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No. 3 – My job applications keep getting rejected. What am I doing wrong?

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3 March 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, job interview rejection, navigating unpaid International Women’s Day speaking requests, and an absent boss.

Over the past two years I have applied for hundreds of jobs in my industry and have only ever had two interviews. I never seem to receive any useful feedback, so I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I am a male in my early 40s and I feel like the dog that has been kicked to the curb and dumped. If I hear ‘Keep on trying!’ one more time I will scream, then cry. What am I doing wrong?

I can only imagine how demoralising it must be to have not been successful in your job search. I admire your tenacity and resilience as well as your openness to feedback. These qualities are truly important for anyone looking to succeed in a new role.

There is no way to sugar coat the fact that most of the roles you have applied for have not progressed to an interview. There is clearly something in the way you are presenting your resume that is preventing you from proceeding.

Your resume is critical for reflecting who you are and what you stand for and it is also not something you can set and forget. I know I adjust my resume for any new role I might apply for because what might have been relevant in my skillset for one position, may not be relevant for the next. I also know when I’m looking to hire someone, I can tell immediately if they have bothered to tailor their CV for that position.

Some other ideas to consider:

  • Make sure your resume is no more than two pages long and that it only focuses on what is relevant for the precise job you are applying for
  • Check the tone, spelling and grammar of the language you have used just in case it is turning employers off before they get a chance to meet you
  • Ask a trusted mentor or friend to take an objective look at your resume and give you feedback
  • Think laterally about how you can apply your skills outside the industry you have worked in until now to apply your expertise in an unexpected field

Good luck!

I’m a female leader in my field and with only a week’s notice I have been asked by a major brand to speak at an event they are hosting for International Women’s Day. There was no mention of remuneration and when I enquired, I heard nothing back. How do I handle these requests?

I can’t tell you how many times I, and so many women I know, have been put in this uncomfortable and frustrating situation. Each time, you find yourself feeling you should be grateful to be asked, but also knowing you are not being valued or respected for your time and expertise.

How shocking it is that the company did not have the courtesy to reply to you when you asked about remuneration (and don’t get me started on the irony given we are talking about International Women’s Day!).

Good on you for asking about being paid to appear. Doing so indicates that remuneration should be part of the discussion, and at a bare minimum there should be an offer to at least cover your expenses to get to and from the venue. Corporations should not expect speakers to donate their time without being paid, especially if attendees are paying for their tickets and it is a for-profit event.

My boss often asks me to cover for him (with his boss and other managers) when he forgets about meetings. Sometimes he is out of the office getting massages during work time. I refuse to lie about it, but I am finding it harder to know how to respond. What should I do?

Your boss seems to assume he can do what he likes since you are there to make sure he is never caught. My guess is his frequent visits to the masseuse will eventually come out, as will the fact he isn’t attending meetings. Unless you want this to continue, I would talk with your boss and explain the position he is putting you in each time he is missing in action and tell him that in future you will suggest people call his mobile if they can’t find you. He can then deal with the repercussions. It is not your responsibility to cover for his poor behaviour and in the end, he is going to need to account for his actions.

Send your curly questions about work, career, leadership and anything in between to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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