
For just $10, we can optimize your resume to make sure that it’s landing on the top of the pile. And we can take that clean, new resume and send it out to jobs you’re interested in on your behalf, automating your job search and landing you an interview that much faster.
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Listen, you need a portfolio. This isn’t some moment at the open mic where you can pretend the person on stage is talking to someone else. This isn’t a stage production of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. If you’re reading this, you should know that you need a portfolio.
How do I know you need one? Well, for one, you’re looking for a job and a clean-looking collection of all your accomplishments can only help. But mostly, a portfolio is just something that every person, no matter their field or job, should have.
The Big Reason Why
I know I’ve been telling you that you need a portfolio, now let me show you why they’re necessary. That’s actually exactly it: showing over telling.
Literally every single person who is applying for the same jobs as you is saying that they’re the right fit for the job. After a while, it’s all so much white noise. A portfolio showing that you’ve handled the exact sort of work that they’ll expect from you at this new gig is a surefire way to stand out among all the people who are just saying “trust me.”
If they are looking for leaders, go ahead and share a few projects you’ve lead. If they’re looking for someone with an eye for design, wow them with your work on a website that looks great. There’s no reason not to have examples of your work contained in one easy-to-navigate space.
But I’m Not A Creative
Doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t have copies of projects to share, a personal website with crisp and clean photos of yourself alongside you accomplishments is bound to make the right impression. As we’ve mentioned before, being heard above the din can be hard. You want to do anything that will help you stick out in a hiring manager’s mind even a tiny amount.
Knowing What Type Of Portfolio To Create
Since everybody needs one, quite a few places have cropped up that work well to host portfolios. Which portfolio works for you depends entirely upon what type of work you’re looking to do.
Behance works well for creative work, Medium is the spot for written words and Dribbble is for all the graphic designers. For the B.S. types, GitHub is great for engineering work. If your jobs have been a bit more nebulous, try out Squarespace or WordPress and fill the pages with stories about your experience.
What Should I Share?
Only your best. Seriously, go over all of your potential best projects and ding them. Be as ruthless to your own work as you possibly can. When you get done, you’ll probably be left with 3-5 really good examples and that’s what you want to build around.
Job Search Tip: While you’re in the mood for criticism, pass your portfolio off to friends and have them critique it. A fresh set of eyes never hurt.
While You’re Here…
We’re sure your portfolio is great, but that isn’t going to matter if your application never grabs a recruiter’s interest in the first place. For just $10, we can optimize your resume to make sure that it’s what hiring managers are looking for and automate your job search, sending out applications to all the jobs you want without wasting any of your time. We even offer a money-back guarantee because we know that our portfolio would be stacked with successfully placed candidates.
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We all preach keeping our personal life and work life separate. But in this endlessly interconnected age, that’s not always possible. Your personal online life will absolutely intersect with your professional online life at some point. It’s unavoidable.
But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With proper planning you can make sure that the crossroads at Facebook & Your Resume isn’t the site of a flaming wreck. Knowing that hiring managers are going to snoop on your social media profiles gives you the upper hand, allowing you to craft your online presence in a way that will show them what they want to see when they come digging.
To make it a little easier to snoop-proof your socials, we’ve put together a few tips.
Visit Like A Stranger
This is the most important part of any steps you might take to make your social media profile more presentable. You have to visit your page as an outsider if you want to have any hope of finding all the things that might pop up and scare off a prospective employer.
Dig around. Click on links that you wouldn’t if you were just using the platform in your day-to-day life. Double check what friends have tagged you in. If anything comes up that you think might throw off an employer, delete it ASAP.
Job Search Tip: Visit your pages in incognito mode to see what they look like to everyone else.
Make Sure You Match
Everyone stretches the truth during the job application process. You’re trying to make the best possible case for yourself, so you go ahead and look at your experience through rose-colored glasses and share that idea of yourself with recruiters. But that carefully constructed rosy reality can come crashing down quick if it doesn’t jibe with your social media profile.
Make sure that any recruiter who would stumble upon your page will find something roughly consistent with what you sent them. Your page doesn’t have to match your resume line for line. People do present themselves differently in different spaces, after all. But your employment history should match in a way that’s not going to send up any red flags.
Use A Professional-looking Profile Photo
This one’s easy. Try and get yourself a headshot. The first picture that any snooper might see should be a clean, clear photo of just you. Bonus points if you’re professionally dressed and smiling in a way that seems candid.
It Ain’t All Bad
I know we’ve made it seem like social media is nothing but a minefield meant to blow up any chances you have at landing your next gig. But social media can do at least as much helping as it does hindering, if you know how to make it work for you.
