Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

How to Apply for Fewer Jobs (But Land More Interviews)


It’s common knowledge that job searching is a numbers game. The more applications you send out, the better shot you have at getting a job, right?

Well, not exactly.

When it comes to the job search—and really, in all areas of life—I’m a firm believer that less is more.

As a career and life coach for Millennials, I’ve had numerous clients waste their time playing out some variation on the following scenario:

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you’re feeling motivated to submit applications for all of the positions you bookmarked the week prior. So, you spend hours cranking through countless resume tweaks, cover letters, and application forms. By dinnertime, you’re feeling like a productivity rock star, certain the requests for interviews will roll in over the next couple of weeks.

Except, they don’t; at least, not in the flood you were hoping for. Worse, you hear nothing from the one or two companies you were super excited about.

So, you diligently devote another Sunday afternoon to a new set of applications—and the cycle starts again.

While it seems logical to send out applications for jobs that fit your experience and skill set en masse, it can get tiresome. And, more importantly, it’s not efficient.

So, I’m here to suggest a different approach.

Introducing: The “9-Out-of-10” Rule

I advise my clients to use the 9-Out-of-10 Rule when it comes to their job search. Essentially, if a job does not rank as a 9 out of 10 in terms of both your level of excitement and competency, then it’s not worth applying to.

This approach was inspired by Greg McKeown’s “90 Percent Rule,” which he introduces in his book Essentialism. McKeown writes:

As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.

Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life?

Why is the “9-Out-of-10” Rule More Effective Than the Old Way?

It’s all about quality over quantity. The greatest value in this approach is that, while you’re applying to fewer jobs, you’re producing higher quality applications. Think about it: If you had two hours, you could send out 10 generic applications—or two, really incredible individualized applications. And that will naturally lead to better results.

Additionally, when you’re applying to a select, few jobs that you’re truly excited about, then your enthusiasm will shine through. And when faced with candidates with identical qualifications, employers will often look for the person with passion for the position.

You’ll stay motivated longer, too. When you spend hours upon hours applying to a long list of jobs, you’ll naturally be denied by a certain percentage of the companies (perhaps never hearing back from them). Even the best of us can’t help but feel somewhat discouraged after repeated rejections. So, by limiting the numbers of jobs you’re applying to—and, more importantly, only applying to the most relevant, energizing job opportunities—you’ll get fewer rejections and stay motivated longer.

Moreover, you’ll be genuinely excited when you hear back from employers, instead of having mixed emotions about whether you actually want the job in the first place.

Let’s See it in Action

I recently worked with a client in the finance industry who was desperate to leave her high-pressure job and find something that would allow her the more balanced, healthy lifestyle she was craving.

She was applying to around 10 jobs per week, getting very few responses (and even fewer interviews).

When I introduced her to the “9-Out-of-10 Rule,” she was understandably scared. She was ready to leave her job ASAP, and this approach seemed like it would take forever. But she agreed to try it for one month. If it didn’t work, she would go back to her old way of applying to jobs.

All month, she reluctantly skipped over the jobs she would rank at a seven or eight, and applied to only five positions, all of which she was extremely excited about. By week three, she had interviews lined up for three out of the five positions, and one of the companies offered her a job before the month was over.

An “Essentialist,” as McKeown calls those who deliberately do less to get more, “says yes to only the top 10 percent of opportunities.” You deserve to do the same.