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The job application process… and how to break through!

image In this job market, it seems many job seekers have moved to Egypt… to the State of De-Nile!

They believe they can simply apply to job after job online, and through that process they will get a job. Although most of them instinctively know what the reality of that process is in today’s market, few change how they pursue that new position. Hopefully, by making today’s reality clear in this article, in black & white, some job seekers will wake up and realize they may need to try a different approach.

So… you see a job posting online that you like… and you decide to apply. What’s going on behind the scenes?

If the position is at a large company, chances are great that no one will see your resume or online application at all. Your submission doesn’t go to someone’s email or land on anyone’s desk, but rather goes into a database. Chances are you are one of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people that applied in the same way (one large company I know receives 750 to 1200 applicants for every online posting).

Periodically an internal recruiter searches the database by keywords related to that role, or if the online application included a questionnaire, they look to see which submissions scored highest.

If your resume didn’t include the specific keywords they entered in their search, your entry doesn’t pop up. For example, if they key in the word ‘Supervisor’ as a search term, and your resume only says ‘Manager’, they will never see your resume. If you didn’t score 100% on their questionnaire, they will also not see your file. Out of hundreds of applicants, invariably at least a few will score perfectly.

A friend of mine who is an Executive VP at a large company tells of an experience where he was trying to help someone get an interview for an open position. He had her apply online, and then also took her resume to the internal recruiter working on that position. Even though the recruiter respected the VP, he wasn’t interested in talking to the candidate. He said that she scored 85% on the questionnaire, however, he had 16 candidates out of the nearly 750 that applied that scored a perfect 100%! Should he present someone less qualified to the hiring manager? (The referral did ultimately get the job… more on that later).

If you applied to a small or mid-size company, chances are they haven’t invested in a sophisticated applicant tracking system, so they do look through emails or printed resumes. However, it’s typical, even in a small company, that they will get 300-600 applicants for a posting. The Recruiter or Hiring Manager looks at the volume and their goal is to eliminate as many of those applicants as quickly as possible to reduce that pile down to 3 to 6 people they might call. In that scenario, they might scan a resume visually for 10 to 15 seconds looking for any reason to put them into the ‘NO’ pile. (And there isn’t enough time in the day to reply to the hundreds of people rejected to let them know they are no longer being considered.)

Although you might like to believe that when you apply, someone is reading every word trying to see how they can best use you in their organization. The reality is, their goal is to eliminate you from consideration as quickly as possible in the hopes that a small handful of candidates remain to pursue further.

In this market, they are not looking for the proverbial ‘Needle in the Haystack’, but rather they are trying to figure out the best needle in a stack of needles scattered within that haystack!

When hundreds of people apply for a position, certainly they are not all qualified. MOST of them scan job postings and think “I can do that!” They go ahead and apply whether they are really qualified or not hoping they may get lucky, and they feel they’ve had a productive day because they applied to 10, or 20, or 50 new jobs. When they are competing with maybe dozens of people that not only can do the job, but probably have actually done it, they will certainly not get a call. However they definitely make the selection process much more difficult. Among the applicants are the ones that have ‘been there and done that’ struggling to get noticed out of the tsunami of unqualified resumes.

I lead an 8-week job search class a few times each year. I often hear participants tell me they felt productive that week because they applied to ‘X’ number jobs. Part of my task is to gently make it clear that applying to countless jobs in this market is a colossal waste of time!

So how do you break out of that reality and start a more effective strategy in your job search? How did the woman in my example above get the job at the large company even though she wasn’t a perfect fit?

Networking and Direct Contact!

My friend at that large company bypassed the recruiter and went directly to the hiring manager. He told him, that although he knew several qualified people had applied, he recommended the hiring manager talk to this one as well. The candidate got the hiring managers name from my friend, and made an additional phone call on her own behalf. She was professional, polished, and practiced. She made a positive impression, got the interview, and later got the job. She would have never received a call from the recruiter, but took matters in her own hands and found success.

Especially in this market… if you don’t go the extra mile to find someone in the organization to talk to... anyone… the likelihood of getting a call is minute. Even talking to someone unrelated to the role will likely get you further than simply applying and waiting. How do you make those calls? You can find some help here: “I’ve got a contact name! Now what?”