LinkedIn can be a great resource to provide you with legs-up and ways in if you regularly make a point of connecting with the people you’ve worked alongside. Growing your network (and maybe getting a few recommendations for skills you claim to have along the way) is a great way to show recruiters that real, live people enjoyed working with you.
Beyond that, Twitter is an excellent resource to find out who is hiring in the first place. Following people from the companies you want to work for can provide an inside scoop on a new gig, allowing you to get your resume in ahead of the horde.
We Can Help!
While we can’t paper over the pitfalls in your profile, we can help with everything else. For just $10, we will not only optimize your resume to guarantee that it’s giving hiring managers what they want, we’ll also automate the application process and send out that resume for you. We’re so confident in our method that we’ll put your money where our mouth is. If you don’t land an interview, we offer your money back. Luckily, our success rate makes this an easy bet to make.
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No resume is ever perfect. You might have selected the perfect font, put together the crispest heading and explained your crazy amount of experience. But all that smooth, flowing work history is bound to need re-arranging once it smashes up against the sharp rocks of the job search.
Frankly, almost every application is going to require little tweaks to your resume to guarantee success. Your painting in broad strokes while recruiters are looking for a photorealistic rendering of the person they want. But that’s no reason to lose hope. You just have to work hard to be given the opportunity to maybe, one day work hard.
Here’s a few tips to make sure that your resume is as close to perfect as any one piece of paper can get.
Include keywords from the job posting in your resume
This is the easiest and perhaps most-crucial step in getting through the callouses that the average hiring manager has over the CV-scanning part of their brain. People are attuned to respond positively to people who speak like them. (Semi-related fun fact: when people like each other, their accents move closer together over the course of a conversation. Cute and scientific!) If you reflect the words that they chose back to them, you’re not only piquing their interest in this way, but you’re guaranteeing that you address their specific needs.
Resume Tip: You can shorten this process significantly by searching for 10-15 jobs in your field and noting the skills that all the listings have in common. Be sure to list those words in your skills section.
Don’t have to talk dirty, baby, to impress recruiters. While we don’t imagine you’re chucking vulgarities into your bullet points, there’s more than one way that a resume can be unclean. Follow the acronym K.I.S.S. (“Keep it simple, stupid.”) to keep yourself in line of you’re thinking about adding a little too much flair to your application. The less you have going on with your resume, the easier it is for people (and the machines that aid them) to read. A few quick and easy resume tips under the KISS umbrella:
Use standard fonts: Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Times New Roman and the like
Try to avoid tables, graphs or pictures
Save it in a widely used format like .docx or .pdf
The average hiring manager spends less than seven seconds looking at your resume before making a decision on whether or not it’s going in the trash. Make it easy to read or you’re going in the worst kind of outbox.
Use task/result structure
Instead of telling hiring managers what your job responsibilities were, try telling them what you did specifically that made your last workplace better.
Here’s a comparison of two bullet points:
Ran fundraising campaigns
Launched a fundraising campaign that raised $10,000 in 8 weeks which extended runway for X months
Of course! We understand that all of this can be a hassle. It’s very hard to land a job and making sure that your resume is on point every time is a lot to keep in your head. So, why not use ours? Our collective brainpower and our ResumeOptimizer tool can help make sure that you never send out a bad resume again. For just $10, we’ll clean up your resume to fit the positions you want and automatically send it out to the people who are looking for you! And we stand behind our work, guaranteeing that we’ll land you an interview or your money back.
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How bad is it to laid off (or fired)? After analyzing 6,976 recent job applications across 365 cities and 101 cities in the United States, we can say this: it’s pretty bad.
Controlling for experience, people who were fired, laid off or quit in the first 15 months of a job were 43% less hireable when applying to new jobs. Whereas everyone else saw a 13.4% interview callback rate, the callback rate was only 7.6% for these folks. Averaging across industries and cities, getting fired meant roughly same as wiping out ~5 years of experience for them.
Let’s tease a few other subtler things out:
Although it increased your absolute hireability if you’d been fired, additional experience also increased the relative hireability gapcompared to your friends who hadn’t been fired.
More than age, race or experience, having even one employment blemish was the #1 negative factor affecting the job search.
What’s Going On?
Like it or not, hiring managers quickly skim resumes — your resume might get ~6 seconds. Sadly, that means if there’s anything that makes them second-guess it, they’re probably just going to trash it instead of actually thinking deeply about it
When hiring managers see a short job stint, they don’t know if it’s because you were fired (because you were bad at your job), laid off (officially not your fault, but sometimes still a flag), or quit early (which might mean you’re unreliable).
