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Quality, Not Quantity: Why Employers Prefer Targeted Job Applications

We all know that searching for a job can be frustrating, and that sending in applications is only the start of a process that can include a lot of waiting.

And waiting…

And waiting…

And then, well—maybe you never hear back.

In this all-too-familiar scenario, lots of people may wonder what has happened to their application. Has a human being even seen it, or was it lost in some mechanical process?

The curious case of the job application robot

Recently, I read an interesting article by a director of a national nonprofit who was searching for a new challenge. He applied to multiple job openings at well-known tech companies, but soon began to suspect that robots, aka “applicant tracking systems” were “reading” most of his applications.

Eventually he grew so frustrated by the long silences and the lack of a human response that he decided to take radical action. Fighting fire with fire, he designed a robot of his own.

The “contraption of crawlers, spreadsheets and scripts” aggregated hiring managers’ contact information and then submitted a customized email with a resume and personal cover letter to those hiring managers.

It also tracked how many times his cover letter, resume or social media profile was viewed, as well as email responses from employers. In total, the robot applied to more than 500 jobs over a three month period.

So this leads to the big question: Did this amazing job application robot work? The short answer, unfortunately, is no.

Resist the urge to bombard recruiters with applications

Now the truth is that at an executive level, referrals play a big role in job applications. But at any level, the “spray and pray” approach is unlikely to work.

It’s easy to understand why candidates might feel that they should apply to as many jobs as possible to maximize their chances of landing an interview.

However, if you look at it from the side of the recruiter who is overwhelmed with resumes to sort through every day, then it’s easy to understand why it doesn’t work.

In fact, Indeed data shows that people with the highest number of applications are far less likely – 39% less likely – to receive a positive response from employers.

It’s much more effective to write targeted applications, custom made for the jobs you are interested in. Once you’ve identified a job to apply for, your main goal should be to make it clear to a potential employer why you are a great fit.

Four steps to help you land the job

What can help you stand out from the crowd? Here are four tips to help you make your applications more targeted.

Be honest with yourself – The most important thing you can do to improve your chances is to carefully evaluate each job you’re applying for to ensure a good fit. Be honest with yourself and ask: 1) Are you qualified to do the job? and 2) Do you actually want to do this job?                      

Here’s what a recruiter thinks when he or she receives applications for every job at their company: You haven’t actually read the job descriptions. Trust me, it’s not a good look. This doesn’t mean you can’t apply to more than one job at a time – just make sure they are all jobs you are interested in and qualified for. 

Screen and apply to each job with care – Quality is more important than quantity, so focus on crafting a few high-quality applications by reading the entire job description, ensuring you can demonstrate the required skills and qualifications, paying close attention to the application instructions, carefully reading (and answering) all questions on the application and, of course, double-checking your responses before you submit that application.

Stay organized – Successful job seekers approach their search with discipline. Just as if you were studying for an exam or tackling a particularly tricky task at work, set aside enough time to pursue your search methodically, one step at a time. Organize your outreach and keep track of the status of each job application.

Keep a clean resume – Have a “clean” resume on hand that you can alter to fit each job application. For example, adding relevant details or emphasizing past experience to fit a specific job. Don’t just start with the last resume you created for a different job having a clean resume will make applying for jobs more convenient, and thus the job-application process will go more smoothly.

These steps may not sound as high-tech as building a job applying robot, but the more targeted you can be, the better.

Paul Wolfe is SVP of Human Resources at Indeed. A shorter version of this post was published at SHRM.

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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5 Ways to Control Your Job Search (and Accept What You Can’t Control)

It’s exciting when you get the call from a potential employer about an interview for next Tuesday. You spend the weekend preparing for it, ensuring you have extra copies of your resume, going over key interview questions, and picking out the perfect professional attire.

Finally, Tuesday comes, and you head into the interviewer’s office, make eye contact, smile, and speak with confidence. You offer distinct examples of your expertise and how you are the solution to their problems.

Then, it’s over. You breathe a sigh of relief and walk away confident that you’ve made the best impression and you feel confident that you’ll get the job.

But then you receive the call -- they’ve gone with another candidate. You’re devastated. You start by thinking back, replaying every moment of the interview in your mind, and trying to discover what you did wrong. Did you over embellish an example? Were you too forthcoming with information? What could’ve gone wrong?

Would you be surprised if the problem was never really you? Actually, most of the time you’ll find employers don’t hire you not because you weren’t suited, but because there was someone who was better suited for the job.

Stings, doesn’t it? However, this is an example of an element of the job search that you cannot control. Instead of focusing on those factors outside your control, spend your time working on those elements you can control.

Here are 5 things within your control to improve on to ensure you’re well prepared for those future interviews.

#1 Refine your job-hunting efforts

You have to be prepared for all areas of the job search, which requires refining your efforts. Beyond checking job boards daily or looking at the classified ads in the paper, there are ways to make your job search more effective and efficient. Since 70% of recruiters use social media to determine an applicant’s candidacy, your online presence has to match your efforts.

