Online job applications are killing your career. Here’s how to crush them.
Online job application forms suck.
They suck at identifying the best job candidates for managers.
They suck at presenting the best face of a qualified job candidate.
Their only purpose is to crush data into a format that some algorithm can quickly sort through and identify keywords.
But you aren’t a keyword and you can’t sum up your value as an excellent candidate in one keyword.
Newsflash! You aren’t a keyword.
Even if you got lucky and instead of an online form of cookie cutter fields, you were told to submit your resume and cover letter to a generic email address like firstname.lastname@example.org you are still destined to rot in a slush pile.
So before you baa like a sheep and submit the form or click the generic email address, get ready to flank the competition in a big way and beat the system.
Do you know who manager or supervisor is over the position you are applying to?
Did you know that you can easily find out, or at least make an educated guess?
Step 1: Become Dick Tracy
In the old days we used to call the company operator or listen to the pre-recorded phone system extensions message. With this new fangled internet webby thing, it’s much easier.
If you are already familiar with how a typical department is structured that the job you are applying to sits within, you may already know the correct title to search for. If you don’t, use your best guess as a starting point.
For example, a junior front-end dev in a web tech company might report to a front-end team lead but it may be the IT Director or even the CTO doing the hiring. You may not be able to predict if the person responsible for the decision is at the team lead, manager, director, VP or C-level position. If you find more than one possible manager over a position or you have any doubt as to which level in the company you should target, go with the more senior position.
Takeaway: If you find more than one possible manager over a position or you have any doubt as to which level in the company you should target, go with the more senior position.
Start with a Google search for the most likely candidate. For example, “SuperTechCompany CTO” or go generic with “SuperTechCompany manager.” Much of the time you will see top results for the company’s own team or about us page. LinkedIn results also score highly. Ideally you want to find a name, exact title, email address and phone number.
Let’s say you scored all four bits of information so now we are ready for our winning flanking maneuver.
Step 2: Prepare your secret weapon
Take the amazing email cover letter you wrote back when you were inspired to get out of your dead end job and make a copy. In this alternate version, we are going to call the “introductory email,” you are going personalize the message to the human you tracked down. Reference the position you are applying to and open with a statement about how you have some additional questions about the position that weren’t covered in the job description and that you would like a few minutes of their time to discuss them over the phone.
You may also want to mention that you have also followed all the steps in the application instructions if they were explicit. Finally, attach your resume — double checking that you really did it — and be sure that your signature line includes your email address and phone number.
Takeaway: Be sure that your signature line includes your email address and phone number.
Step 3: Follow their stupid process anyway
Now, submit the sheep version through the stupid online form or generic email address. Be sure to follow every instruction no matter how small. If the instructions say to attach the cover letter as a PDF or include both in one file, do it without fail. Failing to follow even the smallest detail in the instructions can be enough for a company to reject you as a candidate. If you can’t identify the application steps in a simple job post, why would they believe you could debug code or manage a complicated project?
Takeaway: PAY ATTENTION! If you can’t identify the application steps in a simple job post, why would they believe you could debug code or manage a complicated project?
Read and follow the instructions, then read them again to double check what you intend to do. Read them a third time before submitting the form or sending the email. And for the sake of all that you hold holy, if you are supposed to include an attachment make sure it’s there before hitting send. Easily 10% of the job application emails I receive fail to include the attachments that they themselves refer to in the email message. Another 25% don’t follow the application instructions even when I put a warning in bold that you will not be considered unless you do so.
Did it go? Good. It was probably a useless gesture anyway but you can at least say you followed their inane process.
Step 4: Prepare for the unexpected
Now we are ready hit send on that amazing introductory email. But before you do, if you mentioned in the introductory email that you had questions for the manager, you should have them ready to go. They don’t have to be groundbreaking or thought provoking, just make them real. Chances are you really do have questions about the position but here are some suggestions.
Who does the position report to?
What is the salary range?
Have previous new hires in this position moved up into more advanced roles in your company?
If it’s a technical job, consider asking appropriate questions about process or version levels.
Are there any additional benefits that weren’t listed in the job ad?
You really should do all this during business hours but if you submitted your official application in the evening, wait until just after the start of business hours the next morning to fire off your introductory email.
Step 5: Now prove you are worthy
Assuming you found a phone number as well as the best candidate’s email address, pick up the phone and call the number while your brain is focusing on this specific job application.
That’s right. You are going to talk to an actual human.
If it rolls to voicemail, leave a message that is similar to your introductory email and be sure to provide a call-back number. Call them back in the afternoon if you haven’t heard anything.
If you are lucky enough to get them on the phone, use your introductory email as a guide to beginning the conversation then have your questions ready.
Don’t worry if you aren’t certain this is the right human. Because you followed my earlier instructions to go with the more senior position when in doubt, your email and phone call will have just impressed the hell out of her and she will remember you as she passes your info to the correct person.
If reaching out in this way makes you nervous remember that you want to work for this person. If you get the job, you’ll need to communicate with them every day. Why not start now?
Takeaway: If reaching out in this way makes you nervous remember that you want to work for this person. If you get the job, you’ll need to communicate with them every day. Why not start now?
This is one of my favorite tactics because it is so easy to do if you can get over the common hesitation that most people have to contact someone you haven’t been introduced to. We can’t all turn on the sales rep personality and most of us are hermits at heart but this tactic will produce results and it gets easier every time you do it.
Had success with this? Have a question? Tell me below in the comments.
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