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Sticking Points in a Job Search - and How To Get Unstuck
By Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com

It would be wonderful... if we had the perfect resume... that led to a great job interview... that resulted in a terrific job offer... that sailed through a productive salary negotiation... that landed the perfect job. All in one seamless process.

Sometimes, that's exactly how it happens, and it feels like nothing can go wrong.

More often, we hit a few sticking points along the way.

Recognizing your particular sticking point - identifying where in the process you're getting "stuck" - will help you correct the problem, and will allow you to focus only on that area which needs work. Knowing your particular sticking point will help you get unstuck.

Most job searches follow a predictable path. They begin with the creation of a resume, which is then submitted to a position that (hopefully) closely matches our abilities and ambitions. If the resume is successful in capturing our reader's interest and it establishes us as a qualified candidate, we're invited to interview. If we're successful in the interview process and are able to convince our interviewer that we're the best candidate for the job, we're presented with a job offer. If we can then productively negotiate compensation and are able to come to an agreement regarding salary and benefits, we're welcomed aboard - and we have a new job!

But what if our resume fails to secure an interview? What if the interview fails to lead to a job offer? What if we're offered the job, but it all falls apart at the salary negotiation stage? These are the sticking points.

If you don't have a resume, and have no idea where to begin, read What is a Resume?, Resume Basics, Resume Formats, and How Have Resumes Changed?. Then check out the free resume examples on this site (including all the file versions you'll need for an effective online job search). If you're a new graduate, read New Grad Help, first.

If your sticking point is an inability to find jobs ("Why can't I find a job?!") then try 10 Avenues To Finding Your Next Job, for starters.

Already have your resume? Good. Look at the graph below. Where's your sticking point?

Resume not securing Interviews Interviews not securing job offers Not getting the job offer? Click on Interviews Getting job offers - but not the job? Click on Salary Negotiation Not getting the job? Click on your sticking point

Sticking Points:

  • If you have a resume, but it's not resulting in interviews, then click on "Resumes," because that's your true sticking point.

  • If you're securing interviews, but not job offers, click on "Interviews," because that's your true sticking point.

  • If you're receiving job offers but it all falls apart before you actually get the job, click on "Salary Negotiation," because that's your true sticking point.

Resumes - Sticking Point #1

If you're targeting positions for which you feel you're truly qualified, and your resume is failing to secure job interviews for you, then your resume isn't doing its job. This indicates that your sticking point is with your resume.

If you're not securing interviews, then you need to look at your resume

Check For Errors

Check your resume carefully for misspelled words and other typos, and then have someone else check it for you, too. Don't rely on your computer's spell check system. As nice as these are, they won't catch correctly spelled words that are grammatically incorrect. For example, read the following sentence (my spellchecker had no problem with it): Today is to hot. It's like a dessert out there. So I'm going to the ice cream parlor wear its nice and cool, with my best fiend, Jimmy.

There are five typos in the above sentences. Did you catch them all? Check, too, for errors in punctuation, spacing, and overall document consistency.

Write For Your Reader's Benefit

Make sure that your resume is written with the targeted reader in mind - the hiring manager or decision maker.

The job ad is your first clue as to what the potential employer is hoping to secure in potential candidates. Most job ads are loaded with specific criteria, such as the responsibilities of the position (and their related skill sets), educational requirements, and personality characteristics important to the job. For example, I've taken the following directly from a corporate Web site's career page: "We want individuals with leadership potential, who have the self-confidence and creativity to invent and implement original ideas." It would make good sense, then, to include reference to these characteristics somewhere in your resume.

Look at your resume. Does it answer your reader's questions? Does it establish your fit and qualification for the specific position and company being targeted? Does it highlight skills, abilities and achievements directly relevant and valuable (or clearly transferable) to the position being targeted? Does it address personality characteristics valuable to the position, such as: analytical skills, communication skills, multi-tasking abilities, the ability to lead or to contribute as a productive member of a team?

If the job ad emphasizes project leadership experience as a key criteria of the position, then make sure your resume highlights project management experience - as early in the document as possible. If the job ad states that good communication skills are vital to the position, then show your ability to communicate effectively, early in your resume.

Avoid Equal Employment Pitfalls

Does your resume include information that could be considered discriminatory? Under equal employment laws, the potential employer is restricted from asking or requesting certain information from potential candidates that could be considered discriminatory; such as: age, religion, or marital status. Therefore, make sure your resume doesn't include certain personal information that will make a fair employer uncomfortable, or your resume may be round filed (trashcanned) before it's ever fully considered. If you're uncertain what's okay, and what's not, check out the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web site for some great answers and guidance.

