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John Doe: Still Unemployed (for a reason)

February 10, 2012

On Fridays, I usually feature a job seeker who is doing something innovative in his or her job search.  I try to highlight a new idea, and keep it positive and encouraging.  This week I’m doing something a little different.  This week’s featured job seeker is  “John Doe,” who hasn’t landed a job yet because, well . . . he’s doing everything he shouldn’t, and not enough of what he should.  

This week I’ve been bombarded with examples of job seekers who are making some serious strategic and tactical errors.  I feel the need to call it out – to shout to the world “DO NOT DO THIS!”  I warn you that what you are about to read is harsh; it is intended to be.  This message needs to be delivered bluntly with no sugar coating or it will lose its impact.  Are you ready?


  1. You are passive.  You sit back and wait for or CareerBuilder to alert you when a job opens, and then you apply.  Furthermore, you apply for jobs for which you are clearly unqualified.  This annoys the recruiter, wastes your time, and gets your “unqualified” resume into the company’s Applicant Tracking System.  So, in another three months when they have a job you ARE qualified for, the recruiter sees the previous application, and realizes you are desperate and that you don’t respect his time enough to apply only for jobs that match your skills.  Then promptly screens you out.  Only 20-25% of jobs are filled from job boards.  Budget your job search time and efforts accordingly.
  2. Your resume sucks.  I mean really, really sucks.  And you have no idea.  Why does it suck?  First, it looks like thousands of other resumes.  Put yours and the next 100 applicants side-by-side and 95 will look just like yours. You either used a Microsoft resume wizard, or you just followed the “Objective, Experience, Education” formula that they taught you in school. I know some of you are thinking “No, mine is good.  I did my research online and worked hours on it.  I even found a great sample from a pro and used some of it…” [cue the exaggerated  Jim Carey voice]  Oh…REEEEAALY?  Well, not only are you plagiarizing and breaking copyright laws, but you are failing to differentiate yourself from the 300 other people who copied the same sample.  If you have doubts, I challenge you to Google a few phrases from the summary.  How many LinkedIn profile hits did you get?  “Well, no one will know anyway, who will Google my resume?”  The answer is every Recruiter or HR professional who notices that the writing style from the parts you copied does not match what you wrote yourself (or who has seen that same sentence four times this week).  It’s that obvious.
  3. You have digital dirt.  Recruiters regularly look for digital dirt before contacting a candidate for an interview  This is not news.  Most of you know this.  You may even think you have nothing to hide.  Well, think again.  Everything you post can and will be used against you in a job search.  I have seen the following examples of digital dirt recently: a job seeker’s public Facebook profile that was 90% political rants; a Twitter user who was openly criticizing recruiters during a chat; a foursquare user who tweeted they are now “Mayor” at a bar; and a job seeker blog where the author openly insulted Human Resources professionals, the hiring process in general, complained about waking up before 9 AM for an interview, and exhibited a prolific proficiency in profanity.  All of these examples came from people who were openly seeking employment.  You certainly have a right to your political views and social life.  But always, always, always consider how this post will look to an employer.  Is this what you want to be known for?
  4. You are not networking.  Live and online networking are essential to your search.  Even 15 minutes a day on LinkedIn can make a tremendous difference in your visibility to recruiters.  Expand your network to include members of similar industry groups, recruiters at your target companies, and LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs).  Help recruiters fill their jobs by referring others from your network when you notice a fit.  Share your expertise and knowledge  by answering at least one discussion post or LinkedIn Question each day.  Build credibility.  Then, get out and meet people in real life or pick up the phone to make a personal connection.
  5. You do not seek the RIGHT help. There is plenty of good, free advice available online, and also at many local career centers and universities.  There are even great books you can find at your local library.  If it is from a professional in the job search industry (and it is recent – a book written 15 years ago was good then, but may not be relevant now) – use it, absolutely!  Just because it is free does not mean it is worthless.  But beware you will also get a lot of BAD free advice, sometimes online, but more often from well meaning friends and family who are NOT professionals in this area.  If  you get conflicting advice from a professional and your sister-in-law, do yourself a favor and listen to the job search professional!

