I'm currently helping a client find a half dozen people for jobs ranging from sales manager to salesforce.com administrator to software developer. The postings have no skills listed; they just describe two or three major projects the person needs to handle.

In each posting it clearly says, "DO NOT APPLY" directly. It instead asks those interested to submit a cover letter describing an accomplishment related to one of the major projects listed. Of the 200 or so people who have applied to the postings only one followed the instructions. She turned out to be a very fine person but not a fit for the job. Of the other 199 people, six were marginally qualified and 193 were totally unqualified. These 193 are the same people who complain they're working hard to find another job but no one will give them a chance.

That's why I propose job seekers only be allowed to apply for jobs they're qualified to handle. This simple shift would change the likelihood of getting a job via applying from less than 1 in 100 to about 1 in 10. Even without this restriction, job seekers should impose one on themselves and only apply to jobs they have no chance of getting. Only spend 20% of your time on this effort and spend the rest doing the following. Collectively it will result in a better job.

Spend More Time with Fewer Companies

Job seekers need to spend more time with fewer companies making direct contact with hiring managers and their functional leaders. Underlying is the idea that there are two job markets. The public one where jobs are posted and the hidden one where jobs are filled either via referral or internal promotion. (This video describes this concept.)

In The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired I offer advice to job seekers on how to enter into the hidden job market through the backdoor. Some of these points are summarized below.

Narrow your focus by first defining your ideal company. Finding a better job starts by identifying companies that need your skills and abilities, those that are hiring people like you and those that might have some problems you can solve. Once you have 15-20 companies like this do your research and find the names of likely hiring managers and department heads. LinkedIn is specifically designed for this purpose.

Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile can be found. Recruiters search on LinkedIn and resume databases to find candidates who don't find their job postings. This post describes the process. Job seekers need to reverse engineer their resumes in order to be found this way.

Use a campaign marketing approach to get the first meeting. Forget about applying unless you're a perfect skills match but definitely follow the company. More important though is a proactive multi-pronged campaign targeted at key decision makers consisting of emails, recommendations, referrals, voice mails, meet-ups and whatever else you can think of to make contact.

Sell an exploratory discussion, not a job interview. Regardless of how you make contact, don't press for a job. Instead suggest the chance to have a discussion about a problem or opportunity the company is facing you know you could help solve.

Get recommended. Without question getting referred by a trusted source is the best technique to arrange an exploratory discussion with a decision maker. But note that networking is not about meeting as many people as you can. It's meeting a few highly-connected people who can vouch for your performance to a few other highly-connected people.

Mention a higher up. In your messages mention you're also sending an email to other leaders in the company. Mention their names. If your email is provoking, provocative and/or insightful the person reading it will more likely reach out to you directly rather than having to be told to by the higher up.

Offer a sneak peek. One job seeker told me he prepared a competitive analysis of a company's new product line and sent the first few slides to the VP Marketing. He offered to present the whole program in a short meeting to the marketing team. He got the meeting.

Conduct discovery during the first exploratory discussion. As soon as the meeting starts ask about some of the challenges, critical tasks and problems the department is currently focusing on. Then describe some of your most significant accomplishments that best compare. All job seekers should do something similar to ensure they're properly assessed on their past performance.

Slowly prove your worth. The solution selling process described here involves proving your worth in incremental steps. Each step is called an advance. For job seekers it's getting another meeting with people who are likely to be hiring someone just like you in the near future. So ask for another meeting if it's not offered.

Campaign marketing involves narrowing the prospect list to high value customers who have a natural need for your product, maximizing the response and spending more time with the right decision makers. Job seekers should apply this process. It will result in a better job.