I have one piece of advice to anyone looking for a job: Don’t Do What Everyone Else is Doing.
This applies to your first job or your 10th. An entry-level job or a senior management position. A summer internship or a Christmas-season job.
This advice is related to the conventional wisdom that you are more likely to get a job through your network than any other way, but it’s more than that.
In my experience, many job seekers get frustrated when you explain that network concept, because they are young or have a limited network or are looking for a highly specialized position, and can’t imagine how they are going to leverage their network to get what they want. And they could be right.
“Don’t Do What Everyone Else is Doing” is better advice because it includes network utilization, but it’s much more. And in being so, it returns some of the power, and confidence, to the job seeker.
Here is what everyone else is doing:
- Applying to job ads on Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and Indeed
- Applying to job openings on company websites
- Applying through the corporate Human Resources department
When you apply through the official HR channel, you are one of dozens or perhaps hundreds of candidates. Often, there are so many candidates that the first round of eliminations is done by computer software. The competition is fierce and the odds are against you.
I can hear you now: Don’t tell me what not to do, tell me what I should do.
Every job search is somewhat different (depending on the industry and job function), but let me tell you about my recent experience. I was employed but looking for something new. Every week, I’d apply to the ads on Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and Indeed. Why? Because it’s easy.
And from outward appearances, I was having success. For six months, I averaged about 2 phone interviews and 1 in-person interview a month. But I only had one call back for a 2nd on-site interview.
It was obvious I’d have to do something different to be successful. I would have to leave the warm, comfortable, crowded pool of job applicants, and venture out into murky uncharted waters.
The first step I took was to try to leapfrog HR whenever possible when applying for public job openings. HR’s job is to whittle the field of candidates, but often their grasp on any non-HR position is weak. You can tell when you talk to them. (They typically conduct the first phone interview cull, so as to not waste the hiring manager’s time.)
I used two tools for this: LinkedIn and Data.com. LinkedIn would tell me if I had any connections that worked for the company I was applying to. Data.com has names and contact information for millions of employees across the U.S. LinkedIn utilizes your (virtual) network, while Data.com goes beyond it.
The success of this approach was demonstrated pretty quickly. I had already applied for a position at a Baltimore technology company through their website, but didn’t hear anything. When I saw the ad get renewed, I knew they were having trouble filling the position. I looked on LinkedIn but I had no connections at the company. So I pulled the contact information from Data.com for three company executives, all of whom looked to be related to the role being advertised. I sent each an email with my resume attached; the body of the email served as my cover letter, detailing how my experience was relevant to the open position.
Within 24 hours I received a request from their HR person for a phone interview. That lead to an in-person interview. I didn’t get an offer, but I felt like I was finally cooking with gas.
During the job search, you generally see two responses when a candidate has some success:
- I’m getting close, I can coast to the finish line
- I might be getting close, but I need to keep my foot on the accelerator to ensure I finish strong
With this complacency trap in mind, I started three new initiatives:
1. Developed and sent targeted emails and letters
These were sent to managers at companies I wanted to work for, but that hadn’t posted a job opening yet. They say that most positions are filled without a public job ad, so this effort was targeted at these undercover opportunities. There is probably some internal-to-the-company competition for these roles, but not much.
2. Cozied up to a few key independent recruiters
I had coffee with one, visited a second one in her office. Recruiters aren’t suitable for every search, but if they are, they are generally very selective in who they submit for consideration to a client company. So if you can stay on their radar, you will likely be included in that small pool under consideration for relevant openings.
3. Optimized my LinkedIn profile
In marketing there’s something called search engine optimization (SEO) for elevating the online visibility of websites; I hired myself as the SEO Master of my LinkedIn page. I utilized keywords, knocked out a compelling overview, and asked for some recommendations from people who know me well. Since then, LinkedIn has made job searching easier by introducing a feature to secretly tell HR recruiters you are looking. I can imagine a scenario where this goes horribly wrong (you get busted), but it’s worth looking into.
I’m in a new job now, so what worked? Seemingly out of the blue, I was contacted by a HR recruiter who found me on LinkedIn. Talk about limited competition! I was one of about five people they pursued, and because they found me, they were highly motivated to bring me on board.
Door #3 worked this time, but it could have easily been one of the other initiatives. The key thing is to work a lot of (uncrowded) channels – in and outside your network – until something finally lands you your next good-paying job.
What’s worked for you? Share it here!
I was afraid to update my LinkedIn profile at first because of the fear of getting fired. I tried Indeed & Monster for a month & realized that was about as effective as applying to an HR department with no inside connection.
Great tips & I’m glad LinkedIn worked for you. I find my current job through other means (networking) but I think LinkedIn can be a great way to connect with strangers if you go about it correctly.
Thanks for sharing your experience Josh – personal connections are great if you have them!
Barnaby – I’m making the rounds today with our fellow Maryland bloggers and happened upon your post here. I regret to tell you that I’m a professional in HR, although I am not in recruiting. I understand what you are saying about the applicant tracking systems that many companies are required to use to weed out the bad candidates. It seems cold and ruthless but there are so many regulations on companies to prove that they do not have discriminatory practices that they are forced to adopt such measures.
On the positive side, I can attest that LinkedIn (or similar Niche sites in some fields) are important tools when you are looking for a job and just to maintain a good public profile about your credentials. It’s really the most important one in my mind these days.
We use LinkedIn to source candidates when we have hard to fill jobs and I personally get emails from unsolicited companies and recruiters all the time due to the details in my personal profile. As Josh mentioned, many employees are worried that by simply updating their profiles, their companies think they are on the job hunt. We’ve never used LinkedIn updates to confront an employee on what their intentions are. On the contrary! Hiring managers keep their profiles up-to-date so they can help HR fill open positions. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Congrats on openeing Door #3!
Thanks for the PR perspective, I know it’s a tough job!
Valerie Mendenhall says
Our company utilizes an (internal) organization called Talent Acquisition to largely recruit and execute the hiring process, though HR is involved in interviews. TA reports up to HR incidentally.
(1) Include keywords from the requisition in your resume so HR or TA don’t have to make leaps of logic to figure out if you’re qualified (or otherwise screened out).
(2) Don’t skip the cover letter. Summarize succinctly why your experience is relevant.
(3) Customize your resume for each job.
(4) Consider a novel resume template. Etsy has some good ones (I’ll post a link to an example on the FB page). You want your resume to stand out.
There’s obviously a lot of strategy in how to interview as well for which I have a dozen or more ideas. First job though is getting the interview.
Great tips, Valerie! A lot of people don’t want to take the time to customize their resume, but it definitely helps!
Mustard Seed Money says
I have had friends that have done really well through Linkedin. I will have to ask them if they utilized Data.com. Sounds like a really awesome tool. Great article and congrats on the job!!!
Finances with Purpose says
I have found every job I ever had through personal connections. There’s no substitute for it. But yes, it has limitations, especially if you’re looking to transition to a completely different area or specialty.