If you’ve gotten to the point where you think you have followed all the free advice you’ve found, and you are still hitting a wall, it is time to invest in yourself.  If you’ve invested thousands of dollars in your education, and more in specialized training to enhance your qualifications, why wouldn’t you be willing to invest a little more in marketing yourself effectively?  You lose hundreds of dollars each week that you remain unemployed.  If spending a few hundred dollars for a coach or resume writer will get you employed even one week faster, you’ll see a return on your investment!

  • If you get lots of interviews, but no offers, hire an interview coach.
  • If you send out hundreds of resumes, and never get a call-back, hire a resume writer.
  • If you have no idea what the problem  is, contact a career coach.

My point is, getting the RIGHT help from the RIGHT resource can make the difference between you and the next guy.  I could be that resource for you, but it doesn’t have to be me.  To find a qualified professional resume writer or career coach, search the Career Directors International website.  CDI members are truly the cream of the crop in the career services industry and I am proud to be associated with this organization.  There you will find honest, professional advice that help you get back on track.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Joel Carter permalink
    February 10, 2012 3:34 PM

    Blunt and chock full of real solid advice.Tell it Karleen. I will share this. The sad part is that even when experts like you put out their step ny step guides and advice, many still will not take the advice you so graciously offer.

  2. February 10, 2012 10:22 PM

    Absolutely fantastic post! Your advice is 100% correct and delivered without all the fluff – well done!

    • February 10, 2012 10:41 PM

      Thank you Michelle! That means a lot coming from another pro, as I was worried I was too harsh. Certainly I realize that not every unemployed person is guilty of these errors – I merely wanted to highlight some of the top mistakes a typical job seeker makes. If it helps even one person change what they do, I’m happy.

  3. February 11, 2012 1:02 AM

    A great post Karleen but I’m glad to say it doesn’t apply to me because I have been unemployable for most of my adult life, thank goodness. I have no doubt that your post will be of value to many people though who are looking for employment.

  4. February 11, 2012 11:17 AM

    Now get all those who read this to put it in the hands of those who need it!

    I get you and your points. They are one-by-one-by-one…brilliant. I am worried though, that those who need to read this most, won’t. They are the ones sitting back and NOT googling themselves, reading and applying themselves to a real job search.

    It was harsh, a bit. But it needs to be. Kindness and flattery gets you nowhere. Being a good teacher/parent/coach requires honesty, constructive criticism and helpful ideas to implement. You piece has all of these components.

    Kudos, Karleen.

  5. February 11, 2012 1:05 PM

    Fluffy doesn’t create action. Fluffy, pink, and congratulatory makes people stay on a path, even if it’s not working. I don’t think you were harsh. You were realistic, and you didn’t sugarcoat or dummy down the reality. If more people would buck the trends, buck the politically correct, and buck the idea that nice is better than honest, fewer people would become mired in the simplistic muck and might actually make the changes that allow them to move forward.

    Keep it honest. I’m never going to fault you for it.

  6. February 11, 2012 1:56 PM

    Good call, say it like it is. We get so much cushioned stuff fed to us daily that it’s nice to hear some straight talk for once. How can you expect to land a job when you have facebook or twitter posts complaining about hard work? This is the worst economy our generation has ever seen and you need to bring your A-game. What do you need to get in the game–get it…period. Stop being a victim and grab the bull by the horns. The system is against you, but that doesn’t mean you need to submit. Thanks Karleen

  7. February 12, 2012 6:56 AM

    You have to be “cruel” to be kind. Your post was matter-of-fact, honest and information that needed to be put out there. I’ll be sure to share this one!

  8. February 12, 2012 10:01 AM

    I appreciate all your comments. It is a “tough love” message. It breaks my heart to see job seekers floundering, especially when I know many are qualified for great jobs and have a lot to offer a company.