Applying online makes you no more than a piece of data, just like the hundreds of others that did the same. A voice on the phone, hearing a true professional, will make a connection that is much more difficult to discard than an email or piece of paper.

I know that stepping away from the computer and actually calling someone you don’t know may be intimidating. However, it will likely make the difference between getting an interview or not. Decide if it’s more important to conduct your search only within your comfort zone… or to get a job!

Get out there! Stop denying the reality of this market, and do the things necessary to break through the crowd and get noticed. Out of 700 applicants… someone is taking the extra steps… make sure it’s you!


John Smetana said...

The problem with the internet is that it creates a false sense of security: I won't feel the rejection and I am anonymous. Whether you apply online and don't get hired or network and make contact with real human beings and don't get hired, isn't the result the same!?!

Ask yourself this, what is worth more: 100 new relationships or your resume in 100 databases? If you manage those 100 new relationships correctly and professionally, you won't have enough hours in day to reach everyone in your new network because it grows exponentially with or without your direct effort.

For me, when I wimp out on doing what I know that I should do, it haunts me and negatively eats at my psyche. HOWEVER, when I do something out of my comfort zone, I feel better and more confident about myself because I am maintaining control of my destiny!

ryan mcmillan said...


I love this post because it gives job seekers a "behind the scenes" view of the online submittal process. It also gives them a true view of where their resumes are actually going and what their chances are of making it through this time wasting process.

Keep up the good work!

Ryan McMillan

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Ken Forrester said...

Nice post..this answers all the questons that cause job seeker burn-out and resume fatiuge. The ease of appying for many job gives a false sense of security of one's marketability. It is no different that a kid thinking he is a good ballplayer because he plays good in the video game. Creativity is the new normal for job search effectiveness.

North Family Arizona said...

I completely agree with everything here. It's exactly the same in any business marketing. Innovation is the key. If you don't do something different than everyone else than you'll just be a part of the crowd.

Marion or Lucy What a crap comment! Come on and no I won't click on your link!!! Stay Classy!

Kristen Fife said...

I am a Senior Tech Recruiter in Seattle, and a former career columnist for the Seattle Times..

Some good points here, but I would like to expand. 1) Due to several different federal compliance laws, candidates generally *must* apply online, so thinking that you can bypass that step is a misconception. 2) Due to those same compliance issues, if you are not qualified for a specific position, you *cannot legally be considered as a viable applicant.* 3) As was stated, the way to make sure you are a viable candidate is to make sure your keyword searching is to match keywords. Try for 3x per keyword on your resume. Remember, a bunch of words used as "competencies" ARE NOT keywords. They must be contextual as it relates to your career. 4) LinkedIn is the preferred way to contact most hiring managers and recruiters; often a job will be posted on LI with a link for you to contact the recruiter or HM directly.

Anonymous said...

1. I disagree with Kristen Fafe. My husband got hired by a Seattle company with 1000 employees without submitting any online application or showing them a resume at all. He got the job through networking. Federal hiring laws are not always followed by employers. Selecting candidates through online key words does not provide them with good job candidates. It forces candidates to use such key words even if they don't have the KSA for the job and they are mostly not qualified but played the system.
2. I was also hired by a public community college through networking. I submitted an online resume or wrote that pointless cover letter. The school had to post the job but that was a week after they had me on their list. After I was already hired the department manager told me to bring a paper resume so she can give something to the HR so they can have something on file.

People, start your own business, go and volunteer somewhere and don't waste your time applying for jobs online. Hiring managers must keep their own jobs and will tell you anything to keep their own jobs but do not fell in their trap so they show as important to their own companies.

Unknown said...

This is something that online job seekers should know. This is the present trend, we can never stop them from using this mode of application. all we can do is to propose something that would improve the services that are being used. In addition, I have a related post that might somehow support this article's argument, it can be found on power of referrals to your blog posts

Anonymous said...

I don't know what Kristin Fife is talking about. There is no federal law that forces companies to make people apply online, and there is no federal law that prevents companies from hiring whom they wish, and how they wish.

Great blog, Harry! Very useful info. Thank You.

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