Speaking personally as a (reasonably experienced) hiring manager, rightly or wrongly, I can say that jobs shorter than 12 months made me suspicious. If you listed a job that lasted less than that and you made it to an interview, I’d absolutely ask you about it: “What’s up with this 7-month gig at Acme Corporation?” It wasn’t necessarily a disqualifier, but it was definitely a flag.
Apparently, I’m nicer than most other hiring managers. Speaking from the data, I can say that on average American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants whose shortest employment lasted less than 15 months.
How Much Does A Layoff Set You Back?
In fact, we can quantify just how much employers’ suspicion will cost you. It turns out the cost varies dramatically by the number of years of experience you have:
Years of Experience (#)
Interview Rate (%)
Loss of Years,
if Laid Off (#)
The more experience you have, the more employers punish you for getting fired, laid off or quitting early. When you think about it, that makes sense; I of course don’t know exactly why, but here’s why I think so:
Higher Expectations. I don’t care that much if my new Marketing Assistant was a bit flaky and got fired a few years ago because of it. However, if my new Marketing Director got fired a few years ago because he was flaky? That’s a non-starter.
Fewer Options. If you were recently fired as a Marketing Director, there simply aren’t many new Marketing Director openings. That means you’re unemployed longer and have less negotiating leverage, which means more power for employers.
[*] Accelerated Ageism. As with other forms of subconscious bias, your biggest problem as you get older is that employers find (subconscious) reasons to overlook you. Even if your explanation is totally appropriate, a short employment might give them that reason. Here, the dominating cost is less how far back it sets you but rather how many future good working years it robs from you.
We’ll dig into all of this in a future post on specific issues faced by older job-seekers.
You’re right, it is unfair. You might’ve been laid off through no fault of your own, chosen to leave a hostile work environment, had a term-limited work-study student job, or knew you were signing up for a specific, short-term contract gig. Employers don’t seem to care — whatever the reason, if you have a short employment on your resume, employers will punish you.
And believe me, I get it — I’ve been fired too. (Quitepublicly, in fact. If it makes you feel any better, I’m guessing the press didn’t cover your departure.)
But, as I’ve said before: it’s unfair, but no one cares. Your girlfriend or husband will still be on your case. Your landlord will still want rent. You’ll still need to buy groceries. So, what can you do?
What Can You Do About It?
Although people with employment blemishes did much worse on average, many still did quite well — in fact, 29% of previously-fired people beat the TalentWorks-overall average.
We dug in and identified the 3 most targeted, important (data-driven) differences between folks who were successful despite an employment blemish and those who weren’t.
#3: Tough it out for 18 months [+85% BOOST]
There was a big difference between leaving after 6 vs. 9 vs. 18 months. People whose shortest job was 9+ months were 85% more hireable than people whose shortest job was 8 months or less.
The conventional wisdom is that it’s safe to leave after 1 year, but that’s simply wrong. If you’re in a tough spot at a job, here’s our (data-driven) advice given the above:
0 – 8 months: You’re a flake, in hiring managers’ eyes. If you have to leave, you should but try to break through to the next stage if you can.
9 – 18 months:You’re digging out of the hole! Every extra month you stay during this period increases your hireability by ~9%.
18 – 24 months: “Good enough” is what employers are thinking. You’ve escaped the trap; unless you’re planning to stay for the long haul, this is the perfect time to find another job.
24+ months: “If Competitor Bob thinks she’s great, she must be great! I have to steal her.” (FOMO is real.) Every month you stay after 2 years increases your hireability by ~2%.
Job Search Tip: Don’t list a non-internship, non-contract job if it lasted less than 6 months. (If it was an internship or term-limited contract job, explicitly mention that.) All else being equal, even if you don’t like your job, try to stay for 18 months to show future employers you’re reliable if you can (+85% hireability boost).
#2: Keep working, somewhere [+149% BOOST]
Compared to their previously-fired brethren, people who weren’t currently employed took a massive hit — they were 149% less hireable.
If you’re getting laid off or fired, it might be a good idea to creatively negotiate an exit package that lets you run out the clock, e.g. use up old vacation, stay part-time, take a contract role.
If that’s not an option, it might be a great time to start freelancing, e.g. join Upwork or Thumbtack. And if that’s not an option either, start getting creative — your 3rd cousin’s brother-in-law needed a personal brand marketer, right? You get the idea.
Job Search Tip: If you’re about to start looking for a new job, find a (creative) way to show that you’re currently employed on your resume. Folks who did this saw a +149% hireability boost compared to their previously-fired or laid-off competition.
