By: Indeed Career Coaches
Jamie Birt, Jennifer Herrity, and Emma Esparza are career coaches at Indeed with a combined 17 years of experience in career guidance. They help others navigate the challenges of their job search, identify opportunities for career growth, and find fulfillment in their unique paths.
When searching for a new role, it can be frustrating to submit multiple job applications and hear nothing back from the employers. The feeling of sending your resume into a "black hole" is valid—a report published by the job search firm Preptel estimates that 75% of online employment applications are never reviewed by a human. While the approach of applying to hundreds of jobs can seem productive when you’re actively looking for a new position, it can quickly lead to burnout and dampen your motivation if you don’t hear back from employers. Instead, focusing on applying to the "right" jobs with a tailored resume can give you the best chances of success.
In this article, we explain why quality over quantity matters in the job search with suggestions for refining your application strategy.
Quality applications get more responses
In a competitive job market, the quality of your applications is often more important than the number of applications you submit. By "quality," we mean applying to jobs that match your qualifications and submitting a resume that is tailored to the position. Employers may receive hundreds of resumes in response to an open role, so it’s important to strategically apply for opportunities that match your background in order to stand out from other candidates. There is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" resume, and applying to jobs with a generic resume could send your resume into a black hole. In fact, Indeed data shows that people with the highest number of applications are 39% less likely to receive a positive response from employers.
How to submit quality job applications
Here are three key ways you should think about conducting your job search to set yourself up for success. While you can’t always control how employers choose to respond, if at all, there are some steps you can take to give yourself the best possible chance of getting the job:
Apply to positions that fit your experience
Many companies have experienced layoffs, furloughs, or a pause in hiring as a result of the spread of COVID-19. Fewer open roles exist, and other external circumstances such as financial obligations can make it tempting to apply for any opportunity, regardless of how qualified you are for the role. However, such an approach can also be counterproductive. Instead, focus on understanding the fitness of your skills, qualifications, and background with the job to get better results.
Start by selecting positions that fit your experience to improve the chances of getting a response to your application. Paul Wolfe, SVP of Human Resources at Indeed, says:
"The most important thing you can do to improve your chances is to carefully evaluate each job you’re applying for to ensure a good fit. Be honest with yourself and ask, 'Are you qualified to do the job?' and 'Do you actually want to do this job?'"
For example, note the years of experience listed in the job requirements before you apply for a position. Most of the time, hiring managers have already determined the level of expertise required for a certain role.
Applying for roles that you are vastly over- or under-qualified for may decrease your chances of getting a response. Recruiters can spot when a candidate has applied for a position and hasn’t read the job description when there’s a mismatch between an applicant's experience and skill set and the job requirements. This may communicate to employers that you don’t have a specific interest in that company or the position.
Tip: recruiters are interested in seeing relevant experience demonstrated within the last 3-5 years. On your resume, show relevant experience gained through professional work, volunteering, internships, formal or online educational training, certifications, and personal projects.
Optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems
In today’s job market, it’s likely that your resume will be received by an applicant tracking system, or ATS, before it reaches a recruiter or hiring manager. Employers receive an average of 36 applications for each open requisition, prompting the need for software like an ATS to help filter applications to find the ones most qualified for the role. An ATS works by parsing resumes, scanning for keywords/phrases, and comparing it with the job description. It then ranks your resume against other applicants. The better the match, the more likely you are to be seen by human eyes.
Understanding how an ATS works and parses your information can help create a resume best suited for passing this initial filtering phase. Using simple formatting and tailored content is the key to passing an ATS.
Here are some tips to help you format your resume to pass an ATS:
Use appropriate formatting
The most important quality to keep in mind when formatting your resume for an ATS is readability. While it can feel tempting to spend your time making a resume that looks visually appealing, a simple, straightforward resume with the right content works best. When an ATS tries reading a resume with complex formatting, it can jumble the content, add in unintended characters, and ultimately make the resume unreadable. This may result in your resume being ranked as a poor match for the position.
Paying attention to small details like text font can have a big impact on how your information is parsed by an ATS. Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading serif fonts like Times New Roman or Cambria. As a best practice, choose sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica or Tahoma which are clean-looking and easy to read.
Tip: to keep your resume ATS compliant, avoid using elements like photos, icons, graphs, tables, and columns.
Tailor your resume to each opportunity
Once you have the format of your resume optimized for an ATS, use the job description as a guide for which information to include that will best highlight your qualification for the role. An ATS will search your resume for keywords, skills, and phrases that are consistent with the job description. Focus on the required and preferred qualifications in the job posting—these are likely the terms the ATS will scan for, so you want to make sure they’re included in your resume if you have experience with them.
The ATS will also predict your proficiency with these qualifications by the number of times they’re listed in your resume. When thinking about "buzzword" usage in your resume, focus on quality, not quantity. Including the same keywords in high frequency does not necessarily increase your chance of success. Modern ATS technology can flag when resumes appear to be overstuffed with keywords. An appropriate way to include the relevant qualifications would be to list them in your professional summary, skills, and experience sections.
You should try to create a resume specific to each role you apply for, which can feel time consuming if you are interested in a variety of roles. If you don’t have the time to tailor your resume to multiple job titles, focus on applying to the same roles within the same industry. Doing so can put you in a good position to apply to more roles using just one resume that shows off the right skill set.
Tip: make the process of tailoring your resume to a specific role easier by having one master copy of your resume that includes all of your work experience, education, volunteer work, and personal projects. Use this master resume to pull the examples from your work history that are directly related to the requirements needed for the role you are seeking.
Balance the quality and quantity of your applications
There’s no exact equation for how many applications you should submit on a daily or weekly basis. It will be different for everyone and may even vary for you from week to week depending on your schedule and your job search timeline. Set a reasonable weekly goal for the number of applications you can submit while still tailoring them.
A good general guideline is ten applications per week. Based on your unique circumstances, you may need to decrease your applications to three to five per week or increase it to up to 20. Typically, it won’t be realistic to submit more than 20 quality tailored job applications in a week. Take note of what your personal threshold is and draw the line when you notice that the quality of your applications is suffering. When you reach your weekly goal, acknowledge your accomplishment and celebrate the milestone to help you stay motivated throughout your search.
Go beyond the application
To find your next role, consider incorporating strategies that go beyond directly applying. Reaching out to your network for referrals can help get your resume in front of a company recruiter or hiring manager, especially in times when job opportunities are limited. Asking someone for a referral might feel intrusive, but it’s common for employees to receive bonuses for referrals that result in a hire. Also, employers often regard referrals as a quality source of applicants. I
Tip: to build a professional network, start by asking for an informational interview with someone who currently works in the industry or role that interests you. You can also find an online group where you can connect with like-minded people within similar career goals. To gain the most professional value from networking, start connecting with people before you need a job, nurture those connections, and try to make it a habit to continuously build your network whenever possible.