How to Turn a Job Application Into an Interview

HR doesn't have time to figure out how you would fit in their company.

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GL Hoffman
My daughter did an experiment for me two summers ago. She applied to job openings she'd found on a couple of big online job boards. She was a recent college graduate and her resume looked similar to those that cross your desk. It was well done--no typos--and the cover letter was nice too, specifically addressed to each organization's human resources manager. No photocopied mass mailing for her.

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She mailed the applications and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, she got a handful of “no thanks, but we will keep your resume on file” responses.  After sending out 100 packages, fewer than five HR departments took the time to reply, or even acknowledge receipt.

What happened?

In the thirty seconds or so of attention that her resume received, each HR person made a snap decision. It seems like 95 of them were so unimpressed that they didn’t even bother to write a “thanks, but no thanks” letter.

Or, maybe, out of the 300 other resumes HR had received that morning, they had already scheduled a requisite number of interviews. Or, maybe HR simply forwarded her resume on to the hiring manager who was supposed to call her for an interview.

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Or, maybe they liked her resume, but thought it was fairly generic sounding and they didn’t have time to figure out if she might be a good fit, with the necessary skills, attitude, and desire to do the job. (As her Dad, I'll tell you that she has always shown the attitude and desire to do great work. But I digress.)

Most likely, the real reason she didn’t warrant an interview was the last one. HR didn’t have time to figure out how she would work in their company.

This happens all the time. I think most job seekers make the crucial mistake of thinking that all they need do is tell the HR department what they have done in the past.

That might be OK for some hiring managers, but most want to know the answer to one question: How can this applicant help us right now? If your resume does not answer that question, or sufficiently tell a story about how you may be able to help, you won't have a shot at the job in this market.

Before you can answer that question, however, you need to do some research on the company. Find out everything you can about the organization, the department, the people, the products, markets, and the plans for the future.

Information is power, and it is available quite easily. Don’t make HR work to figure out how you might fit into their organization. You figure it out up front. This is the surest way to get the interview.

G. L. Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur and venture investor/operator/incubator/mentor. Two of his companies have traveled the entire success path from the garage to IPO. Currently, he is chairman of JobDig, which operates LinkUp, one of the fastest-growing job search engines. His blog can be found at