No matter how strong your skills or experience are, you won't land a new job without first securing an interview with a prospective employer. Job seekers often consider this step of the hiring process the most difficult -- and perplexing. After all, how many times have you considered your qualifications ideal for an open position only to never hear from the hiring manager about the résumé and cover letter you submitted?
If you're looking for an edge, make sure you're not falling into these common traps:
1. You only focus on the Googles of the world. Companies that continually grab headlines and are highly recognizable can be exciting places to work. But so are many companies you've never heard of. Keep in mind that organizations that are household names often receive thousands of résumés for each opening. Consider exploring opportunities with small and midsize companies. They make up the vast majority of businesses in the United States and sometimes have trouble locating qualified candidates. If Google is your dream employer, don't give up the good fight, but also keep your eyes and ears open to other opportunities.
2. You don't follow directions. Each company has a different procedure it asks applicants to follow for submitting employment applications. Some ask that you use a form on their Web sites while others prefer traditional phone calls or faxes. Make sure you understand what the prospective employer seeks by carefully reading the job listing. Then, follow the directions to the letter. If you don't, your application may never reach the hiring manager.
3. You need to revamp your résumé. Sending out the same cover letter and résumé to all companies isn't likely to capture the attention of prospective employers. Hiring managers want to know why you're a good match for their specific business needs. So take the time to research employers and customize your job search materials by explaining why you're interested in a particular position and how you could make a contribution to the company.
4. Your cover letter isn't enticing. Think of your cover letter as an appetizer that convinces the hiring manager your résumé, the main course, is worth sampling. The best cover letters take select details from the résumé and expand upon them, explaining in depth how your talents and experience can benefit the prospective employer.
5. You don't reference keywords. Companies that receive a high volume of résumés often use scanning software that looks for certain keywords to determine which candidates to call for interviews. More often than not, keywords come directly from the job description. Terms such as " Microsoft Office," "accounts payable and receivable" and "Cisco Certified Network Administrator" are examples. As much as possible, ensure your résumé and cover letter contain keywords.
6. Your application materials aren't perfect. Submitting an application that contains typos and grammatical goofs is perhaps the quickest way to foil your chances of securing an interview. In fact, 84 percent of executives polled in a recent survey by our company said it takes just one or two errors to remove a candidate from consideration. The reason: These types of mistakes show a lack of professionalism and attention to detail. Make sure to carefully proofread your résumé prior to submitting it and ask a friend or family member to do the same.
7. You don't know who to send your résumé to. Though it's fine to start your cover letter with the generic salutation "To Whom It May Concern," hiring managers pay special attention to applications that are addressed directly to them. If the job advertisement doesn't include the hiring manager's name, call the company and speak to the receptionist or a member of the person's department. More often than not, you can obtain the information fairly easily if you're candid about your reason for wanting it.
8. You don't have an 'in' with the company. Using the name of a common contact to make the connection between you and the hiring manager is by far the best way to ensure your cover letter and résumé get optimal attention. So, keep in touch with members of your professional network; you never know who has a contact at the company you hope to work for.
9. You don't follow up. One way to improve the odds a hiring manager gives consideration to your résumé is to follow up with him or her. According to a survey by our company, 86 percent of executives said job seekers should contact a hiring manager within two weeks of sending a résumé and cover letter. Often a brief phone call or e-mail reasserting your interest in the position and strong qualifications is enough.
10. You're not as qualified as you think. The bottom line may be that you're simply not as perfect for the job as you think. Before submitting your résumé, take a close look at the job description and compare your skills and experience with those required for the position. If a job calls for five years of retail management experience, and you have only two, you might not be as qualified as other applicants. While sometimes it's possible to make up for skills gaps if you excel in other areas, hiring managers frequently have specific criteria in mind, and they use it to determine whom they call for interviews.
By avoiding common pitfalls, you can improve your chances of landing a job interview. Often something small -- fixing a typo, for example -- makes all the difference.