1. Your resume doesn't indicate anything about your work beyond your job descriptions. In a market flooded with qualified candidates, your resume should show your track record of high achievement. That means that it shouldn't just list duties and responsibilities; it needs to emphasize your accomplishments in each role.
2. Your cover letter puts hiring managers to sleep. If your cover letter just summarizes the same information found on your resume, there's no need for an employer to read it. Instead, your cover letter should take advantage of the opportunity to present employers with additional information: Show personal interest in working for this particular organization and in this particular job, and explain why you'd excel at it without simply reciting your employment history.
3. You don't seem enthusiastic about the job. Job seekers sometimes worry that they'll look desperate if they show their excitement about a job, but employers generally like enthusiastic candidates—and a lack of enthusiasm can be a deal-breaker. No one wants to hire someone who doesn't seem especially interested in the opportunity.
4. You aren't paying attention to details. Job seekers frequently act as if only "official" contacts—like interviews and formal writing samples—count during the hiring process. They'll send flawless cover letters and then check up on their applications with sloppily written emails that include spelling errors. Or they'll be charming and polite to the interviewer but rude to an assistant. Hiring managers pay attention to how quickly a candidate responds to requests for writing samples and references, and even how fast he or she returns phone calls.
5. Your interview skills are lackluster. If you're not preparing for interviews by practicing your answers to likely questions, and preparing examples from your past work that clearly demonstrate why you'd excel at the job, then chances are good that you're selling yourself short. It's hard to interview well on the fly; if you don't prepare in advance, you have a high risk of being passed over even for jobs at which you'd do well.
6. You're trying to "stand out" by using gimmicks. Fancy resume designs, having your application delivered by overnight mail, video resumes, and other gimmicks don't make up for a lack of qualifications, and they'll turn off many hiring managers. If you want to stand out, write a great cover letter and show a track record of success in the area for which the employer is hiring.
7. You're so focused on selling yourself that the hiring manager can't assess your fit for the job. Too many job applicants approach the interview as if their only goal is to win a job offer, losing sight of the fact that this can land them in a job that's wrong for them. Interviewers want to see that you're thinking critically about whether you'd do well in the job and be happy with the work and culture, or if you'll be itching to leave a few months in. Part of this means being honest about your strengths and weaknesses and giving the hiring manager a glimpse of the real you, so he or she can make an informed decision about how well you'd do in the job.
8. Math. Yes, math. In a tight job market, sometimes you can do everything right and still not get job offers. With more great candidates than there are jobs, simple math means that even fantastic candidates can have a frustrating search. So if you know that you're doing everything above correctly, you might just be facing the reality that it's a tough market right now.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.