Why won't anyone hire me?
July 20, 2008 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Why won't anyone hire me?

I am well educated (master's degree), and have good experience for someone who is looking for an entry level position (with in the training sector or in nonprofit development). I think my resume looks awesome (I have had plenty of other people look over it), I always walk out of interviews thinking everything went really well, and I have great references. But I never get hired. I suspect I am usually over qualified (educationally) or under-qualified (with regards to work history).

What do I need to do to help myself land a job that I'm qualified for and like? Is there something that hiring managers are looking for that I am missing?

If you think it would be helpful to see my educational and work history in a nutshell, let me know in a reply and I'll post it here.
posted by All.star to Work & Money (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, sounds frustrating. What types of jobs are you going for? If you could post a typical job description, that would help. For starters, do you mean development as in fundraising (grants, events, donors)? Or as in organizational development (executive training and organizational structure)? If the latter, I think of those as jobs that go to fairly well-connected people with a lot of experience in the field. But you say these are "entry-level" jobs, so I might be totally off-base here.

A more general suggestion is that you might call back one of the more sympathetic rejections you've gotten and ask them.
posted by salvia at 11:35 PM on July 20, 2008

I'm kind of in the same position you are (except without the Master's). I think the job market is just tight and there is a ton of competition.

I seem to be particularly bad at it, but networking seems to be the key. Then again, my brother couldn't even get me a job (nevermind I didn't exactly want it, but that's another story). I'm guessing it's just tough out there for everyone and the people who get jobs tend to get them randomly.

(I have a friend who got his last job because he met someone playing World of Warcraft. I'm not saying that's what you need to do, but I think it's that sort of thing that's the key.)
posted by darksong at 11:36 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

How much money are you looking for? Are you overpricing yourself?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:36 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

In regards to development jobs, I'm looking at fundraising positions. This is something I have about a year and a half of experience in with a small nonprofit, including data entry and tracking donations.

Typical positions that I've applied for are training positions at medium to large companies who have internal training departments. Many of the positions are advertised as entry level, or else I definitely meet the min. educational requirements (my MS is in training & development, btw) and years of experience.

I am only just now going back to looking for jobs at nonprofits, as I feel I need to look at more than just training jobs if I really want to find a job soon.

As far as salaries - most (if not all) of the positions I've applied for have not asked me what my salary requirements are. So I'm not screwing up salary negotiations or anything like that.

I suspect darksong is right, and the job market is just really tight right now. But still, there must be *something* I can do to help my chances of landing a job.
posted by All.star at 11:47 PM on July 20, 2008

Are you coming across as controlling and superior in interviews? Is there something in you that makes interviewers not like you, but you don't even realise it?
posted by markovich at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2008

(I have a friend who got his last job because he met someone playing World of Warcraft. I'm not saying that's what you need to do, but I think it's that sort of thing that's the key.)

This is networking. Not specifically the WoW thing, but asking friends about work. Do it. Jobs are far easier to get through friends, with an implicit or explicit endorsement from the friend, than through strangers. Advertisement of jobs to the public is often nothing more than a figleaf to satisfy HR and equity policies.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:22 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do you have a dictaphone/phone that can record conversations? Next interview, start taping it, and when you've left go back and listen to what was said. You'll find out if you are tripping yourself up in a way, and/or you might find if the interviewers are revealing more than meet the ear when you were in there (pregnant pause reveal so much). I found doing this that I had a much better idea of what worked and what didn't work in my portfolio when looking for jobs, also how I should handle myself when showing it - some people want the over the top hand waving exited explanation others want to look at the items in peace. It taught me to 'listen' better to the interviewers, something I wasn't even aware that I was bad at, due to the fact that I was pretty nervous at each portfolio-showing.

In my case it was for creative work, where resum├ęs etc often count for nothing, but it might help you as well.
posted by dabitch at 2:05 AM on July 21, 2008

Let's hone in on where the problem is. If you're making a mistake, then it's resume, interview or follow up that's the problem.

Do you feel as though your resume is getting you selected for interviews? It sounds as though it is. Are you getting selected for the correct interviews? There are plenty of people who look great on the resume, but during the interview it's obvious that they aren't going to be the correct candidate. If your resume is putting you into interviews where you won't be selected, you need to change it.

Assuming your interview is getting you into the correct interviews, are you getting selected for 2nd round interviews? If not, you need to rethink your interviewing technique. If you don't know whether or not there is a second round, that's a bad sign. At the close of the interview, you should ask about the remainder of the interview process. If the person is interested in hiring you, they'll make sure you know the next steps so that you understand the timetable.

How is your post interview behavior? You're sending thank you notes? Yes? When someone dings you, do you ask if they know of other positions you'd be suitable to fill? Ask! A few weeks ago, I placed my "second choice" candidate into a great job. She wasn't perfect for the position I had open, but she was a great match for an unposted job someone else had to fill.

