Part 1: How to Stop Getting Rejected from Interviews

How many internship and job listings have you applied to in the last month? This post explains why there is much more to recruiting than submitting your resume online.

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[Check out Part 2 here]

“After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for an interview”

Look familiar? I used to get a lot of these emails – in the hundreds.When you look at the numbers, it makes sense.

The average company receives 250 applications for a given job posting. From those 250 applications, they will interview 5 candidates and only 1 will receive the offer.1

In other words, that’s a 2% chance you will get an interview at an average company. And I bet you want interviews at above average or industry-leading companies.

Unfortunately, those numbers are far worse.

Google receives more than 2,000,000 applications each year.2 McKinsey receives 200,000 applications for analyst and associate positions.3 Goldman Sachs receives 220,000 applications from undergraduates alone.4

No matter how you cut the numbers, the odds are not in your favor.

By watching older friends go through the recruiting process, I realized that a few of them got interviews with all the top firms, while others never heard back once.

These few students managed to change the game in their favor, which gave them a significant edge over other applicants and improved their odds of landing an interview. Meanwhile, everyone else was blindly applying to jobs and praying for an interview. They kept playing with terrible odds.

And that’s exactly what I was doing. I would apply to 50 job postings in one night and feel accomplished. Then I would wait for my interviews to come… and I’d wait… and I’d wait. Slowly, the rejections trickled in without one interview.

That’s when I realized I needed to change my approach.

If the odds are against you, don’t play that game. Change the game and increase your odds.

Spray and pray might work for Call of Duty, but it doesn’t work for getting interviews. I now have a firm rule I tell all of my friends:

If you apply online to a job posting and wait for a response, consider saving your energy by throwing your application straight into the trash. A cold application is a dead one.

You need to rewire your brain so that you do not feel short-term gratification from applying to jobs. Like I said, millions of people apply for a job at Google.

So how do you change your odds?

I’ve summarized my tried and true approach with the following formula:

The 3 secrets to landing any interview you want are:

  1. Have a strong application
  2. Make sure a decision-maker actually reads your application
  3. Sprinkle in a little luck

This formula worked for my 50+ friends who applied it to their internship/job recruitment process with top-notch firms. Here’s the breakdown of how and why it works.  

What is a strong application?

A strong application is broken down into 2 main parts:

  1. Your resume and cover letter
  2. Your fit for the job

If you have both of these parts, you have a strong application.

The components of a top-tier resume and cover letter

I’ll keep this short since it deserves its own dedicated post. Here are a few things that make for a strong resume and cover letter:

  • Multiple high-quality internships with brand name companies (or other similar caliber experiences)
  • High GPA above the threshold for your target industry
  • Prestigious university
  • Zero grammar or spelling errors

I’m sure you know how important these factors are. Of course some of them are difficult to change, such as your university’s prestige.

While you should always do what you can to improve the strength of your resume and cover letter, remember that it is only ½ of the “Strong Application” criterion. And the “Strong Application” criterion is only 40% of the overall formula to land an interview.

Key Takeaway: Don’t stress if you don’t have a perfect resume — you can make up for it elsewhere.

How to show that you are a good fit for the job

Even Harvard Medical School graduates and PhDs from MIT are often not qualified for consulting interviews. While they are certainly highly accomplished, they are often rejected for interviews because they fail to convince the recruiter of their fit for management consulting.

This is why it’s crucial for you to demonstrate that you are a good fit for the industry and company of the job posting. You want to make it seem like you already work in that company – make the hiring manager think you are a perfect fit for the job. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Tailor your resume and cover letter to include relevant experiences (your resume for a studio production job and a management consulting job should be very different)
  • Use words and phrases (and a little jargon) in your internship/experience descriptions to mirror the phrases used in industry 
  • List relevant coursework
  • Have someone refer you to the recruiter/hiring manager

Which of these tactics do you think is the most important in proving your fit for the company?

The answer: Have someone refer you.

Consider 2 applicants: both have the exact same resume and cover letter. However, one applicant applied through the online portal, while the other candidate applied online AND had an internal referral through someone on the same team as the job opportunity. Which one do you think will get the interview?

In fact, even if the first candidate has a stronger resume and cover letter, I bet that the person with the referral would still get the interview.

The world is relationship driven, and a referral is the ultimate indicator of belongingness. It means someone else at the company personally believes you are a good candidate for the position and would make for a strong employee.

Key Takeaway: A referral can boost you from a mediocre applicant to a top-tier applicant by signaling fit. No other tactic has that power.  

You should now understand how to build a strong application, which is 40% of what it takes to land an interview.

That’s right. Most people think a strong application is 80-100% of what it takes to land an interview, and that’s exactly why they end up with countless rejections.

In Part 2, we’ll look at the last 2 components (60%) of the formula; and you’ll learn why there’s much more to landing interviews than just having a strong resume. 

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