If you've sent out dozens or even hundreds of resumes and haven't heard anything back, you might be wondering what the problem is. Is it your resume? Is it just the job market? Could a former employer be blacklisting you in your industry?
1. Your resume doesn't indicate that you'll excel at the job. This is easily the No. 1 reason most job seekers aren't getting interviews. Most people's resumes simply list their job duties at each job they've held (like "processed bank transactions" or "filled customer requests"). That only tells the hiring manager what jobs you've held—it doesn't reveal anything about how you performed at those jobs. The candidates who are getting the most interviews list what they achieved at each job (like "increased Web traffic by 20 percent over 12 months" or "regularly recognized for highest number of customer compliments").
Hiring managers don't care much that you held a string of jobs; they care what you accomplished there, and your resume needs to show them that. So if you're wondering why you're not getting calls for interviews and your resume doesn't list accomplishments, that's the first place to start.
2. Your cover letter is bland and uninspiring. If your cover letter basically summarizes the information in your resume, it's not accomplishing anything for you—you almost might as well not send one. A cover letter that helps your candidacy adds something new to your application about why you'd be great at the job; it doesn't just recite your employment history. Job seekers regularly report that when they start adding personality to their cover letters, they start getting phone calls for interviews.
3. You haven't asked for feedback from the right people. I regularly hear job seekers with bad resumes say, "I've had my resume reviewed dozens of times, and everyone has told me it's fine." First, in a crowded job market, "fine" isn't enough; it needs to be great. But secondly, if the wrong people are reviewing your resume, their feedback doesn't matter. Friends, family, and even campus career counselors don't always know what they're doing; instead, you need people with significant hiring experience to give you feedback. After all, you wouldn't ask a friend with no auto-mechanic experience to tell you what was wrong with your car; you'd ask someone who knows cars. And with your resume, you need to go to someone who knows hiring.
(One good test: Give them a resume that's full of duties rather than achievements and see what they say. If they tell you it's a good resume, you'll know that their advice isn't useful on this topic.)
4. You're applying for jobs that aren't connected to your job history. If you're applying for jobs that are very different from what you've done previously, you need to explicitly demonstrate for employers why you'd be a great match—don't rely on them to figure it out on their own. Also, keep in mind that in a tight job market like this one, employers have plenty of well-trained candidates who meet all the job's qualifications and have already worked in the field. That means that even though you might feel that you could excel at the job if just given the chance, employers don't have much of an incentive to take a chance on you. As much as you might want to change fields, it's generally very hard to do 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 co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager'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.