I answer questions from job hunters and employers for a living. Here’s one of my favorites: "How can I make myself stand out to employers?" That question usually appears in the form of an agonized plea: "Puh-leez let me stand out from all those other people so I'll be the one who gets hired!"
Stand out. How do job hunters do that?
- They write and send out resumes, like everybody else.
- They dump their data into job boards, like everybody else.
- They go to networking meetings, like everybody else, where unemployed people get together to exchange job leads.
Job hunters travel together in packs, hoping their competition is going somewhere else. At the same time, they believe they’re trying to stand out. Yet they’re guilty of doing all of the things in that list.
WTF? Those activities don't make you stand out. They make you blend in because the employment system is set to “puree,” so you can't stand out. Aw, you know it, but you do those things anyway because that's how the machine works and you just can't. . .get. . .out.
People aren't stupid. They're just frustrated, doing the best they can. I know that. But the rationalizations are stunning, nonetheless. I saved the best example I’ve ever encountered of how even savvy job hunters let their brains get sucked through a straw. And they don't even realize it’s happening.
In a classic posting, the author of the blog Unqualified.org smacked down TheLadders—now a discredited “exclusive members-only job board”—with gusto (and rightly so). But this enlightened job hunter reveals a nasty blind spot most job hunters have. “Stumbling down the rungs of TheLadders” perfectly illustrates the conflict between needing to stand out and carelessly slipping into the vortex that swallows most resumes. After slogging through TheLadders job postings, blogger Brian Flores complains:
"I was annoyed when I'd have to link to an external employer's site to complete a job application, filling out yet another profile and uploading yet another resume. This didn't happen just once or twice, but over the course of my interaction with the site I estimated that I had to do this at least 25-35% of the time. I understand that every company has their own resource management and human resources function, but isn't this why man invented middleware?"
Like you, I'm sure Flores wants to stand out so he can land that perfect job interview promised by so many job boards. But read that complaint carefully. Flores is begging to turn the blender up to “liquefy.” He wants “middleware” to automatically spray his application thinly across all the companies he’s interested in. He’s begging the software to process him along with his competitors.
And therein lies our collective technological blind spot: The blender is cool technology. We love cool technology. We love pressing a button and getting our information processed for easy consumption. Caught up in the wonders of databases and search terms and billions and billions of jobs served daily, we’re blinded to the fact that people don’t process well. Astonished at the plethora of jobs listed all in one place, we willingly suspend our common sense and press a button so we can all be pumped together toward our destinations.
I’m not the only one to recognize the problem. LinkedIn, the newest player in the job board space, knows its members are getting lost in the blender. LinkedIn is now marketing a clever way for you to stand out from the enormous mess of database records that employers “find” when they search for the right job candidates. A reader applied for a job through LinkedIn the other day, and upon completing the necessary forms, was presented with this solution:
For just $29.95, LinkedIn would bump him to the top of the search results. And there he was in the teaser ad—listed by name (deleted to protect his identity) right up top of the list of applicants! LinkedIn would give him “special placement.” He’d “stand out in search results!”
His concerns? “What if three different applicants all with premium accounts apply? Who gets to be on top? Do you have to pay for an Extra Premium Plus Plus account to ensure you're on top?”
So there we have it: Proof positive that some people are not stupid. But how many stupid people are factored into LinkedIn’s business plan for its new, improved blender? To be fair, it’s not just LinkedIn that lets you pay for “special placement” in search results. Other job boards do it, too. That’s an awfully hopeful assumption about how many suckers are job hunting. Or, maybe not.