Many e-mail addresses contain numbers, and often people will select numbers that are easy for them to remember, such as their age, birth date or birth year: JoeDoe1956@email.com. If your e-mail address contains reference to your age, then don't use this e-mail address for your job search or on job search documents.

Provide a Clean Layout and a Professional Presentation

Does the layout and format of your resume provide a clear and logical order of information?

Are key pieces of information easy to reference and retain on a short reading? (Most resumes only receive an initial "reading" time of 15 seconds, or less.)

Does it have clearly defined sections of information (headings)?

Does it look clean, attractive and professional? Does it have plenty of white space in the margins, above and below the headings, and between the various entries?

Did you use the same font type throughout the entire document (consistency is key)?

Does the font size used throughout your document promote good readability (the rule of thumb is to use no smaller than an 11 point font in Arial or Times New Roman to retain readability)?

Is your contact information easy to reference at a glance? You'd be surprised how many resumes I critique that have contact information in a tiny 8 point font - forcing me to squint. When all is said and done, how to contact you may be the most important information in your resume.

Follow Directions

And finally, did you submit your resume exactly as directed by the ad or potential employer? For example, if the ad requested that you submit your resume as an attached Microsoft Word or PDF file via e-mail, did you attach a WordPerfect file? If the ad stated "no phone calls," did you call? If the ad stated "No file attachments" (meaning that they wanted the resume contained within the e-mail message), did you attach a file?

For more information on resumes, see: What is a Resume?, Resume Basics, Resume Formats, and How Have Resumes Changed?. Then check out the free resume examples on this site (including all the file versions you'll need for an effective online job search).

Interviews - Sticking Point #2

Your resume was successful, and you've been invited to interview (congratulations!). The interview goes well, maybe exceptionally well in your opinion, but you're not offered the job. If this is happening repeatedly, then it may be time to look at what's happening at the interview stage.

It's important to remember that when you're invited to an interview, the hiring manager or potential employer has already deemed you a qualified candidate for the role. It's extremely unlikely that a hiring manager will waste his or her valuable time interviewing candidates who they feel are unqualified. So something is happening at the interview stage to turn a "potential yes" into a definite "no."

It may be overreaching to hope that every interview will lead to a job offer. With the hundreds of candidates vying for each available position, there are a hundred reasons why someone else may be chosen. "More qualified" can mean many things: it can mean that the other candidate's experience is more closely in line with the specific responsibilities of the position, it can mean that he or she has additional skill sets that are valuable to the position or company, but were not part of the original job description, or it can mean that the interviewer simply "liked" one person more than another. It would be wonderful if candidate choices were always filled by objective means, but the process can be quite subjective.

However, if you've continuously submitted your resume to positions for which you're truly qualified, and you've secured a reasonable number of interviews as a result... yet you're never offered the job, then it's a good idea to look at what's happening during the interview.

Finding Out What Went Wrong

The best way to begin is to talk to the people who have interviewed you in the past. This isn't meant to create a confrontation ("Why didn't you hire me?!!!"), but rather an opportunity to gain some insight that will improve your outcome in the future.

Questions to ask previous interviewers can include, "In what areas did I fail to meet your expectations?" "Can you provide suggestions on how I may be more effective in interviews in the future?"

Put on your armor of steel. You want honesty, and sometimes honesty doesn't feel so hot. Sometimes it's not even accurate (if one person indicates that your personality is a poor fit for their company's environment, keep in mind that another employer may consider your personality ideal - so, again, some of this information may be subjective). But, if an interviewer is willing to give you honest feedback, then you need to be ready and willing to consider it. And if several interviewers give you the same feedback, you need to be willing to make some changes in your approach.

Mock Interviews

Another approach is to go on mock interviews with someone whose opinion you trust and value. Set up a mock interview (the more closely you follow a traditional interview situation, the better) and have your "interviewer" critique all aspects of your approach: the attire you've chosen to wear, how prepared you appear to be, the handshake you offer, the eye contact you maintain, and the types of answers you provide to the tough interview questions.

A good mock interviewer will be able to provide you with a constructive assessment of where you excelled, as well as areas that could use some improvement. If the majority of your initial interviews are being held by phone (phone interview), then have the mock interviewer critique your phone responses and communication skills in this area, as well.

For example, I suggested a mock interview situation to a client whose initial interviews had been conducted via phone calls, but who was failing to secure second interviews in-person. He set up a mock interview with one of his primary mentors, who called him on the phone and began the process of "interviewing" him. Within a couple of minutes the mentor paused, and asked, "Are you smoking?" The job candidate was stunned. "Yes," he responded, "I am." His mentor said, "I know, I can hear it." With every question, the candidate was deeply inhaling and exhaling, the obvious sounds of someone smoking a cigarette, and while smoking itself may not be the issue, it indicated nervousness on the part of the candidate and was distracting to the interviewer. Chewing gum is another thing to avoid during phone interviews.Sue Campbell is a professional resume writer and career strategist with over 15 years experience helping clients achieve their career, business and marketing goals.

