Dear Sam: I have recently been applying to dozens upon dozens of full-time jobs with little to no real success. I often wonder if it’s my resume, the cover letter, or the positions I am applying for. What do you think has the biggest impact when competing with hundreds of applicants for the same position? I am beginning to think it is not what you know that lands a job, but instead who you know. I have been in the workforce for 7 years, I hold a master’s degree with a doctorate in progress, and no one seems to want to hire me. What gives? – Frustrated
Dear Frustrated: I can imagine how frustrating that can be. Key to getting your foot in the right doors is making certain the language in your resume is reflective of the roles you are applying for. The more targeted you can be in your resume, the stronger your results will be.
As a side note, who you know can be very important as that adage can still ring very true. I would say the best job search successes stem from a combination of a well-written and highly targeted approach and a robust distribution strategy, the latter of which should absolutely include trying to leverage your network to gain a competitive advantage.
I would recommend performing a keyword mapping exercise to ensure your resume is speaking the right language and therefore positioning you as “qualified” and not over- or under-qualified.
To perform keyword mapping, I suggest the following steps:
(1) Print a representative sampling of job postings (10 or so) you are interested in.
(2) Read the postings and write desired qualifications, skills, etc. on the left side of a piece of paper. Focus on the actual job description, not just the “requirements” for the job. Requirements are often so vague that many in highly diverse fields could actually “qualify” for the role, the key in truly being qualified for a job is being able to emulate a similar message in your own background to the position you are applying for.
(3) Cross-reference the list with your qualifications and experiences, transferring the items you possess to the right side of the piece of paper, and crossing them off the left side of the paper.
(4) If you see items that you “sort of” have, “move” those to the middle of the paper.
This “master list” will then illustrate an overview of your qualifiers (right side of the page), disqualifiers (left side of the page), and potential disqualifiers (middle of the page). These keywords and phrases then need to be incorporated into your resume, being very careful how you handle or perhaps address items that remain on the left side of the page or fall in the middle.
This exercise will provide you with a roadmap for the language (keywords) you need to speak to develop a targeted resume based on your area(s) of interest. This exercise will also showcase whether your career targets are too diverse. If you find yourself writing furiously by the time you are mapping your sixth or seventh job posting, then perhaps you need to take a closer look at the target of your job search to ensure you are positioning yourself as something and not everything.
Lastly, I would tread carefully in presenting your in-progress doctorate unless the roles you are applying for are asking for that level of education. I hate to recommend a candidate not include a degree they have worked so hard for, but sometimes by presenting advanced degrees—master’s and doctorate’s—you can over-qualify your candidacy. Be aware of this and make strategic omission and inclusion decisions accordingly. I wish you the most success.