#1: Apply to companies with <500 employees [+192% BOOST]
The #1 thing you can do to mitigate a recent layoff or firing? Focus your job search on small- to medium-sized employers.
Applications to companies with <500 employees had a 192% higher interview rate. For every additional 1,000 employees, the hireability for people with work blemishes dropped by 19%.
I wouldn’t have guessed it beforehand, but this makes a lot of sense. Why?
Stricter Policies. Bigger companies have stricter automated filters and more bureaucratic HR policies: even they wanted to hire you, a hiring manager might be forced to DQ you.
More Choices. Bigger companies get more job applicants and a small blemish that’d get overlooked elsewhere might DQ you at a bigger company.
Job Search Tip:Focus your search on small- to medium-sized employers. Folks who did this saw a +192% hireability boost.
So, to summarize:Get brand-name industry experience. Go back to school. Be a woman. Be older. (Or younger.) Sorry, bad joke. Stay 9+ months if you can. Apply on Mondays. (Don’t apply on Fridays.) Don’t be a team player. Don’t use personal pronouns. Apply in the first 4 days. Apply between 6am and 10am. Start your sentences with (distinct) action verbs. List 25+ industry-specific skills. Take charge with leadership keywords. Stay working, somewhere, anywhere. Add concrete work achievements. Apply at companies with 500 employees or less. (Phew! Trying saying that five times fast.)
Easy peasy. You got this, right? Great. Now do that for every job you have to apply to and we’ll pretty much guarantee that you get the job you deserve.
Or, you can sign up for TalentWorks — we’ll just take care of it all for you! (No, seriously. [*]) Let us help you get back to a level-playing field.
[*] For most things, we can just automatically take care of it for you. For instance:
Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of 100+ applications.
Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of the potential issues above in addition to dozens of others.
And our A-List Talent? Sure, some of them might be in especially high-demand fields but, more often than not, they’re people who’ve put in a few minutes to optimize their resume for their job search. You should too!
First, we took a random sample of 6,976 recent job applications, applicants and outcomes across 365 cities and 101 cities from recent activity on TalentWorks. We extracted employments, educations and augmented with other metadata using our ResumeParser and ResumeOptimizer. Using the duration of applicants’ shortest employment, we then categorized individual applicants as someone who’d been fired, laid off or quit early. Finally, we (a) identified maximum-gain hypotheses using a greedy CART algorithm that met a p-value criteria and (b) regressed hireability using a composite Matern kernel with a Gaussian process for each sub-population. We did all of the above with in-house algorithms, sklearn and scipy and visualized the final plots with Bokeh in python.
Why Are We Doing This?
With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Whether it’s grading an inaugural lunch at a new hotspot or the mental calculus when perform when a date walks through the door, we put a lot of stock in first impressions. When you’re having hundreds of interactions per day, you have no choice. There’s simply too much to do to give everyone time to explain themselves.
Hiring managers operate in much the same way in their day-to-day work. They need to quickly scan applications to weed out the people who aren’t going to work and the spam. And although a resume might not be the first thing they see, it’s definitely the easiest place for them to start making cuts.
Hiring managers’ need to see information conveyed quickly makes the resume the most important part of any application. And any tiny mistake could leave you wondering where your phone call is.
Since sitting around waiting for an interview that never comes is our antithesis — getting people jobs is kind of our thing — we figured we’d point out a few easy-to-fix and common resume mistakes that are costing applicants the gig.
You Aren’t Pitching Yourself
Your resume can tell a hiring manager what you did and still not tell them what you do. Don’t just explain what your duties were at a given position, tell them how you met or surpassed the expectations of your employers. If it’s at all possible, use hard numbers to quantify your specific impact on the workplace. Tell them why they should be impressed.
Resume Tip: Include words that demonstrate leadership for a serious boost in your response rate.
For the love of God, Proofread
When we posted an opening to work here at TalentWorks, nearly 10 percent of the applicants disqualified themselves via simple typos. As our own Kushal Chakrabarti has mentioned, the default position for any hiring manager on any given application is already “no.” Don’t give them any reason to chuck your resume before they’ve finished reading it.
You Made It Hard For People (and Bots) to Read
Many hiring managers are using resume-parsing software to narrow down the applications they review before they even have to look at them. To that end, you need to make sure your resume is saved in a machine-parseable format. Keep the resume simple and clean so that even after it gets past the bots, the hiring manager can easily scan it and see what you’re all about. Colorful fonts, odd tables and other quirks need not apply.
