“I apply to tens of positions every day. I haven’t had an interview in months. What am I doing wrong?”
I hear this pretty often. I’m both a career coach and an HR consultant. That means that I spend part of my time helping organizations and businesses find candidates for their job openings, and part of my time helping professionals of all kinds figure out their next career move.
It’s a unique place to be, because while I advise my coaching clients on how best get past a routine CV submission process and into the interview roster, at the same time I know what it’s like to set up a job search only to find candidates trying anything and everything to get noticed, often ignoring the application process that I have so carefully set up and spelled out.
If you are in the market for a new job, you probably spend at least some of each day scanning job posts and submitting you CV. In fact, with so many online avenues to review for new jobs, it is possible to spend almost all your time doing just that. And since most of those submissions don’t actually bear fruit, you may find yourself investing almost 100% of your time in your job search, and getting exactly nowhere. Which can be demoralizing, to say the least. On the other hand, job seekers are often advised to break through the established process at any price. This approach usually will not win you any friends in the hiring company, and probably won’t land you an interview either.
Happily, there is another way.
Systematic connections and requests
Simply put, the best way to break through an application process and get noticed is through a personal recommendation. The problem is that many of us don’t know the hiring manager or his/her colleagues personally. So how do you go about getting recommended under those circumstances?
Make a list of the people you know (or have a connection with through family, friends or colleagues even if you have not met in person), who either work in your field or are connected to people who are senior or hiring in your field.
Every day, make a set number of connections with people on the list — say two connections a day. Reach out to them (how you do this will depend on the relationship, including whether you try for a coffee meeting, a phone call or an email exchange). In general, the more direct and interpersonal the encounter is, the more likely that the person will feel committed to helping you.
In your interaction, besides displaying interest in them and briefly sharing your own professional experience, ask them to do one thing for you, and be specific. For example, you could ask them to make an email introduction to the hiring manager at their company, or you could ask them to give your CV to their colleague that you know is hiring. Make sure the thing you are asking for is something they can do, and that it won’t take them out of their comfort zone. Politely and respectfully follow up if you do not see that your request has been carried out within a week.
Each request will generate more job seeking tasks, from setting up meetings with senior professionals at a workplace that is hiring to following up with the HR person your connection introduced you to and submitting your CV to them directly. If you stick with the program, you will be much more likely to land interviews and become a candidate for relevant job opportunities.
Judicious job search and applications
Any job seeker should be spending a set amount of time daily scanning the internet for relevant opportunities; however it’s easy to get lost in the sea of information. So the first thing to do is define where you are going to look. Select those sites and groups that have large memberships, post new jobs daily, and are specific to your field.
If you see a job that is a good fit for you, first review your CV and tweak it to make your relevant professional experience and skills clear and easy to find. Next, check if you have any inside connections or contacts who might be able to submit your candidacy for you. A recommendation from a trusted colleague will definitely give you an edge over other applicants. However, even when you apply through a contact, respect the hiring companies’ requirements and give them what they have asked for, whether it’s a resume, a writing sample or a reference.
Familiarity breeds contempt, at least among hiring managers
Workplaces that are hiring set up their application process for a reason: they are busy, and they want to be efficient and organized in their search. That is why they request CVs and sometimes work samples and references, before actually inviting a candidate for an interview.
If you attempt to bypass the process without any legitimate reason — such as the recommendation of a colleague within the company — you will usually end up antagonizing the already harassed hiring manager or HR professional. There are few things that are more exasperating to the professional running a candidate search than a phone call from a stranger, saying that they want to introduce themselves and tell you why they are a perfect fit for the job, or else asking questions about the position, while ignoring the application procedure you have set in place to makes things work most efficiently for all concerned.
Coming from both sides of the table (or the email, as the case may be), the best advice I can offer is to be proactive in ways that will both be appreciated and get you the results you want. A combination of wise networking, asking for what you want from your contacts, and respecting the process and requirements of the hiring team will pave the most direct route to an interview, and from there hopefully to an offer, and a new position.