How long have you been actively looking? A month, a year? Sometimes it just takes time. (Sorry, I know that's sucky!)

Lastly, don't let anything shake your confidence. Look for ways to improve, but don't be a harsh critic of yourself. Perhaps you've just hit spot where there are too many candidates for too few positions. You'll find the right job.
posted by 26.2 at 3:04 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hi, sorry to hear that you're having trouble. You have an instinct that things are going well in the interview, so there are three big likelihoods as I see it:

1. Your instinct is wrong and that disconnection is the problem,
2. Your instinct is right but it's a tight market and it's just going to take some time,
3. Your instinct is right and there is a breakdown somewhere else in the process.

So, 1 is the most potentially troublesome and I would try to verify this first. One method is to contact the interviewers at the places you didn't get the job and very politely ask if they can give you constructive feedback about your interview (note that I did not say "ask them why you didn't get the job", which will put them on the spot and piss them off). Just call them up or email them and say "Hello NAME, it was great to make your acquaintance and I appreciate your having taken the time. I understand that you chose another candidate, and I was just wondering if you had any feedback to give me about my interview, or anything I could improve from your perspective." Be casual and not high-emotion about it; they understand that the subtext is "why didn't you choose me" and will appreciate your sparing them the emotional load of the situation while asking for more info. This accomplishes a couple of things: you might get a useful critique, or hints about likelihood #3, and it might shortlist your resume for the next round since you're showing the fact that you're demanding of yourself and professional.

Something else you could do at the same time, or as an alternative, would be to locate an acquaintance with hiring experience who will fake-interview you and give you a review of your interview skills, or ideally even a couple of acquaintances who will do this. Recording your interviews isn't a bad idea at all, but that has you judging your own responses, and it's your judgement that we're examining, so another person with the perspective of an employer can probably tell us more about how you are coming across.

If the outside perspective meshes with your instinct more or less, I would move on and assume it's 2 or 3. You can't do anything about 2 except persist, so don't worry about it.

3 has a few dimensions. Are the people telling you you have a great resume people who have either hired people or successfully applied for jobs in your industry or another very similar industry? Either the people giving you feedback should have some strong experiential basis for giving it to you, or you should be ignoring their feedback and seeking out people with a basis for giving you feedback. This also applies to the greatness of your references -- do you know that they are great by the standards of the industry you are trying to get into?

Another possibility is that one of your references is giving you a bad (or read-between-the-lines) review. This happens; unless it's your mom or best friend, it is far from unknown that someone you think is giving you glowing reviews is not actually doing that. It is possible to check out your own references although it's a little controversial. Ideally you should be able to use your perception or people skills to gather info and evaluate whether this is an issue.

If people tell you that you're interviewing well, and you are getting useful feedback, and your references are both good and good for you, the only thing to do is accept that it's a difficult task and it's going to take a while (but at least you know that you are looking in the right place and offering the right stuff). Network like a fiend and don't let it get you down.

Good luck!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:41 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

The head of a college career services office once told a logical way to think about the hiring process, something that makes perfect sense, but that we never step back and consider:

- If you're applying for jobs and not getting a response, it's either because your resume is horrible or the jobs you're applying for are inappropriate for your experience and education.
- If you're applying for jobs, getting interviews, and your references aren't being checked, then you're not performing well in interviews.
- If you're applying for jobs, getting interviews, having your references checked, and you're not getting offers, then it's your references.

It sounds like you're getting interviews, but not getting to the reference check stage (most places won't check your references until they've decided they'll hire you, and I imagine a salary conversation comes before that.) That means that you're probably not performing well in interviews.

Amazingly, this is a good thing - you can't change your education, you can't change your experience, but you can drastically improve your interview performance through practice. Call up your undergrad or graduate office of career services and see what they offer. Ask your friends who work in other jobs to do a mock interview with you and give you feedback on your performance. A lot of people can sabotage themselves through little things, and these practice sessions can let you know if you're doing them.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:18 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

n'thing that you are doing or saying something during the interview process that is turning people off. Unfortunately these days employers can be pretty reticent about giving detailed feedback to unsuccessful applicants, as they think it can make them more vulnerable to lawsuits.

I think this book has some pretty useful 'insider' advice that might help you re-evaluate the messages you're sending during interviews.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2008

In so many instances, the only qualification the final interviewer has is as the person who will be managing the person hired. They could be completely lacking in any talent evaluation skills whatsoever. Even worse if you're being interviewed by committee--interpersonal politics can enter into the room as well that have nothing to do with you.

Having someone check your interview style might be good, but I wouldn't overthink things. A certain number of people who interview you will be drooling idiots, and if they're not going to hire you because they had bad chicken salad for lunch that day, you shouldn't feel like you have to investigate all the lunch counters in the area.

