Applying directly is the worst way to get a better job. The best jobs are found via networking or getting recruiters to call you because they found your resume.
Over the past few years, I have suggested a number of things a job seeker can do to get a (better) job rather than wasting time applying directly or complaining about the unfairness of the process. Last month, I spent three days with 3,000 recruiters understanding how to find stronger candidates faster.
At my talk (to about 700 of these recruiters), I made the observation that it took 150 or so résumés to make one decent hire, but only three or four strong referrals and eight to 10 narrowly targeted prospects to make one great hire. Given this mathematical truism, I suggested that recruiters should spend more time on the latter activities rather than the former.
This math is true for candidates as well, so this is my advice to anyone in search of a better job:
Think less is more. It's better to spend more time working hard to get a job at five or six companies than applying to dozens and hoping.
Don't spend more than 20 percent of your time applying directly to a job posting. Unless you're a perfect fit on skills and experience, it's a waste of time. Here are some ideas on how to spend the other 80 percent of your time.
Use the job posting as a lead. Once you see a job of interest, search for all the jobs the company has posted. Then use some of the non-résumé ideas below to connect directly with the department head or someone connected to the hiring manager.
Become a true networker, not a glad hander. Networking is not about meeting as many people as you can. It's about meeting a few well-connected people you already know who can introduce you to a few well-connected people you don't know.
Use the backdoor. If you're not a direct match on skills and experience, you need to be referred by a company employee or someone connected to the hiring manager. This will get you to the top of the résumé stack, since there are fewer gatekeepers watching the backdoor.
Prepare a non-résumé. If your résumé isn't a perfect match but you've done something related, you'll need to narrow the focus and amplify your accomplishments. A one-page job proposal or a video describing a major comparable accomplishment might just do the trick. Here's an even more radical idea: Interview yourself using this template and send it to the hiring manager.
Offer a free or low-cost trial. There's always a risk in hiring someone. To reduce this risk, offer to work on a small project on a contract or temp-to-perm basis.
Control the interview. Ask the interviewer to describe actual job needs. Then give a two-minute example of something you've accomplished for each one.
Divide and conquer. You don't need to possess every skill listed on the laundry list of qualifications to get seen or hired. Long ago, I had a candidate for a controller spot who got hired by describing some of the related SEC work he had done extremely well over a period of two months that met the required "5+ years of experience."
Get phone screened if your appearance or age will send the wrong message. In The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, I suggest that a 30-minute phone interview focusing on accomplishments will minimize biases due to first impressions. Job seekers should request this type of phone screen if there's any chance they won't be assessed objectively.
Be fully prepared to be interviewed. This webcast describes what it takes to be fully prepared. You know you're prepared when you're not nervous walking into an interview. Spend at least four hours getting prepared.
Make sure you're interviewed properly. By asking these forced-choice questions, you can be sure you'll be assessed on your past performance and future potential rather than your first impression and interviewing skills. That's why you need to practice -- to ensure you're being interviewed properly.
Spending a few hours learning these techniques is more likely to result in a better job than complaining about the unfairness of the system or applying directly. Check out this practice video when you realize that it's unlikely a great job will magically appear without your pushing and making it happen. While the effort might make you a bit uncomfortable, you'll discover in the end that it was worth it.