While candidates are frustrated by the impersonal nature of job boards, it’s no different for the recruiters looking at the 99% of the resumes of unqualified people who apply to these jobs. As far as I’m concerned posting and applying to jobs on any job board is a wasted effort for everyone involved. My instant advice for job seekers is that unless you’re a perfect match on the skills listed, do not apply. (The video below provides more actionable advice.)

However, if you think you are qualified, do something different instead of applying. On a recent search for an inside sales manager a woman contacted me directly via email and told me why she was worth considering for other opportunities within the company. Of the 250 people who applied to the opening she was the only one who did something different. More important she was clearly the most talented. I now have her on my shortlist for future opportunities. This is an example of using the backdoor to find better jobs in the hidden job market.

Regardless of why a job is available, it's critical to note that rarely is the job posted as soon as it becomes available. After tracking this information for 40+ years it’s clear that about 60% of jobs are filled before they’re ever posted. As important, only about 10-15% of the posted jobs are actually filled by someone applying directly. The reason: People who apply directly to a job posting are the last candidates considered for any important job. Here’s what happens before companies look at the people who apply.

How Jobs are Actually Filled

Long Before Day 0. Hiring managers often know they have approval to hire someone long before the job is officially approved and posted. This could be days, weeks or months ahead. This is the best time for savvy job-seekers to sneak to the front of line since the skills and experience requirements haven't yet been fully spec'd out.

Days 0-5. Within hours or days of an opening becoming available and often before it's officially posted, hiring managers first consider people they already know. Sometimes the job is created with a specific person in mind. Not only is this quicker but the person’s performance is also highly predictable. In this early stage the job is rarely posted and there is a lot of opportunity to modify the position to better fit the needs and skills of the person selected.

Days 3-10. After a few days the hiring manager attempts to get referrals from some trusted sources. Typically these are from current and previous co-workers or business advisors. Getting high-quality referrals from a known source is a great way to instantly expand a person’s personal network. Hiring someone from this source not only increases candidate quality but it also reduces the risk the person won’t work out.

Days 5-15. Often recruiters are aware of the job before it’s officially opened. This allows the hiring manager to modify the job and compensation package based on the person being hired rather than being too pigeon-holed. Whether officially posted or not, recruiters immediately begin searching for candidates on LinkedIn and their own internal databases to find people who meet the major requirements. Based on this, an outbound emailing process begins to generate interest.

Days 5-60. After a week or so, if the job isn’t likely to be filled by a known or highly referred person, the job description is approved and posted on the company’s career site and to all of the job boards. Algorithms do most of the heavy lifting separating the less than 1% highly qualified from the 99% who aren’t. Only the 1% get more than a 30-second review.

Days 10-20. After a week or two referrals start emerging plus some employee referrals. Regardless of their source or when they appear, they go to the head of the line.

Now for those of you who don’t want to be the last person in line, you need to reengineer your job seeking efforts to get in the front. Here’s how:

  • Never apply to a job posting. Instead use the job posting as a lead and find someone in the company you can contact directly. Here’s how to hack-a-job this way.
  • Be different. Customized cover letters are important. In them describe your accomplishments, add a link to a video or include a sample of your work. Use the cover letter to arrange an exploratory meeting with a department head.
  • Follow and be found. LinkedIn pushes people who are following a company to the top of their list. As part of this make sure your LinkedIn profile has enough achiever terms to be found when recruiters begin their direct sourcing.
  • Become a networker of note. Recognize that networking isn’t meeting as many people as possible. It’s meeting a few people who can vouch for your performance to a few other people who are aware of open jobs at their companies. This is how you learn about jobs in the hidden job market.

Recognize it takes work to get to the top of the candidate list. However, it’s not only worth it, it’s also far better than complaining.