8 reasons why your job applications are unsuccessful

by Rachel Smith
16 October 2020

During a busy week on the jobs board like the one we’ve just had, we see a lot of applications zoom through our inbox.

Some are spectacular. Some could do with a bit of work. Others are just meh.

After reading thousands of applications over the years, there are a few things I notice that people do, over and over. Things that aren’t working in their favour and which might be leading to an unsuccessful job application.

Here are the main ones that could be easily tweaked next time you’re applying for something.

1. You make the job poster do all the work

Often in a job post, the job poster will ask to see specific examples of your work – and we get a lot of applicants saying, ‘Here’s my LinkedIn’ or ‘Here’s my website where you can find out more about me’. That’s all great, but if a job-poster is being smashed by applications, sending them somewhere where they’ll have to dig around and look for your clippings is too hard.

Instead, find a couple of the most relevant links from your portfolio and include them in the first correspondence that person will read – on RL, it’s that box where you do a little message along with your application. In one click, the job-poster can see immediately that you can do the job.

2. You don’t tailor your cover letter to the role

I get that applying for jobs over and over can be a total grind and soul destroying, but cutting corners won’t do you any favours. I can’t tell you the amount of generic cover letters we get that are sent with job applications. I’ve read the exact same ones over and over from the same people in all the years I’ve been doing this. There’s little or no attempt to make the cover letter or initial message you put in the application box even a bit targeted to the actual role.

Maybe we get stuck on this blurb about ourselves and recycle that to whoever might potentially want to hire us, but it’s not an effective way to pique a job-poster’s interest.

3. You make it all about you

Your achievements are awesome, don’t get me wrong.

But if a small business needs a bit of copywriting done on their new bog snorkelling business, they don’t want to read an essay about your success as a bestselling author, that you know how to manage a team, or how you used to be chief of staff on a daily paper. They just want to know why you’re a great copywriter and how you can immediately help them.

As a basic blueprint for a cover letter or initial reach out message, you want to get to the point fast and explain why you are THE solution to the job-poster’s problem. What can you do that’s directly relevant to the project or role advertised? How can you cleverly weave tidbits about yourself that are related to the role or project? Less about you, more about them.

4. You forget to plant seeds for future work

A lot of people who advertise on Rachel’s List ring me first and I would say many of them have literally no clue about writing, digital marketing, social media etc. They’re looking to plug the gaps in their team with a freelancer who knows all that stuff, so they can dump it on you and get on with running their business. So why not use a job application as an opportunity to potentially get MORE work?

Case in point: we had an ad posted where the job-poster just wanted a couple of blog posts. A job-seeker applied with some extra ideas on what that business owner could do to further bring traffic to their business (and highlighted the extra skills she had – beyond writing – that the job-poster would have access to if he hired her). Genuis, right? That’s how two blog posts can become an eDM, some website SEO and a regular gig.

5. You don’t bother personalising it

The amount of times I see ‘Hey’ or ‘Hi’ on an application is huge. HUGE. Yes, not all jobs have the name of the job-poster but if the person’s name IS on the ad, PLEASE use it in your cover letter.

Saying ‘Hi…’ in a professional job application, email or pitch is a massive turn-off. I can’t be the only one out there who finds it super impersonal and bordering on rude. Even addressing it to, ‘Dear Bog Snorkelling Marketing Team’ is better than ‘Hi’ or ‘Hey’.

6. Your approach is a bit boring

If you’re a writer, you know how to write an attention-grabbing hook. So why phone it in on a cover letter that could translate to work? Reach into that bag of tricks and engage your reader (the job-poster, HR manager, editor, small business owner etc). Inject humour. Start with an anecdote that relates to the ad or include something else that makes you stand out.

I’ve seen job-seekers start an application with a funny but very relevant stat that somehow applied to the role (and get the job). I’ve seen others do a bit of legwork to find out that the job-poster has a dog (because the animal is written about on the company about page) and that job-seeker weaved a funny sign-off referencing the dog in her application. It’s these little details that will set you apart and get your application on that short list pile.

7. You apply too late

Some jobs get filled at lightning speed at Rachel’s List. That’s because you’re part of a very experienced and skilled talent pool. We’re not SEEK – we’re a bespoke industry list that attracts amazing job-seekers. I’ve seen what so many of you can do and the kinds of positions you’ve held just from our approval process. While that’s great for job-posters, they’ll sometimes get inundated and overwhelmed without a couple of hours. Sometimes, they’ll contact us and ask us to take the job down so they can catch their breath and wade through the job applications they’ve already received.

You’ve got a small window to be considered by that job-poster, so you want to jump on board ASAP and apply as soon as that role hits the board. I have no control over whether a job-poster gets enough applications and closes the job early so take all ‘job expiry’ dates with a grain of salt, especially if the job pays well and is remote or off-site.

8. Another job-seeker is just a whisker ahead of you

Sometimes you can do all the right things with your application and still not get over the line, because there was just someone who had a bit more experience or one skill you didn’t have that the job-poster wanted.

So don’t lose heart. Applying for jobs is a numbers game and shouldn’t be your whole gambit, just one aspect of finding work along with doing lead generation, reaching out to past clients, using social media to find work and ensuring your website is optimised up the wahzoo, so you’re also luring clients your way just via Google searches. Also, don’t lose heart over job-posters who don’t reply. So many don’t. Again, something we encourage but can’t control – so just cross your fingers and move onto the next.

Listers – what do you think makes a good job application? Do you remember something you’ve done in the past that got an instant YES from a job-poster?

Rachel Smith
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2 responses on "8 reasons why your job applications are unsuccessful"

  1. alisonhill61 says:

    What a helpful and relevant post – for applying for ANYTHING. I love the idea of including an anecdote or joke. If the job poster doesn’t get it, well you’re probably not a good fit for the job anyway. Thanks Rach!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Thanks Alison – so glad it hit the spot with you!

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