Focus on reducing the field of competition when you can't get a job in a tough market

Why can’t I get a job? 20 ways to get hired when being brilliant and qualified isn’t enough

Jun 30, 2021


How This Article Can Help You

You’re easily good enough, right? You’ve read the job description. You’ve got the essentials, with experience and qualifications to boot. But no matter what you do, you still can’t get a job. You’re struggling to get your job applications noticed and clear that hurdle to reach interview. It seems you’re just throwing your CV into the dark pit of depair, never to be seen again.

Can't get a job? Stop throwing your CVs into the pit of despair

And it kills you to know beyond a doubt that whoever did get that job won’t perform any better in the role than you would have. But that person did get hired, and you didn’t even hear back from the recruiter.

So what gives? Does this suggest it’s all a lost cause?

Well, that depends on your strategy. In this article, I’ll show you how to stack the odds in your favour and instantly minimise your effective field of competition.


1. Play the savvy numbers game

It makes sense, right? Churn out hundreds of applications and you’ll find a job eventually.

Good luck to you! (Seriously, you’ll need it.)

I mean, this might work in the very, very long run. But is luck really your job search strategy of choice?

Sure, even if you do absolutely everything you should, nobody can guarantee you’ll get the job.

But most people won’t do everything they should, even when they’re really struggling to land a job. When you do, suddenly you’re no longer competing with 999 others for that job. You’re out in front.

You see, the numbers game shouldn’t be about increasing your applications. The savvy numbers game is about stacking the odds in your favour so that your effective field of competition is much, much smaller. The rest of these tips explain how.


2. Stop focusing on the job description

Yes, the job description is important. It’s where the employer tells you what they want. It gives you the keywords that will be picked up by robots, and which you can lay on thick in your CV, cover letter and interview. So you need to know it inside out and use it to your advantage.

But this is old news.

The truth is, in a competitive jobs market:

if your focus is on meeting the requirements for a role you will fall short of proving your unrivalled value.

And other people will prove theirs instead.

Think of it this way. The successful candidate will be the one who has deliberately stacked the odds in their favour and effectively demonstrated their proof of value to the employer.


3. Convey your proof of value

Proof of value is the entire impression you convey throughout the recruitment process which convinces the employer that you exceed the basic role requirements and offer more than short-term benefit to their organisation.

Yes, there will be people who get hired for less. But relying on other people underperforming gives away too much control of the outcome.

I’m not suggesting you should portray yourself as overqualified or better than the role. No – proof of value is about pitching yourself as the solution to that organisation’s problem. With benefits.

the entire impression which convinces the employer that the candidate will exceed the basic role requirements and bring more than short-term benefit to the organisation.

So write a punchy brand statement and plaster it across your online profiles. Develop tailored branding pitches for each application. Convey your proof of value with impact.


4. Leave no stone unturned

How many times can you honestly say you completed every single action and exercise recommended by a course, self-help book, guide or checklist?

For example, have you:

  • taken care of your mental and physical wellbeing
  • addressed a lack of self-esteem or confidence
  • pinpointed your values and needs
  • got to grips with your key strengths
  • listed your specific and transferable skills
  • targeted the most appropriate jobs, industries and employers
  • polished your brand and pitches
  • committed to engaged networking
  • adopted the best job search styles and strategies
  • optimised and tailored your CV or resume and cover letters
  • prepared as well as you can for interview
  • followed up appropriately

Make no mistake: your top competitors are doing all of it. What are you skipping? Where are you giving them the advantage, and could this be the reason you’re struggling to land a role? And where could you take it back?


5. Know your goal(s)

You might think the definition of job search success is obvious – get a job, no? But if that’s your goal, you need to get more specific. And you need more goals.

Would you consider it more successful to:

  • get 1 job offer for a role you don’t want
  • attend 5 interviews for jobs that might be tolerable
  • submit 2 really high quality applications for your ideal position in your target companies

Of course, getting a job is what you’re trying to do. But that’s not an easy goal to plan for, and you may continue struggling to find a role unless you narrow your aims. So instead, try joining several achievable goals and planning your activity around them.

How many organisations will you research this week? How many new network connections will you make?


6. Schedule your search

It’s been said that an effective job search is best thought of as a full-time job. But just like a full-time job, if you don’t organise your time, your productivity will fall and your stress levels will rise. By lunchtime, you could easily have spent 4 hours going down the LinkedIn rabbit hole. Carry on like this and you’ll continue struggling to find a role.