  9. February 12, 2012 12:54 PM

    “who likes well chastises well”: Great post Karleen.

    Being compassionate doesn’t mean misleading someone by saying is doing great when he is messing everything-up!

    When potential clients interview me for helping them in their job searches, I also interview them because I can only help people who are ready to listen to honest feedback and understand THEY have to do the hard work even if life is unfair.

    For example I talked to someone who has been unemployed for 2 years claiming he had a PhD and a MBA and tons of experience that SHOULD lend him a job. He was very resentful and became hysterical when I told him that it is HIS responsibility to market himself the right way to be hired, I don’t take client like that, It is just waste of money for the client and waste of my time, coaching works only when people have the right mind set and are willing to do whatever it takes to change and reach their goals and it is hard work!

  10. February 12, 2012 5:16 PM

    As always, excellent stuff.

    I like that you tell it straight up.

    Your graphics are good, and you are building your business well.

    Networking is indeed important. Even volunteering to network is good stuff.

    Thank you, Karleen. A few reminders I found above!


  11. February 12, 2012 7:33 PM

    It’s a tough world out there, and sometimes tough love is what’s needed…

  12. February 13, 2012 4:41 PM

    Excellent post. You just described someone I know well who doesn’t know why they can’t get a job.

    • February 13, 2012 8:59 PM

      There are some really great people out there who fall into these patterns. If no one tells them, they will continue doing what isn’t working and think “it’s just the economy”

  13. February 13, 2012 10:11 PM

    I’m with Sherrie. I have a couple of people in mind who need to read this but both would be totally insulted if I sent it their way. They’re down on their luck and it’s not their fault and it’s because of the economy and … they have almost as many excuses as they have unpaid bills. Hopefully this article will reach the ones who are sick and tired and ready to take action. If it helps one person wake up, it’s worth it.

  14. Michael Sullivan permalink
    February 14, 2012 2:56 PM

    The first suggestion concerns me. I see a lot of folks making comments on here that are obviously employed….giving advice for a difficult situation in which they have no experience in solving. What do you do if you are laid off from an industry that is suffering at least 30% unemployment which is housing….for no fault of your own. What do you do if you have applied early for the same opening with all the correct qualifications for a company. These same companies list the same job month after month, and do not hire an individual or remove the listing after they hire. You don’t want to annoy the recruiter? Give me a break…that is their job…and they should be thankful to have one.It does confirm one fact that is obvious, candidates are not making it to the resume lists, probably because the candidate didn’t want to shell out extra money for paid recruitment services or the “annoyed” generalist recruiter has no clue about the job duties for that position.

    Try cold calling employers for work…the folks that make hiring decisions are in meetings… like they should be doing to keep their companies solvent…you usually meet someone that says “please visit our company career website.” or try cold calling with an actual telephone and do the same thing…you will be sent to voice mail…and will never hear from that person.

    The article does point out the current recruiters ivory tower attitude these days…..they have created their own cottage industry. in which they get to determine who gets to work these days.

    “This economy” defies all standard job seach techniques. If you are desperately looking for work these days, you are not alone.

    Folks are openly lying on their resumes, and everyone has become a consultant, because they don’t want to commit the first sin of job searching, which is “thou shall not be unemployed” when you are looking for work. The “right help” you are suggesting is depositing money in your pocket.

    • February 14, 2012 4:04 PM


      Thank you for your comments. I am actually surprised it took 4 days before I ruffled some feathers! Clearly not every job seeker makes every one of these mistakes – but MANY do, and it continues their unemployment.

      As far as #1 (being passive) – this is one of the top errors job seekers make. Applying for jobs you aren’t qualified for won’t get you hired. You must always assume that there will be many qualified applicants for every job, and the recruiter uses any and all resources to filter 50 qualified applicants down to 5 they’d like to meet. The quality of the resume, previous applications, and online footprints all help determine who will be on the short list. If you get filtered out, it is not always because the recruiter doesn’t know what they are doing! It could be missing key phrases on the resume or simply better qualified candidates applied. Should you worry about not annoying a Recruiter? Yes, because you need them. But more importantly, you should worry whether the actions you take in your search are working. If not, you need to change them.

