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Ask the Headhunter/ General Management

The Job-Hunting Numbers Game: Don't Gamble With Your Career

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by Nick Corcodilos
Contributing Writer
CMO.com

See More by this author >

Article Highlights:

  • The plethora of online job postings makes job hunters feel obligated to compete by applying to as many as possible.
  • Instead of wasting your time waiting to be found, use your contacts to go straight to the decision maker.
  • Careful thought, research, and planning are more important than ever when you want to pursue a new C-level job.

When he was a human resources executive at a major consumer electronics company, my friend Kevin received more than 100,000 resumes from job applicants in a single year. And that was at just one company location. Where did all those resumes come from?

“Most come from postings. But we fill no more than 10 percent of our open positions that way,” he said. What happens to the resumes? “They get routed.” What he means is, they get sent around the company until they get deleted.

Kevin explains: “When an HR manager is trying to fill a position, he finds the best candidates by asking around--by talking to other managers in the company and to contacts outside. You want to hire people you know something about, or people who are known to people you know."

Job search has turned into a “numbers” game because the traditional recruiting methods used by many employers have come to dictate a numbers approach. The plethora of online job postings makes job hunters feel obligated to compete by applying to as many as possible. The ease with which e-mail can be sent to thousands of employers turns otherwise talented, smart people into hopeful gamblers. And for CMOs, “executive job search services” like TheLadders turn savvy executives into suckers.

But the numbers strategy may be the worst way to win a good job. Here are some of the pitfalls, and some ways to get past them to achieve your goal of winning a great job.

More People Are Looking
The improving economy is creating more and more competition for you. Pent-up desire to change jobs or careers (suppressed during the downsizing craze) means more executives are “out looking” (stumbling blindly is more like it.) But your competitors are playing the numbers. Operate on a higher level.

• Get Personal: Don't be another profile in some personnel manager's LinkedIn results (see “Set The Employment Blender To Liquefy”). Instead of wasting your time waiting to be found, use your contacts to go straight to the decision maker. If you don't have good insider contacts, your efforts should be devoted to creating them. Then get the introduction you need to make yourself an insider.

The Competition Is Stiff
Years of downsizings have created a new kind of competition for you: unemployed, highly talented executives who will accept lower salaries so they can pay the mortgage. How do you compete with this?

• Be Right: Your competitors are ill-equipped to walk in the door of a company and demonstrate how they're going to increase the company's profitability. Each company they apply to is one of hundreds or thousands, and it shows when they interview. Their fatal weakness: lack of in-depth preparation. Remember that your skills, abilities, past jobs, and experience matter less than one key characteristic: your ability to show the employer that you can do the work profitably. Devoting true effort to pursuing each company makes you the right candidate and leaves everyone else looking like a tire kicker.

The Selection Process Is Sloppy
High-volume interviewing by employers who are receiving record numbers of applications puts the truly qualified candidate at a disadvantage. You're likely to be cut from the running by a ridiculous “applicant tracking system” because your keywords aren’t in the correct order.

• Stick To The Main Road: Once HR sets you to meandering along the byways of the hiring process (applications, forms, tests, screening interviews, waiting for others to be interviewed), you're on your way to la-la land. It's to your advantage to have your expertise assessed by someone who understands what you do (and who understands the work to be done). When in doubt about whether to send a resume, pick up the phone and call another C-level executive (or a board member) at your target company. The risk of getting lost in the process is far worse than the risk of another executive hanging up on you.

Follow The Money
Careful thought, research, and planning are more important than ever when you want to pursue a new C-level job. In good times and bad, headhunters use the same approach to match the right executive with the right job. Our methods have to be right on the money. If they're not, we don't eat. These methods keep us in business when hiring levels are low, and they make us all the more valuable to our clients when hiring is taking off.

As my HR buddy pointed out, no employer wants thousands of candidates to pick from--he wants the one who's right. Playing the numbers is a game of ignorance, and it puts your career at risk. Learn how to be the one right candidate and your next career step will be right on the money, too.

About Nick Corcodilos

Nick Corcodilos writes "Ask The Headhunter," a weekly blog on CMO.com in which he shows you how to tackle the daunting obstacles that job hunters and managers face when trying to work together. From time to time, Corcodilos also will provide feature stories offering insights into various management career strategies, In addition, his newest books, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers?, are available as PDFs.

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