And don’t ignore the wider benefits of scheduling, either. Keeping a fixed schedule is better for your sleep – which means for your mental health and physical wellbeing, too.

Researchers have found that routine can have far-reaching psychological benefits, including alleviating… insomnia, anxiety, and stress.

Psychology Today

You’re no good to anyone if you don’t look after yourself. (Segue alert…)


7. Take a break

Yes, you need a job. And yes, as I said in the last tip, it can be a full-time job in itself. But when things get too much, and it feels like any more searches or applications will break your head, it’s time for a rest.

I’ve talked about ‘struggling’ to get a job a few times already – and for good reason. A job search of any length is a real battle, and the longer it goes on, the more epic that battle becomes. But beyond the CVs, letters, forms, phone calls and other nuts and bolts, it’s essential not to ignore the internal fight that’s going on. Yes, you’re struggling to get a job, but you’re also struggling to get motivated, to stay positive, to organise your time, to maintain good relationships, to have self-esteem.

How to get a job when you're exhausted? You probably can't. If your job search is going badly, consider recharging your batteries


Losing your job is hard.
Being out of work is hard.
Looking for a job is hard.
Picking yourself up after rejections is hard.

Nobody’s resilience is without limits. So if you find yourself struggling to get a job in more ways than one, allow yourself a couple of days to get headspace and recharge your batteries. You’ll help yourself stay within those limits. 


8. Equip yourself to succeed

When people ask how you are, what do you say? Do you reply, “I’m fine!” – even if you’re not?

If you give yourself the physical and mental tools to cope with struggling in your job search, your applications will be of a higher quality, and you will feel better and healthier.

Ask yourself:

  1. Does my stress or anxiety interfere with my concentration?
  2. Is my lack of self-esteem or confidence stopping me proving my potential?
  3. Are my sleep, diet or lack of exercise just rotating the vicious cycle?

If you answered yes (or maybe) to any of these questions, your potential to succeed could stay limited until you deal with the underlying issues. Consider working with a coach or therapist to clear your way forward.


9. Keep your LinkedIn standards high

The next time you hear someone’s struggling to find a job, take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile. You might be surprised to see how many are littered with spelling mistakes, weird capitalisation of letters, poor photographs, and quirky witticisms.


Don't make silly LinkedIn mistakes if you're having trouble finding a job


Your LinkedIn profile is often the first impression of you potential employers will get. Put yourself in their shoes and inspect your own profile. Is it consistent with your other profiles? Does it truly represent the professional you are and what you can do?


10. Eliminate instant CV or resume fails

If you make basic mistakes, your CV or resume will immediately stand out as a hatchet job. And like a hatchet, it’ll get buried.

  1. Use a free spelling and grammar checker like Grammarly, or ask for the help of a friendly nerd.
  2. Keep your layout professional and colours minimal.
  3. Don’t include a photograph if you’re writing a UK-style CV.
  4. If you’ve paid for a CV or used a template, have you added anything to it? (Hint: you should have!) If so, ensure your spelling, grammar, and tone of voice match the rest of the document.
  5. Address any work history gaps in a positive light. Unexplained gaps are a huge red flag and you probably won’t clear the papersift.


11. Get specific

The chances are, if you’re submitting hundreds of applications in a short period, you’re spending your time and energy extending your struggle to get a job.

If your efforts prioritise volume over quality, you are not tailoring your CV and cover letter as tightly as you should, and you are not communicating your proof of value.


Improving your documents is a key part of knowing how to get a job. CV / resume quality is more important than quantity when you can't find a job


Tailoring your CV and cover letter is a standard play. Assume that everyone who gets listed for interview has done it. And know that if you don’t, you won’t be among them.


12. Less thinking, more doing

If your job search is limited to searching and applying for jobs, stop thinking of what you’re doing as a job search strategy. Think of what you’re doing as a job success strategy, because there’s more to getting a job than searching.

Doing new things opens up opportunities and introduces you to new people – and 80% of professionals consider networking important to career success (source: LinkedIn).

Consider spreading your wings in these ways:

  • Expand your network beyond your close contacts
  • Engage with industry influencers on social media
  • Volunteer for a charity that stands for what you care about
  • Do some temping
  • Write an industry-specific blog
  • Gain a new qualification
  • Identify your skills and offer yourself for freelance hire on Fiverr or Upwork


13. Get awkward

Are you feeling a bit uncomfortable about your job search actions? I don’t mean ethically – obviously, if you’re tracking down your competition and jamming their wifi or hacking their LinkedIn to troll the hiring manager, you have bigger problems.