You Aren’t Tailoring Your Resume
One more thing about those bots: they’re frequently looking for keywords that the hiring manager has set and tossing those that don’t have any. In our job search, a keyword-parsing tool eliminated 77% of applicants simply because their applications did not match with the keywords that we were seeking.
Admittedly, this can all be a little tough. It can be hard to proofread your own work for errors or to know which keywords hiring managers are looking for. Luckily, there’s us!
For just $10/month, we offer access to our ResumeOptimizer tool. It uses our expert knowledge of the hiring process and millions upon millions of data points to make sure that your application is the sleekest and most noteworthy application it can possibly be. We’ll then take that buffed resume and send it in for you automatically to positions matching your skill set using our ApplicationAssistant.
If that’s not enough, we also offer TalentAdvocates to walk you through the process and ensure that you’re on the path toward the job you want. Take a look at our services here and happy hunting!
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If you’re a recent college graduate entering the job market, the deck is stacked against you. And not in any sort of minor way. We’re talking the sort of card-game cheating that would get someone plugged in the old West. Beyond the obvious factors like having less experience and being new to the job hunt, there’s an unfortunate lack of entry-level jobs that are actually looking for brand-new candidates.
Recent grads are all a part of the same wave and they’re all looking for the same break from a limited number of outlets willing to offer one. Jennifer Lawrence might have been discovered on a random sidewalk, but you aren’t an Oscar-winner and the odds aren’t in your favor.
That being said, there are a few ways to increase the likelihood that you’ll be picked from among the horde of fresh-faced applicants looking for work. In the name of giving a leg-up to marketplace newbies, we’re offering some advice we wish we had received to help overcome the myriad ways that the job market is unfavorable to folks looking for their first gig.
They Want People Who Can Lead
You’ve spent your entire life being led around — be it by professors, bosses or parents — and now the job you’re looking for wants some who can take the reins. What’s a young’un to do?
Use leadership-related words when describing you work history. While you might not have much on-the-job experience, using words like managed, communicated or coordinated while describing the work you’ve done will give you a much-needed boost in the eyes of a hiring manager.
You’re Competing Against People Who Know How To Look For Jobs
Yes, the people you’re competing against probably have more impressive things on their resume. That’s just a fact and we aren’t going to lie to you about it. But perhaps even more crucially, they have honed that resume after years of feedback.
The older job-seekers you will compete against have learned what works and what doesn’t via trial and error. You don’t have the time if you need a job now. Luckily, we can rate your resume using the knowledge we’ve gleaned from tons of hiring managers and countless job searches.
“Fun” Fact: Only 2% of applicants to any given job are called up for an interview. You need to make sure your resume is as crisp and clean as possible if you want to compete.
You’re Probably Making Mistakes
Your youth is the time that you’re meant to make mistakes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into the job search. If you don’t know what kind of cover letter a hiring manager is seeking, it’s going to be hard to learn. They don’t have the time to offer you a personalized critique of your application. All you’re going to see is the heavy form letter that lets you know you didn’t get the job. (Or nothing at all. Neil Degrasse Tyson has yet to study inbox black holes, but we can assure you they exist.)
We recently ran the numbers and found that most jobs that call themselves “entry-level” are actually looking for someone with 3+ years of experience. Who are they to critique your application when they can’t even work out the meaning of entry, right?
Unfortunately, that’s the market you’re entering. But a little bit of legwork can go a long way. Finding jobs that are actually entry-level and not just looking to pay that way will save you quite a bit of time. In a recent run-through, we found that out of nearly 1300 jobs marketing themselves as entry-level, only 240 were actually looking for people looking to enter the market. That’s a little less than 1 in 5 and it adds up to a whole lot of wasted time on your end.
Job Search Tip: Call off the seance to try and tap into an HR manager’s mind. We’ll narrow it down to the actual entry-level jobs for you for just $10.
You’ll Get It When You’re Older
We found that the most hireable time in a person’s life falls between the ages of 28 and 35. If you’re under that you’re considered too young and beyond that your stock starts to drop. While we don’t have any tips to make you older (try making a wish in a mirror?), we don’t want you to sit around waiting to be 28. We doubt you could afford it anyway.
Consider taking positions that aren’t your dream job if they’ll give you the relevant experience to land the big gig further down the line. Contract work, paid internships and less glamorous grinds all look better than a gap on your resume.
“I’ve taken all of this into account but I still don’t have a job. ” Something that can’t be taught, and that young folks have a short supply of, is patience. We don’t blame them. We’re math nerds around here and each day that passes by is a significantly larger chunk of their life than it is to us.