      Cold calling sometimes works but takes a lot of skill to get past gatekeepers and not leave the wrong kind of impression with hiring managers (too aggressive, too abrasive, too desperate…). There are many other strategies job seekers can use, primarily networking. Becoming involved in professional or industry associations or even LinkedIn groups can give you direct access to meet hiring managers. This then paves the way for them to accept your call (because they know you), or even to call you first when they have a job opening you could fill.

      You are correct on a couple of points. One is that the hiring / selection process is not applicant friendly by any means. It is an employer’s market and recruiters have a lot of power. This has made some lose sight of the human element of recruiting. Just like any industry – there are good and bad recruiters out there. Their profession has also been hit hard by the economy, and some who are still employed have twice the workload – which makes it that much harder to accept cold calls or respond to personal inquiries. It’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it is.

      Second, you are correct that “If you are desperately looking for work these days, you are not alone.” Contrary to your assumption, several of the other folks here have gone through this very situation. Some (including myself) have completely reinvented their careers or become entrepreneurs. Many job seekers from industries that have been hit hard by the economy have made the decision to “hire themselves.” There is a big difference between lying and saying you are a consultant on a resume to hide unemployment, and actually providing a needed service in exchange for payment. I fall into the later category. I am the RIGHT help for some people, and yes, I accept payment for that help. I also pointed out that there are some free resources available – the key is to find a QUALIFIED resource to help you out.

      I see you are frustrated in your search, as many in your shoes are. I hope that the information I have shared with you is helpful in some way, even if you do not agree with it. Best of luck to you.

  15. Michael Sullivan permalink
    February 14, 2012 7:32 PM

    You are correct, you are not being nice nor entirely fair. You are calling unemployed folks lazy with that first paragraph, if they can’t find a job….which is the simply not true. I doubt that you have worked as long or spent as many extra hours on the job as I have done. The bottom line is there are far too many folks applying…as you said…but I haven’t applied for any job for which I couldn’t identify at least 90% of the skill sets.

    I believe what you are suggesting, is that a potential unemployed employee has about a three month window after they lose their job to produce the perfect resume with all the correct “key words” to take one shot at the job target…before their resume and cover letter are passed over because they have been out of work too long. But as most of the employment recruiters advertise, the job seekers that have paid, go to the front of the list. The process is no different than a few decades ago when you had to pay the employment company a fee if you were hired by an employer. But now, your industry charges the employee for services…with no promise of work.

    I have dealt with some really rude recruiters. I have had several promise a second call to discuss my qualifications, after they cut me off, after finding something about my resume or work history that didn’t quite fit their qualifications…never heard a word back. Company HR personel rarely send a courtesy rejection e-mail, when it is so easy to reply these days.

    IMO there are thousands (or more) individuals that are not telling the truth on their manufactured resumes. Qualifications on resumes are keyword driven. There is only one way to find if they are telling the truth, by calling a solid reference. If the HR generalist doesn’t know anything about the skills they are seeking in that call, then there is no way you can tell if the applicant is truthful.

    There is no way to know which of the previous folks on the comment section, have gone through an unemployment period like the Great Recession, but some of them have that sense of entitlement that I have listened to, for the last few months.

    I do appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue in your comment section on your blog. That is a the right thing to do, but I will never feel sorry for an “overworked” HR professional in my lifetime. If they are overworked, they should consider themselves lucky.

  16. February 15, 2012 3:36 PM

    Well I should check my Cv! True even for a marketer like me your “cruel” suggestions get in target. I feel your “cruelty” is a good reason for make everybody understand how to go ahead for avoiding being John Doe. I’m so use to be found by blog posts or social media activity or googlized that I really forgot about CV. thanks

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