There’s almost never a simple formula when it comes to which candidate goes the distance in a job search, and which one struggles for weeks or months (or even years) to find that perfect connection.
So many things factor into the decisions over who lands the interviews, and who scores an offer, that it would simply be careless to sit here and suggest, “Hey folks! Do X, Y, and Z and you’ll be all set!” However, there are a few key things that separate job seekers who are consistently successful from those who flounder. Here are four of them:
1. They Don’t Rely 100% (or Even 90%) on Online Applications
I’ve worked with some mighty frustrated people over the last several years. The most overwhelmed and discouraged are often those who arrive on my doorstep after applying for dozens—sometimes even hundreds—of jobs with very little response.
In almost every instance, these folks have deployed one and only one strategy:
Sit at computer and rocket out online application after application after application.
I could sit here and talk for an hour about the reasons why this isn’t a great idea (the resume scanning software is not your friend, your resume may never make it to a human, you’re entering the equation as a commodity). The bottom line—it’s not a smart strategy to do nothing more than apply through blind applications.
What Can You Do Instead?
Consider, at the very least, a one-two strategy: Sure, go ahead and apply for that job via the company website. In fact, many larger companies require that every applicant (even those coming in as referrals) all come in through that main portal. However, don’t call ’er done once you hit that “send” button. After applying, head over to LinkedIn and see if you have any direct connections (or second degree connections to whom you could be introduced) working at the organization of interest.
Now would be a good time to get in touch with that person. Say hey. See if he or she has any information about the opportunity, or willingness to put you directly in touch with an internal recruiter or the hiring manager herself. Remember, someone in the competition is going to have a direct “in” with this company. Strive in every instance to have that someone be you.
2. They Understand the Competition, and Come Ready to Play Hardball
Speaking of the competition. You’ll likely have plenty, for pretty much any role you pursue. Size them up, especially if you aren’t a smack-in-the-forehead obvious fit for this job (as far as your resume goes). What skills and experience will they likely come to the table with? In what ways does your background outshine theirs? Do you have areas of weakness? If yes, how can you strategize around these? What can you bring to that job that no one else can, even if they’re the perfect on-paper match?
How Do You Make This Instantly Clear?
If you can find and cultivate an “in” within this organization, you may then create an opportunity to discuss directly how and why you will be a great asset in this role. If you don’t have the luxury of a direct contact, use your cover letter to your advantage. Study the job description and think about what the most important qualifications are for this position. Then explain what, specifically, you can walk through their doors and deliver.
3. They Know the Value of First Impressions (and They Strive to Make a Good One)
Successful job seekers understand that, throughout the search (and, throughout their entire careers for that matter), one of their primary jobs is as a marketer. They are marketers, and the product they are marketing is themselves. It’s safe to assume that these contenders are going to bust out their A-games each and every time they step up to the plate.
How Can You Respond?
Set the bar. Be the gold standard when it comes to the first impression, whether that’s via a face-to-face introduction or through your application. Now is the time to think about your body language, your handshake, your cover letter opening lines, and your resume bullet points. If you half-ass the effort, don’t expect amazing results. Let it sink far, far into your brain that you are competing with people who are killing it on first impressions. Why not flip the script and be the one everyone else is intimidated by?
4. They Aren’t Obvious WIIFMs
The winners in the game of job search aren’t WIIFMs (“What’s in it for me?”). They come to the interview prepared to explore what the organization needs, and discuss how they can add immediate value.
Successful job seekers understand that businesses are typically in business to make money. They realize that the job for which they are interviewing is probably open because this company needs someone to come in and solve problems, optimize processes, drive revenue, or make the hiring manager’s life easier. It’s not open so that the person they hire can live out her lifelong dream to work there, or have a nicer car, house, or vacation timeshare.
How Can You Avoid Being a WIIFM?
Obviously, you’re going to want to make sure this job is right for you, and that you’ll get what you need out of the relationship. I’m certainly not suggesting you don’t matter in this equation. But the “What’s in it for me?” questions are best received after you know the company is quite interested in you.
Commit to making the early interviews about who you are professionally and why you’re a great fit. Save the questions specific to what you want out of the deal (compensation, vacation, perks) for further along in the conversation.
There are few who will ever say, “I just love the job search. It’s so exhilarating!” (I actually laughed as I typed that.) The hunt’s almost always arduous and stressful. By employing some of the secrets of successful people though, you may accelerate the time between now and your first day at that great new company. And that’s never a bad thing.
So really, if you’re going to take the time to do it, take the time to be really good at it.