Overall, things are very, very tight right now. Keep plugging away.
posted by gimonca at 5:40 AM on July 21, 2008

I had this problem when I got my Masters as well and I was out of work. I had four years experience, then quit to get my Masters, and came out into a tight job market in 02. What I had to do was take jobs that were seriously "beneath" me, both educationally and experience-wise. But that helped form bonds. Plus there is some truth to the adage that if you have a job it makes it easier to get another one. For whatever reason, companies are reluctant to hire the unemployed.

I got a job which I intended to be entirely temporary. Within 2 months I got 2 promotions to a position I deserved and I stayed there 5 years...

So maybe find WHERE you want to work and start lower on the totem pole?
posted by arniec at 6:14 AM on July 21, 2008

As far as the job market-- we recently posted a Box Office Manager position. Within 3 days we had 50 resumes (which is why it never appeared on Jobs here). If you're getting interviews, I'd hazard a guess that your resume is fine. Remainder of this is more general strategies for seeking a job fit, before it ever gets to the interview stage.

At least in Chicago, getting work at a small to midsized nonprofit is overwhelmingly about who you know, especially in Development. I strongly suggest that you join, and attend regular meetings of groups associated with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, local Chambers of Commerce, Junior League, etc. to get to know people. Further, there is no such thing as "entry level" at small and midsized nfps, (or I suspect small and midsized for profits either), because staffing is so meager that your position will entail a range of responsibilities from filing on up to direct prospect/donor contact and management.

For development (and marketing/communications) positions, small to midsize nfps are looking for candidates with evidence of ability (note I don't say "experience") in every aspect of development, including events, writing, grants management, communications, design, prospect research, database management and donor relations. "Evidence of ability" can include direct experience, writing samples, testimonials and references, etc. There is actually a job posted here in Chicago right now that demands all this stuff, and then actually states "this position is unsalaried."

You might have better luck seeking a position at a large nfp. One tactic that ambitious development professionals used to take would be take a job in events for 18 months, and then find a job in donor relations for 18 months, and then find a job in grants management for 18 months and then seek a VP or Director of Development position with the resume you have built. This has an inherent danger--what's with the job hopping-- that you need to address in the interview process. It pushes your current need a bit down the road, but maybe by then the job market will have improved!
posted by nax at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2008

I'm having the same problem, All.star. I've had 5 interviews since I started looking in October of last year, and I haven't heard back from any of them. For me, though, I know it's an interview problem. And the tough economy certainly doesn't help. But NotMyselfRightNow's comment seems to confirm my experience. I've had the interviews, but I never have my references checked. I'm so nervous at interviews that it's impossible for me to convince the person they should hire me. I know I need to practice, and I even tried to find some sort of interview coach or something, but to no avail. Good luck in your search, though! I'm sure you'll find the right thing when it comes along, but it's really hard waiting for that.
posted by lagreen at 7:18 AM on July 21, 2008

I will second that nonprofits get scads of resumes, many from over-qualified applicants, for every position.

That said, if you're getting called in for the interview, it could also be something else. Is there some message you think they're getting that might work against you? I notice you previously asked about how to quit the 9-5 scene altogether; could they be picking up on that? Do they think you're likely to leave the job in a year or so (say, if your resume shows you jumping around a lot)? Are there reasons they might not think you'd fit into the culture there? New town, new business etiquette? (Is Charlotte far enough south that people do the "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am" thing?)

Are there any questions you get asked that might be a tip off? When we interview, we usually give people a chance to correct us if our instincts are wrong. For example, "I notice that you've had several short positions. Is this a job you'd be interested in staying with for a while?" or "I notice you've primarily worked in very social environments, but this work requires doing a fair amount of independent research and writing, in a back-office setting. Do you have any experience in a position of that sort?"

Here are Six Steps To Prepare For Your Interview. Another idea would be to volunteer somewhere until you get a job. That would help with local business connections and show that you "really want" to be doing this.
posted by salvia at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2008

You in the US?

Pretty sure there is some sort of economic downturn happening (600 Starbucks closing, incredibly high fuel costs, etc...), which would put a pinch on non-profits and business in general.

Head north (Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver) - you have a masters, getting a NAFTA TN1/L1 visa for Canada should be reasonably easy and our resource-based economy still seems to be ticking fairly strongly - I cannot go a day without seeing/hearing another news story about how there is a shortage of employee's.

Of course the sword is double-edged in Calgary, there is a ton of work - but nowhere to rent.
posted by jkaczor at 8:09 AM on July 21, 2008

There is only one function of a resume -- to get you an interview.

It sounds like you are getting enough interviews, so that's the area I would narrow my focus.

If you have access to career help centres, explore that option. Many of them will do "mock interviews" where they will give you feedback.

