Job Search Strategies: or, why just applying won’t cut it anymore

So, everyone knows how you get a job, right?  You write a nice resume and cover letter, and you look for job openings on the internet, and you apply.  Hopefully, someone calls you for an interview, and then you land the job.

Well, in a tough economy, it will take more than that for many people to get a job.  While it’s true that many people really do get jobs by applying online, there are ways to improve your “conversion rate” between applications and interviews, and between interviews and offers.

1. First, become a great candidate.  Start by doing the research on the types of positions you’d like to get.  What skills, abilities, education, and experience are they looking for?  Which of those requirements do you lack?  If you keep noticing a skill that you miss, start right now to build that skill.  Take a class, volunteer somewhere you can build that skill, ask for new assignments at your current job. 

2. Second, look like who they want– in every respect.  That means knowing, in detail, what kind of resume and cover letter they want to see, answering the phone in the manner they want to hear when they call you for an interview, and dressing the part when you show up.  Read the job descriptions scrupulously and tailor your resume and cover letter to match.  Scrutinize job descriptions for those factors they list first, and especially those they mention repeatedly in the description. 

2a. When “looking the part”, little things count: I once applied for a position that required a paper application.  Instead of shoving my resume and cover letter into a regular envelope, my husband insisted that I go out and buy nice 9×12 envelopes so my letter wouldn’t be folded.  I later noticed that the career services website of the organization to which I was applying specifically mentioned that you should never fold your resume when mailing it!  I’m sure not folding the resume was a factor in my receiving the interview.

3. Get organized.  Get your networking contacts into an organized system and keep notes on what you’ve talked about and what next steps you need to take.  Use whatever tool works best for you: Excel, Act!, Outlook,, a rolodex and notepad.  Just keep track of everywhere you’ve applied, everyone you’ve talked to, everyone you’ve met at a job fair.  Try not to let things fall through the cracks.  Stay focused: put aside a special time each week (or each day) where you sit down and do at least one thing for your job search.  Make yourself a specific goal: apply to 3 jobs per day.  Meet 3 new people each week.  Attend 1 networking event per week.  Sounds daunting, but these are all absolutely achievable goals if you are serious about your search.  To stay motivated, try keeping notes on what you’ve been doing; or find a job search “buddy” to meet with once per week and compare what you’ve done.

4. Build your reputation.  Build a cadre of raving fans.  Get people to say nice things about you–unsolicited.  In everything you do, leave behind a trail of people who have had positive encounters with you.  Make sure people are glad to see you coming– not annoyed.  How?  Start by being positive in all your interactions.  Be polite, friendly, and enthusiastic.  Again, little things matter.  How nice you are to the administrative person who schedules your interview will be a factor in the hiring decision.  Here’s an open secret: if a student impresses me as friendly, positive, hard-working, and motivated, I will sometimes give them an unsolicited recommendation for jobs.  I don’t have to do this.  People can always apply on their own.  But if someone impresses me enough, I’ll recommend them–something that I hope means something to the recruiters I work with.

5. Build a cadre of human job search agents–people who will alert you when jobs you’re suited for arrive.  As a student, your career center can help with this– they run into jobs every day, and if you refresh their memory of who you are by saying hello from time to time, they will try to send you the postings that fit you best.  But they’re serving hundreds of students and alumni.  So, enlist others.  The last 3 jobs I got were due to human job search agents: my mother sent me the listing of the job I got in 1998 (clipped from Chronicle of Higher Education); a colleague told me about the job I got in 2001; and a networking contact told me about the job I have now.  Human job search agents can be family, friends, professors, networking contacts–anyone who can keep a lookout for you.

6.  Build the best kind of raving fan, job search agent, and mentor: a person within the organization you want to work for who will say something nice about you.  Much as a positive note from a professor or career counselor might help, imagine how much more powerful it is for you to get a positive push from someone within the place you want to work.  Network you way into to the place you’d like to be, and try to make the best impression possible.

7.  Follow up.  Follow up again.  Follow up with your networking contacts and keep them in the loop on your search.  Call on the phone, send an email, link on, do what it takes so they remember you.  Unless the job posting says “no calls”, try to call to follow up on your application.  If you are calling to follow up on an application or an interview, do it in a positive way.  Please, don’t just ask “did you get my resume?”  This just makes the person on the other end dig through paperwork. Unless you’ve just faxed your resume 30 seconds ago and want to confirm receipt, don’t ask this.  Instead, just call to say that you have applied, tell them (in 20 seconds) how excited you are about the position and why you think you’d be a great fit for it, and ask one or two simple questions, like– do you know when you might be taking the next step?  Thank them for their time and move on.

8. If you can’t land the perfect job right now, find something as close as possible.  A recent grad I know took a job at FEMA because he wants to do international development.  Huh??  Well, building specific technical skills in emergency management is applicable for his future job search.  And meanwhile, he’s inside the Beltway, and can make a million networking connections in DC, where many of the international development jobs live.  I had a student once who wanted to work for Major League Baseball.  You can only imagine how competitive it is to land a job there.  So, she started with a marketing internship; moved to another; did a third at NASCAR; a fourth with the local minor league baseball team; and kept networking with contacts at the NFL.  Now she works for the Red Sox. 

Keep on keeping on, keep being enthusiastic and positive, and keep networking.  Easy advice, especially when the wolf is at your door, I know– but it works!

4 thoughts on “Job Search Strategies: or, why just applying won’t cut it anymore

  1. First time I’ve been to your blog – great advice that just gets better as you go on. It’s really sad how many young people think they can get a job simply by applying and waiting. I’ve not heard of that ever working.
    And for those of us who are employed, let’s remember how hard job hunting is and be that helper-mentor for others.

  2. Pingback: You Have the Power » Blog Archive » Job Search Strategies: Or, Why Just Applying Won’T Cut it Anymore …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s