But you should be feeling discomfort, because you should be doing things that you’re not used to.

Challenging yourself pushes you to dip into and utilize your personal store of untapped knowledge and resources.

Psychology Today

Do you feel awkward networking? Then network. Don’t like blowing your own trumpet? Draft 10 ways you’re brilliant and the world should know it.


14. Recalibrate your search

Of course, it might be clouding the issue to say you’re struggling to find a job. It could be that you’re only struggling in the field you’re applying to.

One surefire way of escaping a highly competitive field is to swap it for a field that’s less competitive. Have you identified your transferable skills? How could you pivot to another industry?

If you really want to continue in the same field, there’s nothing wrong with a stop-gap role. If you can bracket a relatively short period of your life in order to make ends meet and get your professional life back on track, then consider it.


15. Knock on the back door

How about getting rid of the competition altogether?

Speculative applications can be extremely effective. But don’t think of it as an easy slide-in. The speculative hiring process can be very lengthy, and you need to work extra hard to convince the right person of your potential value. Even harder than normal.

But if you can wait, and if your proof of value is solid:

  • Do extensive homework on the organisation first
  • Conduct an informational interview to gain a deeper insight and make a valuable connection
  • Polish your online presence till it gleams
  • Tailor your CV and letter to communicate your proof of value
  • Promise to follow up with an informal call a week later (and do it)


16. Do more of what works

When you’re struggling to land a job and getting rejection after rejection, analysing where things went wrong can be hugely time-consuming and can really get you down.

Instead, give the opposite a go. The Solution Focused approach was developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the late 20th century. The message is simple:

do more of what’s already working.

So don’t trawl through the cover letters that didn’t pass the sift. Spend more quality time on the applications that did better – when you got an interview or even just passed the first stage. Why did these applications in particular do better than the rest?


17. SPIT and polish

Before you send that CV, give it a SPIT and polish. Check:

  • S is for send and save: double-check the required format. Save a copy, and use your name as a filename so that everyone can easily manage your application.
  • P is for professional: check your layout is clear and minimal, with plenty of white space. Is your font style sober enough, and is the body in 11 point? Is your language too casual, and have you proofread?
  • I is for impact: put yourself in the shoes of your intended reader. Would they be impressed? Do you prove your value?
  • T is for tailored: Do you use all the right keywords? Do you demonstrate your value for this role at this organisation, and avoid anything generic?


18. Chase (politely)

Are you sick and tired of not hearing back from anyone? As unemployment increases and jobs dwindle it’s all too common to hear that candidates are being forgotten, or simply ignored.

You can’t control what other people do. And don’t get me wrong, ignoring people is rude and it needs to stop.

But until it does, if you’re not making a point of following up, you’re not doing everything you can, either. If you haven’t heard in a couple of weeks, send a polite reminder.


19. Prepare better for interviews

What a great feeling, huh? You get the email or call to say you’ve got an interview and your heart skips a beat. Finally, some success!

Woah, there. This is definitely a sign that you’re on the right track, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that most of your work is done. It’s true that you now have a smaller field of competition, but it’s also a better and closer field of competition.

So you have to ramp it up. But don’t worry – you’ve got this. As long as you make sure you really, honestly, truly do everything you can to prepare well for the interview, you can be confident you’ve given yourself the very best shot.

Prepare yourself:

Address any confidence or self-esteem issues with a coach or therapist. Consider mindfulness and thought distancing techniques. Get enough sleep for a few days before your interview. Make sure your online presence is consistent. Oh, and dress appropriately and professionally (and keep your lunch off your shirt).

Prepare your subject matter:

Do your homework on the role and the employer, and swot up on your own application. Know your skills and strengths inside out, and be able to deliver your branding pitches naturally. Can you say out loud — right now — what value you bring? If not, get yourself in front of that mirror.


20. Accept this challenge!

It bears repeating: if you know the recommended steps to make yourself the best candidate but don’t take all of them, then you’ll continue struggling to get a job.

Think about your recent applications and ask yourself if you:

  • Did more than match the job description?
  • Really made an effort to stack the odds in your favour?
  • Focused on conveying your proof of value?

So here’s your 5-day challenge:

Go back through the article above. Make a separate list of all the recommendations you haven’t yet implemented. Over the next 5 days, make a plan to up your game. This time next week, you’ll be on your way to becoming the top candidate for your ideal roles.  



Are you willing to spend 10 minutes on your career change?