Applications / Job market

Why do applications get rejected?

Why did my job application get rejected? Why didn’t I get an interview? What am I doing wrong?”

Sound familiar? Well, don’t waste time and energy waiting for an employer to fill in the blanks – they simply don’t have the time. Fortunately, the good folk at graduate-jobs.com have done the work on your behalf to find out why applications get rejected. Over to James Howell, Content and Marketing Executive for the team…

Ever wondered why you’ve sent off ten applications a day and received not one response? It’s probably because this means only one thing: you’re going for quantity, not quality. In order to give your applications a unique and personalised feel, make sure you thoroughly research the company, write your cover letter from scratch, select the most relevant skills and experience to highlight in your CV and proof your documents.

At graduate-jobs.com we surveyed recruiters from some of the biggest companies, including PwC, NHS and BP, and found the most common reason applicants get rejected is their (consistent!) failure to tailor job applications and CVs.

36% of employers reject unoriginal applications

This was by far the most common reason that employers gave, and nearly all the employers we spoke to mentioned this problem, even if it was not their main reason for rejecting the application.

The scatter gun approach to job hunting –  by copying and pasting covering letters or experiences – might allow you to  increase the number of applications sent but if employers can’t see how the content relates to the role on offer, your application(s) will make little or no impression. Recruiters and companies need attention. You don’t need to flatter them but you do need to show an understanding of their culture and how your skills and experiences translate to the role (and company).

One HR Manager said, ‘it is copying and pasting a generic answer. You can spot them straight away because there is no mention of the company or the industry.’ Employers know that graduates will try to emphasise aspects of their employment and skills but they like to see they’ve put some thought into their application and thought about themselves in the role or at the company.

21% reject applications because of errors

Poor accuracy in the application process will be met with short shrift. This includes spelling, grammar and not reading and answering the question properly. Employers see this as careless at best and discourteous at worse. It can also be easily resolved – don’t allow carelessness to cost you an interview. There is little worse than that pang of shame when you spot a glaring error in your application form. And it’s too late once you’ve hit send!

The Head of Student Recruitment at a global technology company told graduate-jobs.com that ‘if the answers are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors we cannot justify progressing an application to the next stage.’ He added, ‘Frustratingly, it always seems to be very basic errors that mar an application form and the majority of rejections happen for mistakes that could be easily rectified.’ Reread applications before you submit them and read them in the shoes of the person you’re sending it to.

29% find underqualified graduates applying

Nearly a third of employers are reading applications from some seriously optimistic graduates. Confidence is good, but you need to be realistic and target jobs within range. Read the job description and if you do not meet the ‘Required Skills’, move on. This includes not having the right degree classification, appropriate experience or indeed any previous work experience. Try to scale your applications – don’t apply for roles that ask for substantive experience, or specific skills that you simply don’t have.

One Training and Recruitment Manager found it hard to believe that he received applications without any work experience at all, ‘What scares me is people that just have education and have got no work experience.’

He also acknowledges the importance of targeted applications and CVs. ‘Graduates should just take a minute to relate it to the position they’re applying for… People that do take time to do this will have a positive slant immediately put on their CV.’

14% of employers reject graduates for a lack of research

This should be quite obvious when approaching applications for jobs. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into make sure you research what the company does, where it does it and how it does it. If you don’t skip over the research and show only a scant understanding of the role and company, you can expect to see your application rejected out of hand.

One Student Recruitment Manager recommends graduates try to absorb as much knowledge about the company as possible.  Really get to grips with what they want, and then think how you can make connections with your own experience. As he went on to say, ‘[Applicants] need to scratch beneath what they see on graduate recruitment websites. For instance, delving into what kind of work the company does. They can come across thought leadership papers written by the firm. They need to get an idea of where the firm is going and work that has been conducted.

Quick tips for applying to graduate jobs and schemes

  • Treat each application individually – make sure you are tailoring your application and your skills to roles. It might take a while longer but your success rate will vastly improve.
  • Proof! – mistakes and errors cost applications. It may be your perfect job and you could be well qualified for it, but if you have mixed up ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ employers might put an immediate halt to your application.
  • Look at the role your applying to – is it for you? Do you fulfil the requirements? Is the company one you’d like to work for? If so, make sure you make that clear in your application.
  • Be yourself – in applications employers are not looking for you to flatter their egos and tell them what (you think) they want to hear. Be authentic and genuine.

James Howell is Content & Marketing Executive with graduate-jobs.com. You can follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

You might also want to look at a recent post on the same subject. Each perspective is useful!


6 thoughts on “Why do applications get rejected?

  1. In response to – “29% find underqualified graduates applying”

    Please don’t post job ads which require experience far above what a graduate could have ever achieved. We will apply for jobs that exceed our actual work experience because that is what is out there at a graduate level.

    Employers need to re-evaluate what graduate level actually means, to understand that they are forcing graduates to take jobs that they are over-qualified for, yet keeping them out of jobs that they should actually be qualified for.

    How will we gain the relevant work experience if this continues?

    • Yes, it can be really frustrating to apply for entry/graduate level roles and find yourself a victim of the ‘experience’ catch-22. How do you get experience without experience? I would say, however, that graduate recruiters are more flexible than is often presented and although they look for candidates with experience, this doesn’t necessarily need to come from ‘relevant’ sector employment. If you can maximise the benefits of experience you *do* have (part-time work, short term placements, volunteering, society involvement) then you’re going to put yourself in a much stronger position. You don’t need to have completed a 10 week internship to provide evidence of team working, initiative, commercial awareness, communicaton skills.

      I know this doesn’t solve the problem, but I hope it offers a slightly different perspective?

      Good luck with your job search.

  2. Pingback: Why do job applications get rejected? | Bournemouth University Placements & Careers Service Employability Blog

  3. Pingback: Didn’t get the job offer? What now? | The Careers Blog

  4. [quote]Nearly a third of employers are reading applications from some seriously optimistic graduates. Confidence is good, but you need to be realistic and target jobs within range. Read the job description and if you do not meet the ‘Required Skills’, move on. This includes not having the right degree classification, appropriate experience or indeed any previous work experience. Try to scale your applications – don’t apply for roles that ask for substantive experience, or specific skills that you simply don’t have.[/quote]

    But you don’t get any of the jobs that you don’t apply for. It can be worth taking a punt sometimes.

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