Those who truly can’t wait can always sign up for TalentWorks. We’ll limber up and leap those hurdles for you, taking care of some of the biggest obstacles with our experience and automated tools.
Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application making the job search that much less messy and taking the calendar aspect out of your hands. We serve up a fresh batch of personally curated jobs every day that you can apply to with just a few clicks. And we stand beside our services with a 100% money-back guarantee. Take a bit of the guesswork out of your search and get started here.
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Getting a job is hard. Even if you’re 100% qualified, it can take 90+ days to get a job today in America. Nearly 98% of job applications get black-holed.
But why? Politicians and TV pundits blather on about it everyday, but they’re just playing to ratings. Instead, we can go straight to the data and give you a direct look into what happens to your job application after you hit submit—
To quickly illustrate this, I downloaded, parsed and tagged 426 applications for a marketing job we filled yesterday. Here’s what we found:
426 people applied for the job — this is higher than average, but not much (see below).
Although 97 people were potentially qualified, wecould only interview 13 people (3% of applicant pool) because of time. Ultimately, we made 2 job offers (0.47%).
If you dig deeper, there’s a few interesting nuances:
40 people (9.4% of applicant pool) were DQ’d for dumb mistakes: misspellings, no email, etc.
Of the 13 people we interviewed, a total of 5 people (1.2%) were fully qualified — I’m confident all of them would’ve been great. However, we didn’t have the money to hire all of them, so I picked two based on what we needed right now and who I thought we’d have the best chemistry with.
Are we just a bunch of heartless assholes? I mean, anything’s possible. (Although I hope not…) Here’s the honest truth: for most jobs, every company sees numbers like this — they just don’t tell you. Instead, they feed you doublespeak boilerplate like, “It wasn’t a good fit.”
No wonder everyone asks us, “What’s going on? Is there something wrong with me?” Nothing’s wrong with you — the system’s just broken.
What’s Going On?
To quickly illustrate what’s going on, I downloaded and analyzed 1,013 job applications to our 5 most recent job openings—
(I feel a bit naked sharing our internal hiring data (and my calendar) online, but it’s a small price to pay if it helps you get the job you deserve. None of this is necessarily easy to hear, but I fundamentally believe it’s better to know what you’re up against than playing ostrich. P.S. Is it just me or is it a bit drafty here today?)
The Numbers Are Against You
On average, the typical TalentWorks job opening receives ~176 job applications.(Nerd alert: We used a geometric mean to better account for outliers.) This number varies dramatically by role, location, compensation, etc., but we’ve never gotten fewer than 90 applicants for any job we posted online.
Since we’re usually only filling one job opening (like most people), that immediately means you have a ~1% chance of getting a job offer for any single online job application.
“No” is the Default Answer
One of the first things you’re taught as a hiring manager is that“no” is the default answer.The (direct) cost of hiring someone damaging (liability, morale, etc.) usually far exceeds the (opportunity) cost of not hiring someone possibly amazing.
But, it’s actually worse. Of the 426 applicants for our last job, 25% (108 applicants) was basically spam, e.g. outsourcers, recruiters. In addition, another 9% (40 applicants) made dumb mistakes, e.g. misspellings, forgot to include their email. Let’s be honest: if your resume didn’t include your email, I’m not calling you to setup an appointment.
All of this to say: Hiring managers default to saying “no,” and that’s reinforced over and over again by terrible job applications.
That still leaves 278 applications — reviewing all of them would take hours. What’s a hiring manager to do? Many hiring managers (including us) use resume keywords to target potentially qualified applicants. We set a broad list of keywords that anyone even vaguely qualified for our job would’ve included. This narrowed down our list to 97 potentially qualified candidates (23%).
Time Is (Also) Against You
You can’t interview ~100 people (that’d be 2+ weeks of nothing but interviews!), but you can review ~100 resumes. From 97 potentially qualified candidates, I made a shortlist of 13 candidates (3% of applicant pool) based on their resumes and a homework assignment, and setup interviews.
Here’s what my calendar looked like last Friday (my 2nd day of interviewing)—
In other words, even to interview just 3% of the applicant pool, I basically did nothing but interviews for all of Friday (the blurred names are interviews). There were another ~2 days like this.
This is important! This means there’s a hard upper limit on interviews: there’ll never be more than 10-15 interview slots for a job opening, no matter how many people applied.
Put another way, getting to the interview is often the hardest, riskiest stage of the job search. If you get an interview, you have a relatively safe, 10-15% chance of getting a job offer.
What Can You Do?
Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s depressing. But, guess what? It’s always been this bad, you just never knew.
And guess what else? You still need a job. That rent isn’t going to pay itself. Here are some (data-driven) things you can do to take back control of your job search—
Job Search Tips
Job Search Tip #1: Your chances of getting any single job you apply for online is nearly zero; to make up for it, you have to apply to as many jobs as you can. If you meet more than 60% of the qualifications, you should apply!
Resume Tip #3: Don’t get screened out! Make sure you use a simple, machine-parseable resume format and make sure it includes your email.
Resume Tip #4: Resumes start blending together after awhile. Include as many keywords as appropriate in your resume and cover letter from the original job posting.
Interview Tip #5:Get the earliest appointment you can in the day. The later in the day your interview, the more hangry hiring managers will be. (Seriously. How hangry your hiring manager is has a huge impact on your hireability.)
Interview Tip #6:Keep your interview responses short and memorable. Whatever you do, don’t be late. Chances are, if you’re doing a phone interview, you’re in a packed schedule.
Interview Tip #7:Be charming. If you’re at the interview stage, you have a solid shot. But you don’t want to end up being the fully-qualified-but-runners-up. Pre-game as best you can and listen for clues for what your interviewer is looking for.
So, why’s it so hard to get a job? Both time, numbers and the default culture of “no,” are against you. At TalentWorks, we’ve been getting ~176 job applications per job opening and, for our last job opening, only ~3% of applicants got an interview.
With the right insights and tools though, you can break through the noise. To recap: Apply to 250+ jobs. Use a machine-parseable resume. Triple-check there are no typos. Include your email. Add the optimal number of targeted resume keywords. Apply in the first 3 days for every job posting. Get the first interview of the day. Be charming. And KISS.
You got all that, right? Easy peasy.
Applying to 250+ jobs is a serious pain in the ass (not even taking into account the rest). We offer a bunch of free tools to help you keep things straight.
If you want, you can also pay us $10 to do it all for you: we can automatically find the best jobs and pre-fill job applications for you based on your desired role, location and years of experience. In addition, you’ll get our Interview Guarantee — if we can’t get you an interview within 60 days, we’ll refund everything back to you, guaranteed. (90% of job-seekers using TalentWorks get an interview in 60 days or less.)
We downloaded all 1,013 job applications for the 5 most recent TalentWorks job postings. For our most recent (marketing) job, we then cross-referenced everyone with interview requests and results. Finally, we tagged everyone with key attributes (e.g. spammy, mismatched skills, dumb mistakes) using a subset of our resume parsing stack. We did all of this in python using pandas and bokeh (with a liberal helping of Google Sheets). The Sankey diagram was built with sankeymatic (with an assist from Sketch).
Why Are We Doing This?
With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Jr. Marketing Assistant. Perfect for new grads! Requirements: 3 years of digital marketing experience.Compensation: $12/hour.
The job search can feel like one big Catch-22: “How the hell am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get a job to get experience?”In fact, after analyzing a random sample of 95,363 jobs, we discovered that 61% of all full-time “entry-level” jobs require 3+ years of experience.
What gives? Before we get into that, here are 3 other interesting things we found:
Employers are driving “experience inflation”; as a result, the amount of experience required to get a job is increasing by 2.8% every year. That means your younger sister (or brother) will need ~4 years of work experience just to get their first job.
That’s bullshit, right? You don’t have to play by their rules. Based on our analysis, you can successfully apply to jobs if you’ve got ±2 years of the required experience.
3, 5 and 8 are your magic numbers. After 5+ years of experience, you (officially) qualify for most mid-level jobs. After 8+ years, you qualify for senior ones. And 3+ for entry-level, obvs.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
How Much Experience Do You Need?
Employers are a superstitious bunch. How many jobs have you seen asking for 13 years of work experience? They’ll ask for 7, 10 and 15 years (but rarely 11-14). You can see job postings clump up by employers’ “lucky numbers” in the graph above.
But, here’s the rub— this isn’t just a cute gimmick. It lets us pinpoint how much experience you’ll (officially) need to qualify for different levels of jobs:
# Years of Experience
% Jobs Qualified
Put another way, if you’ve got 3+ years of experience, you’ll qualify for 75% of entry-level jobs. 3 is the magic number here: below 3 years of experience, you don’t (officially) qualify for most entry-level jobs; above 3 years of experience, you do.
(“Officially” is the operative word here. Keep reading.)
Companies Gone Bad
Can You Be Overqualified?
After 8 years of experience, you qualify for most senior-level jobs out there. But even for senior roles, employers rarely ask for more than 10 years experience. (You can see this in the graph above.)
