Many years ago, I was hired into a part-time position with a large organization. My role was incredibly specific and limited in scope. Within my first month on the job, there was a change to my department’s strategy and budget, and my immediate supervisor suddenly needed a Project Manager.
We discussed the position and decided I would be a good fit: I had Project Management experience, industry expertise, and could lead a small team. It was a seamless process that unfolded according to the ideal: get a foot in the door, prove yourself, grow with the company.
When my supervisor went to HR to reclassify me into my new position, we found that organizational policy required the position be publicly posted for at least a few weeks. So they kicked it back to my supervisor, who in turn kicked it to me. I wrote the job description for my position, and then sent it off to HR. I requested the job be posted for the minimum allowable time.
In case you didn’t catch that: I wrote my own job description. For a position I’d already been offered. And then sent it to HR, so the general public could apply.
Applications started rolling in. Because I’d written the ad to ensure that I was “most qualified” for the role, none of the other applicants even came close. Except for one. A person with a similar path and comparable qualifications. But they never got an interview because the job was already mine.
This kind of thing happens more often than most people realize.
I just had a client land a new position in a similar way: she networked her way into an informational meeting with a C-level executive. Then she got passed along to a department that was a good fit for her skill set. She had casual interviews with some managers. They eventually created a position for her. And then posted the position online, so she could officially apply. She got the offer shortly after completing the online application. The application was a formality. A box that needed to be checked.
I don’t know how many other people saw that position, got their hopes up, and applied. But my client was offered the job without having to go through any additional interviews and without facing any market competition. By the time the job posting went public, it was already hers.
The job ad can also be a lie when an internal candidate has already been identified. Or when a job is posted “until filled” – so while you’re working on your Cover Letter, the company has already finished interviewing and is negotiating the offer with their candidate of choice. And sometimes, there isn’t even a position – they’re just resume fishing to see who’s out there.
You don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. It’s dangerous and disheartening to pin your hopes to an online job ad.
I hear from job seekers all the time who are excited and anxious because they’ve found their dream job posted online. They believe that if they can phrase things perfectly and get the application in on time, they stand a strong chance of getting the job.
Sometimes this is true. Many of us (myself included) have applied to positions cold and gotten interviews and offers. It does happen. But it’s a ridiculously inefficient way to job search. The best response rate you can expect from this method is about 50%. Half the time you’re getting excited and spending hours applying, the job has already been offered to someone else and your efforts are futile.
So what can you do?
There are two things that both get better results and keep your spirits high.
1. Dramatically minimize the time and effort you devote to online applications .
Reduce your searching to a couple sites. Indeed.com and one or two industry-specific sites. There is tremendous redundancy and very little exclusive content out there. Stop spinning your wheels trying to unearth the best postings.
Customize but don’t agonize… about your Resume & Cover Letter. Yes, you should adapt and tweak your marketing materials for each and every target, but this should not be something that keeps you up at night. Get into the habit of making your edits in around 20 minutes.
Moderate your expectations. Online applications are an essential part of the job search process, but should not be your primary strategy.
2. Spend the vast majority of your time and energy on your relationships.
Hiring activity is highly subjective (despite great advances in Industrial/Organizational Psychology) and hinges on relationships. Rather than spending hours each day staring at a screen, use that time to do things like:
- Meet a former colleague for a drink
- Attend a lecture, conference, or professional association meeting
- Reach out to a mentor to ask for guidance
- Work on a pro-bono or freelance project to gain connections
- Volunteer for an organization where you can leverage your most marketable skills
- Take a class and learn a new skill (and talk to your classmates & instructor)
- Take on a leadership role in a community group
- Play Frisbee golf, join a book club, or participate in a beach cleanup
- Get a little weird and creative
These activities all foster connection with other people, which in turn leads to introductions, opportunities, and access to the elusive “hidden job market.” I know this is easier said than done. There are no short-cuts or quick fix solutions for building a network and snagging an amazing position. Building relationships takes time and requires authenticity. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And it looks different for every person. If the idea of networking makes you break out in a cold sweat, or you can’t figure out how to connect without feeling like you’re asking for a handout, get in touch with me.
There is a solution to the networking puzzle for each and every one of us. And it always starts with turning off the screen and leaving your house to interact with other grown-ups.