I have found Penelope Trunk's blog to have very useful, practical, and blunt advice.

And be patient. Getting that first job out of university can be tough. Keep your focus, but also keep in mind that sometimes it's a lot better to just start to do something, rather than wait around forever for the perfect job.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 8:32 AM on July 21, 2008

From your question history, it appears that you have just moved or are about to move from Michigan to Charlotte. I suspect that some of your problems are related to simply not actually living there. The last time I was doing a long-distance job hunt prior to moving (and this was also during a recession), I wasn't able to land a job until I was actually living there. I suspect that unless you, as a candidate, are unusually appealing or well-matched to the job, the employer will hire someone who is actually there and can start right away.

Perhaps your best strategy to think about this is to "not count" the interviews up until now as failures, but rather see them as opportunities to follow up after you are actually established in Charlotte. Once you are there, you might even be so bold as to contact some of the employers who you most like, just to "see how things are going" and do some networking. You never know how it might turn out.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2008

Nthing the interview process as the most likely culprit. Your resume isn't costing you a job after you've interviewed. If you're overqualified on paper you probably wouldn't get an interview.

For what it's worth, here are some things I discovered while job searching:
1. Most of your friends will not carefully proofread your resume or cover letter(s). Everybody always told me my resume was flawless. I eventually did a complete rewrite when I wasn't getting interviews and then everybody told me my old resume was actually a little weak. I also found two typographical errors during the process. This isn't the time for politeness or stroking my ego! I now stress that I want my resume "ripped apart" and every little mistake pointed out. Some people even enjoy this and take it as a challenge.
2. Attitude and personality are typically more important to hiring mangers than your skill set (assuming you're qualified of course). I've never been offered a job because they were blown away my my accomplishments or job history. The common denominator in every job offer was a personal connection with the interviewer. I'm guilty myself of hiring an unqualified candidate because I thought they would learn quickly and fit well in my department (BTW, I was wrong).
3. It's hard to predict exactly what your references are saying without asking them. A friend of mine recently found out her best friend was purposely giving her a mediocre reference because she doesn't want her to relocate. Make sure your references know why they're being used - to confirm technical skills, management skills, etc. Also ask them for feedback after they're called. The questions they're asked might give you a clue as to potential concerns from employers.
4. It's REALLY tough out there right now. Good job postings are getting absolutely flooded with responses. It reminds me of how bad it was after 9/11. The Internet has also leveled the playing field making it easy for people to apply for jobs outside their region. We posted a job (IT Director, but no salary listed) on Monster last year and received over 400 resumes from many locations including Japan and India. It reminds me of how I can buy something cheaper on Amazon than my local Borders. It's tough to get a job when a qualified candidate from six states away is willing to relocate for $15K less.
posted by bda1972 at 8:46 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I had your educational background, I would join ASTD (American Society of Training and Development) and SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management). Both groups are national but have chapters all over the United States. There may be fees associated with joining either or both, but look at it as an investment. If either group has a local chapter where you are living, start locally. Usually there are job banks available for members' use. More importantly, you will be networking with people who have similar backgrounds. If the market is tough, members will know that, and will also have figured out ways of enhancing chances for employment in your field of study. I would also urge you to research organizational development and human resources consulting groups in your area. They often need contract people to supplement their full time staff.

When you join these groups, get involved! These people are likely going to be there cheering for you when you land that perfect job (which you will), and will also be there to help you over any hurdles you run into as a new practitioner.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:38 AM on July 21, 2008

I have been a member of ASTD (need to renew my membership though), but I hadn't really thought about finding a local chapter (when I move to Charlotte in 1.5 weeks). That sounds like a great idea!
posted by All.star at 9:45 AM on July 21, 2008

When my former company initiated layoffs, they paid for professional interview counseling (and a few other minor niceties). The HR pro firm they hired was top-notch - my buddy, an independent HR contractor in the Pittsburgh area, described the owner as "the best in the city" (and he's not one to easily spare compliments to the competition!).

Short story: we went through a few weekly training/coaching sessions, and then were offered two mock interviews, after which we were exhaustively graded. Each interview was dead serious; the second was by an HR person we'd never seen before.

Such courses are offered, and I found it very, very useful. Now happily employed...
posted by IAmBroom at 11:22 AM on July 21, 2008

I have been in training and development for a loonnnggg time and I must say the market is tougher now than I have seen. Training is often seen as a luxury and expendable when budgets are tightened.

Because of your interest in non-profit, you may wish to consider offering your services to a cause you support in exchange for the right to show whatever you develop to prospective employers. It can be as simple as an employee or volunteer "first day" piece. Sometimes offering this type of help can lead to a job, other times it leads to a little bit of experience and a portfolio.

Other than that, stay positive and good luck.
posted by Breav at 4:41 AM on July 22, 2008

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