Why Your Online Job Search Strategy Is Failing You (And How To Fix It)
If you’re looking for a new job and haven’t received a lot of bites from the online applications you’ve sent, you’re not alone.
Waking up to an empty inbox after emailing countless resumes can be frustrating and demoralizing, which can further hinder your job search efforts. And although a weak consolation, it may be helpful to know it’s not your fault. Unfortunately, the odds are against you in an online search. Here are some stats you need to know:
- An online job ad receives about 250 resumes on average (with top brands like Google receiving up to 3,000,000 per year). From these 250 applications, about 2% receive interviews according to Workopolis (only 0.2% at Google get hired and usually only with an internal referral).
- 98% of Fortune 500 companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) according to Jobscan, which often weed out 75% of applications before they reach human eyes, sometimes for irrelevant reasons like the way your resume is formatted.
- One study found as many as 50% of jobs are filled internally before even making it to the public eye. Some of these jobs are posted online to fulfill legal requirements, but an external candidate has little chance of landing the role.
- According to the Career Pivot, referrals have a 50% shot of getting an interview whereas for non-referrals, that drops to just 3%. In fact, Jobvite shares that 40% of hires come from the referral pool, which is only 7% of applicants.
- Data reported by the Career Sherpa showed over 60% of job seekers recommended by a current employee were hired. That number increased to 91% if the referral came from a director-level employee or above.
- Up to 70% of jobs are never posted, which means the only way to learn about them is through a connection.
Taken together, it’s clear networking has a distinct advantage over online applications. However, networking isn’t a speedy process. Building relationships takes time and if you’re in a dire situation, you may feel this isn’t an option (yet, you already have a network and it may be more robust and helpful than you realize – see here).
So, your best bet may be a combined approach – spend time cultivating your network while also strategically applying to open roles you find posted on the internet. Here’s a step-by-step process to get started:
- Update your LinkedIn. Whether you’re building new connections or conducting an online search, your LinkedIn profile will be one of the first stops most people make to get to know you. Ensure you have a professional photo, results-oriented “About” section that connects your strengths to the outcomes you provide and brand alignment with your target career goal. This will not only clearly communicate to others what value you provide to the marketplace but also may help recruiters and others looking to hire to find you! Bonus step: While you’re at it, clean up your social media, removing questionable content that may cause an employer to think twice about hiring you.
- Build your LinkedIn connections. One of the most overlooked advantages of building a robust list of 1st level contacts on LinkedIn is how this exponentially increases your 2nd level connections. It’s often these 2nd level contacts who lead to job opportunities. Scroll through your text messages or emails to find people you may not yet have connected with on LinkedIn. Consider dormant contacts – those former colleagues, old neighbors, college friends, etc. you’ve lost touch with over the years – and send a personalized message asking to re-connect. Don’t discount people you see a few times each year like your dental hygienist, accountant, or barber. You never know who may be in someone’s network. Bonus step: Reach out to recruiters who work for companies on your target list, with a brief personalized message of what you value about their organization.
- Create your target company list. Even if you’re applying to roles online, you don’t want to only be reactive to what pops up in your search. It’s helpful to be proactive by creating a list of companies you’re interested in and immersing yourself in learning about their market updates, searching your contacts (1st and 2nd level) for who you may know (or wish to meet), and watching their progress to anticipate hiring needs. Follow your top companies on social media and create Google alerts to stay updated without losing a lot of time. Bonus step: Steve Dalton’s “2-Hour Job Search” is a methodical, detailed process for building a robust target company list.
- Follow up. Taking a one and done approach to applying to jobs online will mean a lot of waiting and little progress. Identify the recent roles you’ve applied to and begin to search for your 1st and 2nd level contacts for connections. Then, reach out to ask for advice or insight on how you can make your application more competitive. Also, don’t hesitate to send a brief, diplomatic message to the recruiter (or hiring manager if you can find that information on LinkedIn, which you often can), to let them know you’ve applied for the job and are interested in the opportunity to share more about your background. This may prompt them to review your LinkedIn profile (which is now a fantastic representation of the value you offer to their industry), and even potentially get you fished out of the ATS abyss if your application landed there. In the online hiring game, you need every advantage, so don’t be a passive bystander. Bonus step: If you find a connection willing to shepherd your application directly to the hiring manager or HR, ask. There may even be an employee referral bonus in it for them if you get hired.
- Write to the machine. While you may be tempted to use creative formatting to make your resume stand out, the online application isn’t the place to demonstrate your skill with specialized fonts and fancy templates. Since most companies use Application Tracking Systems (ATS), without a direct referral you’ll be at the whim of the technology. There are several different ATS platforms with some of the more popular being Taleo, iCIMS, Jobvite, and Workday. Pay attention to the file type needed (e.g., if they ask for a .pdf, don’t submit a Word doc), and use keywords from the job description. Bonus step: Confirm your resume was received. Although having an internal employee shepherd it to the hiring manager is best, emailing the recruiter (LinkedIn is also acceptable, although I wouldn’t recommend an actual invite at this early stage) to politely verify receipt is completely acceptable and may be the difference between getting an interview or receiving an autogenerated rejection.
- Include a compelling cover letter. You may have seen mixed reviews on this step. A popular data point circulating is only 7% of cover letters are read but remember that’s out of the 25% that make it through the ATS. Plus, I’ll let you in on a secret – your cover letter will only get read if your resume passes muster, so that’s another reason the statistic may be so low. Once it’s determined you have the skills to move to the next round, a recruiter will want to learn a bit more about why you’re looking. The cover letter serves this purpose, and a tailored one will increase your chances of getting an interview. Bonus step: Skip the generic cover letter. It’s obvious if you don’t invest and will reflect poorly. If you’re applying to so many roles you don’t have time to tailor the letter, then it may be wise to re-evaluate your approach. You may be throwing spaghetti at the wall just to see what sticks and this is an obvious (and disliked) strategy to recruiters and a waste of time for you.
- Have a different conversation with the people you know. While building new relationships takes time, you already have a group of family, friends, and others in the community who already love and trust you. And, they’d likely be happy to help you succeed in your career. Be specific about what you’re looking for, including company names or people in their network you’d like to be introduced to. The people closest to you are likely regularly asking about your search, so don’t change the subject or shy away from this conversation. Actively be ready for this question with an ask. While your friends don’t have jobs falling out of their pockets, they do have connections you don’t know. Bonus step: Compile a personal board of directors to assist with your search. Perhaps you have 3 – 4 friends or family members who are open to help and able to be objective. They can give you feedback on your resume, partner with you on mock interviews and keep an eye out for potential opportunities. The average tenure in a role is about 4.2 years, so you can offer to return the favor when it’s their turn to make a pivot.
- Use your time wisely. You’ve likely heard, “finding a new job is a full-time job” and that can feel pretty true. Since we all have a finite amount of time and energy, divvy up your resources wisely by spending more time building your connections and relationships than applying online. Not only will you increase your odds on the online jobs you apply for when you’re able to begin to find referrals, but you’ll open up your options to opportunities that may never make it to the internet. Bonus step: Carve out some of your time to assist others, whether in their job search or with other challenges. Generosity is one of the best ways to build relationships.