What to do:

  • Update your social profiles: Remove anything that is less than professional, and update your status regularly. Share content that matches the potential employer you’re trying to impress.
  • Look at your network: Networking has become a key part of the job search now, it’s important to have a strong network of contacts in industries where you’d like to work.
  • Improve your personal branding: Are you consistent across all your social platforms with branding that represents your professional offerings? Use keywords that attract the right employers and share relevant content that engages such employers.

Non-controlling element: Remember, you can’t control which companies are hiring or why there isn’t enough availability for the job you want. Employers hire for positions based on need and budget. If their budget can’t cover a specific job, they won’t hire for it. Instead, they’ll probably lump it into another employee’s job responsibilities. Don’t wait for a company to open a job position, keep searching other companies for a similar position.

#2 Search for employers that need your skills/talents

Companies can hire for any position they need, and they may not always hire for your specific skills. If that’s the case, why are you waiting around for them to hire you? It can be tiring, wading through hundreds of job postings only to be disappointed by the current offerings.

What to do:

  • Try creating a list of employers you want to work for that need your skillset. Start with companies you’re familiar with and with places you’d like to work.
  • Research target companies using online resources (LinkedIn) and learn about their immediate needs, problems, and where your skills can make a difference.
  • Gather strong examples of your work and present yourself as the solution to their problems. Figure out what makes you unique and run with it. Don’t falter.

Non-controlling element: Not all jobs will be listed, and some companies only hire for a few major positions at a time. Sometimes, they don’t realize they need your expertise until you present it to them. Keep looking for companies within your industry/career, and reach out when you see an opportunity become available.

#3 Improve your performance and be prepared to sell yourself

The point of an interview is to sell yourself. You want to show ideal employers that you’re the solution to their problems, and that you have the knowledge and skills to make it happen. Before you go into your interview, you need to prepare yourself to make a good impression and to demonstrate your value.

What to do:

  • Understand the company:
    • Do you know the company? The industry?
    • Can you name their culture, brand style, or latest news?
    • Do you know their primary clients and what they offer?

All of this is key to selling yourself correctly by knowing the company to which you are applying.

  • Tell a story: The best marketers use storytelling to sell a product to a potential prospect. Try to imagine yourself as a marketer, selling yourself to a potential employer. When you use storytelling in your interview examples, you have a better chance of holding the interviewer’s interest. And more than that, over 60% of people are likely to remember a story better, especially if it has a major emotional impact on them.
  • Show don’t tell: Go beyond the normal phrases when giving examples of your background or talents. Instead of saying, “I’m a leader,” tell a story about a time you have lead a team to gain attention and show that you are a leader.
    • Try something like, “Successfully led two cross-functional sales and marketing teams to gain an ROI of $25M in less than six months.” This sounds stronger, more interesting, and detailed.

Non-controlling element: It’s a hard truth, but it is impossible to control candidate competition. Sometimes another person will make a better impression than you, or someone else may just be a better fit. But often, you can improve your impact on the interviewer by being enthusiastic, animated, and using storytelling to gain an advantage.

#4 Make yourself visible online

While you want to improve upon your personal brand through your social media profiles, it’s also important to make sure you’re visible online. This doesn’t mean having a Facebook page where you consistently post about your personal life. Your online presence should be visible so that it attracts the eyes of recruiters or hiring managers from companies you’re eager to work for.

What to do:

  • Stay active and engaged online: Say you’re looking for a job in Aerospace Engineering. You should be sharing content related to this job and industry.
  • Track top companies in your target industry: Share content from their blogs or look at their social media profiles to find relevant information to like and share on your own page.
  • Be active in online groups: Demonstrate your expertise by making relevant comments.

Non-controlling element: Because there is so much noise online, it’s not easy to stand out. And more to the point, no one is actively looking for you. You’ve got to stand out and gain the attention of recruiters by any means possible. Get their attention by tagging them in your social media posts.

#5 Don’t let rejection discourage you

Unfortunately, it’s easier to tell someone to not be discouraged than it is to feel it. Rejection hurts, and it’s especially true in the workforce. You need a job to make money to support yourself and perhaps a family. So, when you’re denied for a position, it can be the among worst feelings in the world.

But think of it like this: for every average job posting, there are 250 applicants. No joke. There are hundreds of people in need of work, and many will jump onto a single job posting with the hopes that they’ll be picked.

What you can do:

  • Apply to as many jobs as are available requiring your skillset. Use your research about companies to identify areas where your skills can be applied, and look for jobs targeting those skills. 
  • Always keep applying and networking; even when you get an interview. It’s a never-ending journey, and it takes about six weeks of hard, dedicated work before you’re even offered a job. The goal is to continue moving forward even when you’ve been rejected.

Non-controlling element: Ultimately, the final decision rests with the employer. You can’t control their decision to go with another candidate instead of you. Often, it’s not you that failed to interest them. Sometimes, they just clicked with the other candidate. Or, the other candidate knew just a little bit more about a topic than you did. And most often, you’ll never be told why you weren’t chosen.

Finding and securing a job you want is tough, but it can be done. When you take control of the right elements in your job search, you’ll be in a much better position to land the job of your dreams.

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