Smoke And Other Odors

One person's pleasant aroma can be another person's offensive stench J. So when you interview, it's a good idea to avoid wearing cologne, and avoid other odors that may be offensive to your interviewer, such as smoke, cooking odors, etc. For example, don't fill up your vehicle's gas tank prior to an interview (plan ahead). Wash your hands, brush your teeth. Chew gum if you need to, but spit it out before you enter the building.

In discussion with a job hunter who was frustrated by a recent interview situation that seemed to be cut painfully short, I suggested that she contact the interviewer and ask the questions outlined above in the "Finding Out What Went Wrong." It turned out that the job candidate's perfume was offensive to the interviewer, who suffered extreme allergies. Of all things the job candidate thought might be an issue, it had never occurred to her that it could be her perfume.

Dressing For Success

While your resume may create your reader's first impression of you, your physical presence will create a lasting impression. The interview situation is not a time to dress casually. It's not a good idea, for example, to arrive in khaki pants because khaki pants are what employees wear at this particular company. The interview situation is a formal business meeting and needs to be approached as such.

Your attire should be conservative, extending to the jewelry you wear, which should be minimal. Check out the article "Dress to Impress: A Guide." It includes photo comparisons, dress examples (for both men and women) and feedback from potential employers. Extremely well done.

Arriving Prepared

When you arrive to an interview - which hopefully means you arrive before the scheduled time, and not after - you should be prepared to: answer questions, ask questions, provide documentation (additional copies of your resume, a list of your references, etc.), meet with additional individuals, take a company tour, provide an on-the-spot handwriting sample, complete an application, take a test, and negotiate salary. If you come unprepared, or if you're required to "get something together for your interviewer" after the interview has concluded, then you weren't prepared enough.

Following Up

You just completed a great interview. You're driving home, feeling confident. Hopefully, you took notes. If not, you'll do this as soon as you possibly can, because you'll use those notes to create "Thank you" cards for each person who participated in your interview situation.


It's amazing the number of job candidates who fail to follow-up on interview situations, particularly with a "Thank you" note. Many think it's just a waste of time. However, when a hiring manager is trying to decide between two otherwise equally qualified candidates, it's the little things that can make the difference.

For more on interviews, read Interview Prep: Before, During, and After the Interview.

Salary Negotiation - Sticking Point #3

All is going well; you've received indication of a firm job offer and the company is excited about bringing you on board... until you reach the salary negotiation stage and it all falls apart. Suddenly the job offer is off the table and you're left wondering what happened.

When a job offer falls apart - it may be time to look at your salary negotiation skills

While a great many job candidates focus on creating the perfect resume and mastering the tough interview questions, far fewer come to the interview prepared to negotiate salary. Money is a tough issue, and gauging one's worth and compensation can seem a little daunting.

Hopefully, you didn't reduce your chances to negotiate effectively by providing salary requirements prior to the interview. While there may be times when this is unavoidable (see Salary History and Salary Requirements), the best time to negotiate salary is after all the information is on the table and you have a complete picture of what the job will entail - including the goals and expectations of the position.

It's never safe to assume that a job title alone will indicate a position's full accountability. As employers hire or retain fewer employees to manage more and more functions, the lines can become blurred regarding what a particular position may encompass or the number of hats an employee will wear. Without the opportunity to discuss the full responsibilities of the position, it can be extremely difficult to know what the compensation should be.

It's also important to recognize that most positions have a "budgeted salary range." This doesn't mean that the budget is inflexible, or that a candidate with additional skill sets won't be able to exceed the budgeted range, but that the interviewer or potential employer already has a salary range in mind.

If you can find out what's been budgeted for the position - during the interview - it may help you in participating in a product salary negotiation. "Can you tell me the salary range that has been budgeted for this position?" They may not tell you, but it's a good idea to ask. It may also mean discovering that a position won't pay enough for you to consider it. Keep in mind that benefits, such as insurance, 401k plans, etc. are part of salary, and need to be included in the calculation of its value.

It's equally important to do salary research, to know what positions are paying: in your location, in your field or area of expertise, in your industry, and in the current economic climate. See Salary Negotiation Skills for more information, including access to pay scale calculators.

Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  /  1st-Writer.com Services

See more articles on job hunting.

Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!

1st-Writer.com P.O. Box 1128, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-1128 (904) 248-2493   E-mail Sue Campbell

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This page last updated: 04/23/2012