Not Getting Job Interviews? Don't Blame your Resume!

May 2003


Randall Scasny

The other day I read this ad in the classified section of a local newspaper:

"IT'S A COMPETITIVE job market. You need a strong resume. Full service resume and cover letter writing. Package special with ad for $150, includes disk, hard copies, complimentary phone consultation and reference sheet."

Well, my advice to anyone who would consider answering this kind of ad to improve their job-hunting prospects is: Don't.

I agree with the ad's premise: it is a competitive job market. But don't blame your resume if you're not getting much of a response. Your resume is probably not the problem.

To prove my point, I performed a little test. I called some friends (I knew had great resumes) to find out what they have been experiencing.

My friend Kris was hired a few months ago. For months, she wasn't getting a response. Then her resume was seen on a job-hunting website--one of 600 applicants! After three interviews, two writing tests and one computer-skills test, she wasn't hired until the candidate who had been hired was fired! She was the lucky first runner-up.

I had given another friend the "heads up" on a job I thought fit her perfectly. When I checked back with her, I found out that she sent the employer her resume and followed it up with a phone call. And she called again a week later. Four interviews and three test assignments later she was hired.

Another acquaintance of mine who has been getting interviews hasn't been hired yet. Why? They say he is overqualified.

These folks are not military veterans and they are being challenged by today's job market. Their resumes were never a problem. Yours probably isn't, either, unless your resume reads like a military chit. But their experience illustrates how truly competitive the job market is.

To be selected out of a pool of 600 resumes means you must be competitive.

How competitive are you?

Most literature published to aid the career-transitioning veteran focus on education and professional certifications. Indeed, these qualifications are important if anyone wants to be taken seriously by an employer.

But successful job-hunting depends on hiring appeal.

And hiring appeal means you have to be not only qualified for a job but also be competitive in a field of qualified candidates.

If you are trying to compete for jobs where you are outgunned, your road to career transition will be long and difficult, no matter how well you write or pay someone to write your resume. On the other hand, if you understand where you are most competitive, you can develop a strong job-hunt strategy, which is the foundation of a strong resume.

Being competitive begins by first asking yourself, Who am I competing against? And understanding your competition depends on your career stage: early, middle or late.

If you're an early-career veteran with about 3-6 years of military service, you're competing against new college grads for entry-level positions. Your competition doesn't have much experience, but that degree is a persuasive calling card. Have you written your resume to make your practical experience sound just as persuasive? If not, it's time to redo your resume. If you can't, consider getting a degree.

Middle-career veterans with 8-12 years of military service compete against college grads with 5-10 years of private sector experience for senior team-member positions. Experience is their "ace in the hole." Now, you can't change your experience. But you can bone up on the company and the industry. Learn what it needs and where you can fit in. When you write your resume and cover letters, make it sound like you know something about their business!

Late-career vets are typically retirees and compete against career managers who usually have an MBA and a lifetime of industry experience, which gives them a rich network of contacts. Your competition sounds pretty formidable, right? Maybe at first glance. But they are looking for a job, too. So at this point you're both pretty even. To trump them, you're going to have to build a convincing case for hiring you in your cover letters and resume. Are you?

If you aren't, start doing it.

If you can't, then try a different angle. Go back school and get a degree. If that's not feasible, open a consulting business. You can find more about consulting by reading the book, "Successful Independent Consulting: Turn Your Career Experience into a Consulting Business by Douglas Florzak".

Anyone can write a good resume. There are plenty of books available in any bookstore to teach you how.

I have reviewed quite a few resumes sent to me by readers. Most are okay. Of those that were not, the Number 1 "resume" problem was too much military jargon. Unless hiring managers are ex-military or are in the military support/defense industries, they won't understand your military lingo.

Good resumes should communicate your skills and experience simply. Anyone should be able to read it and gather what you can do and are looking for in your next job just by skimming it. If they can't, it must be rewritten.

Sometimes you need to spend money and hire a professional to write a resume. But it's better to take a course to learn how to write one. Why? In most cases, each resume you send out must be fine tuned for the company, industry and position you are seeking. Canned resumes just don't cut it anymore.

A resume is very much like a sales brochure a company sends potential customers to entice them into buying a product. A good brochure communicates what you are trying to "sell" and to whom, in a convincing manner.

How you choose to convince a future employer to "purchase" your services by hiring you depends solely on the competitive strategy embedded within the resume and "pitched" in your cover letters.

When you submit your resume online, you must keep in mind that your resume is no longer a "document" but simply "data" that employers search through to find you. Therefore, it's vital that your resume data contain the keywords a potential employer would use during an applicant search.

What if you are a vet who has a degree, experience and still isn't getting any responses from your resume?

Good question. And a good strategy should give you a good answer.

If you are communicating your skills and experience in your resume adequately, and are applying for jobs you are qualified for and still are not getting a response, is this a case of bad resume writing, that is, a communication problem? Or, is it an issue of market forces--a strategy problem?

I would suggest the latter. Sure, a few years ago, you could send out a dozen resumes for a computer job and get calls for interviews within a few weeks. But the market has changed much over the past few years. Thus, your strategy must change. Here are a few changes to consider:

Geographic: Maybe you need to make a geographic change. So apply for jobs in areas where there is a shortage of professionals with your skills. This should reduce your competition.

Industry Sector: Maybe you need to make an industry sector change. You may be a computer network administrator who is getting no responses. Refocus your strategy to a niche sub-sector that has greater market needs. Reading through the current industry journals should give you some ideas.

Business: You may need to make a business change. If you are overqualified, consider opening a business. Underqualified? Go back to school.

Communication Maybe you need to communicate your resume information to future employers differently. Then, quit sending out resumes! Instead, focus on networking. Here are some sources:

Remember, in a competitive job market, you need a strong resume. But a "strong resume" starts with a strong strategy.

If you don't have a strategy, choose one. If it doesn't work, then reassess it, and try again. Just don't blame your resume!

Good luck!

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of or the publisher.

Copyright 2003 Randall Scasny. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.