And from our first post in this The Science of The Job Search series:your hireability starts dropping by ~8% every year after age 35. Assuming today’s experienced folks graduated college around age ~23, this is almost exactly 10 years of experience. It’s no coincidence.
Age matters. A lot, sadly. Your chances of getting a job at age 20 aren’t great. At 30, they’re OK. After 40, they’re getting bad again. It’s illegal for companies to discriminate based on age, but ageism is very real.
What Gives? “Experience Inflation”
In addition to discriminating against older workers, employers have also been driving “experience inflation,” which is especially dangerous for younger workers. For entry-level jobs, the amount of work experience required to get a job has been steadily increasing at 2.8% per year.
Over the next 5-10 years, recent graduates will start needing ~4 years of work experience just to get their first job. (Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense. Hold on.)
We’ll get into experience inflation in detail in next week’s post, but for now let’s focus on what options you have. This is all very depressing—
What Can You Do?
Honestly, the job search is unfair. (That’s fundamentally why we started TalentWorks, but that’s a different story for later.) So what? Folks still need jobs. Hell, maybe you need a job.
What can you do?
#4: Don’t List Your Graduation Date If You’re 35+
We’ve already briefly touched on fighting ageism.Hiring managers (subconsciously) guess your age based on your graduation date, how much work experience you have, etc. If you don’t list your graduation date or only show your most recent 2-3 jobs, they can’t tell how old you are.
#3: Use Freelance Jobs To Build Your Experience
One way to get past the job-searching Catch-22 is to play a different game. Instead of fighting with everyone else to get that first job, you can instead build up your work experience (and resume and portfolio) by doing freelance jobs on the side.
Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your 2nd job (everyone else’s 1st job). In the future, especially when experience inflation means you need 4+ years of experience to get your first job, this might be the only way to break into your job.
#2: Apply for Jobs Within ±2 Years of Your Experience
The #1 lesson: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. From what we see, if you’re within ±2 years of required experience, hiring managers will often consider you “close enough.”
So, be flexible with what jobs you go after! You never know if something special in your application will catch the hiring manager’s eye. What’s the harm in applying?
#1: Identify (Actual) Entry-Level Jobs Near You
Let’s be honest: looking for jobs is a *[email protected]$* pain in the ass. Of the 95,363 jobs we analyzed, 52% (49,245) were supposedly entry-level (based on what the employer said). Of those, my hypothetical job-searcher — a Marketing Assistant in LA, say — was only interested in 3% (1,286). Of those 1,286 supposedly entry-level Marketing Assistant and other jobs, I found 240 for actual entry-level Marketing Assistants.
In real life, folks need to apply to 150-250 jobs to get a job, so needing to review 1,286 job postings is actually pretty representative. (Afterwards, you’d still have to apply to the final 240 jobs, of course…)
Getting a job has always been hard, but it’s getting (quantifiably) harder. These days, you need to have ~3 years of experience (officially) to get the average entry-level job. It’s a full-on Catch-22: “No, you can’t have a job.” “Why?” “Because you don’t have a job.” “…”
With the right insights and tools, you can break the Catch-22 and get the job you deserve. To recap:
Identify (actual) entry-level jobs near you. With a bit of patience (and a lot of stubbornness), you can identify the ~5% of jobs that actually match your needs.
Apply for jobs within ±2 years of your experience. If you’re within ±2 years of required experience, hiring managers will often consider you “close enough.”
Use freelance jobs to build your experience. Go guerrilla. Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your second job (everyone else’s first job).
Don’t list your graduation date if you’re 35+. Ageism is real. If you don’t list your graduation date or only show your most recent 2-3 jobs, hiring managers can’t tell how old you are.
We’ve already added a filter for (actually) entry-level jobs in ApplicationAssistant. If you’re looking for an entry-level job,sign up for ApplicationAssistant and set “Entry Level” during setup. We’ll only look for (actual) entry-level jobs near you!
(88% of recent graduates looking for entry-level jobs got an interview in 60 days or less using ApplicationAssistant — it’s backed by our Interview Guarantee.)
First, we randomly sampled 100,000 jobs from our index of 91 million job postings. We extracted the # of years of experience, job level and employment type for each job using TalentWorks-proprietary parsing algorithms. We then used a blended Gaussian-linear kernel to calculate experience densities. Finally, we used an averaged ensemble of multiple independent RANSAC iterations to robustly calculate inflations against outliers. This was done in python with pandas, sklearn and scipy and plotted with bokeh.
Why Are We Doing This?
With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.