A Bunch of Free Radical Ideas for Getting a Job that Beat Applying

Over the past few years I suggested there were a number of things a job seeker could do to get a (better) job rather than wasting time applying directly or complaining about the unfairness of the process. Here’s the best of the bunch.

  • Think Less is More. It’s better spending more time working hard to do what's ever necessary to get a job at 5-6 different companies rather than applying to dozens and hoping.
  • Don’t spend more than 20% 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% 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-resume 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 resume stack since there are fewer gatekeepers watching the backdoor.
  • Prepare a non-resume. If your resume 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.
  • Send the department head a performance-based job description. If you’re familiar with the job, you might want to reformat the posted job description by describing some of the likely performance objectives. Send this to the department head with a summary of a few of your related accomplishments to get an interview.
  • 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 three months that met the required “5+ years of experience.”
  • Prove you’re not overqualified. There are two dimensions to being qualified for any job. First, you need to be competent to do the work. Second, you need to be motivated to do it. No matter how competent you are, if you can’t prove you have proactively done this work in the recent past, but only did it sometime long ago, you’re overqualified.
  • 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 4-5 hours at least 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.
  • Don’t negotiate the size of the compensation; negotiate the size of the job. Your compensation will grow faster if the job you’re accepting is bigger than the compensation package you’re being offered.

I’ve condensed all of this advice in a special video program for job seekers and showed how to reverse engineer the entire hiring process in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. 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.

The Underground Guide for Getting a Job

At several hiring events this past month, I met, spoke, and worked with more than 1,000 corporate and agency recruiters and some of the top HR technologies vendors on the planet.

Job seekers need to know that things are changing when it comes to how companies will find people in the future.

The big one: Companies are relying less on job postings to fill their open positions.



On top of what companies are actually doing, the latest U.S. Department of Labor JOLTS (graphic) report, which summarizes all of the unique open jobs in the U.S., reinforces this "spend less time on applying to job postings" advice.

While there was a significant increase in the first half of 2015, evidence of a significant slowdown appeared in August. The Labor Department's jobs-filled report reinforces the likelihood of fewer jobs in the future, with net new jobs filled in the past few months dropping to 140,000 per month, from a rate of about 220,000 in the early part of the year.

Given these technology and economic trends, here's how companies are reorganizing and prioritizing their search efforts. Since this is how companies are finding people, it makes sense that job seekers reverse engineer the process to find better jobs.

The Basic Process Recruiters Use to Fill Job Openings

Step 1: Find great referrals from trusted co-workers.

Referrals have always been the No. 1 means to find and hire people. LinkedIn is creating a new engine to accelerate this process, giving companies more robust tools for its employees to connect with their previous co-workers. This will be the first group of potential candidates recruiters will seek out to fill their open jobs. As a result, job seekers need to expand their networking efforts to be sure they're in this pool to be considered first.

Step 2: Find ideal passive candidates.

Using Boolean search techniques, recruiters are combing through LinkedIn and online public databases for candidates who meet the exact skill set they require. They are contacting these people directly to determine if they would be open to discussing one of their openings. Job seekers need to think the same way. As a quick exercise, find a job you really think fits for you, and then search on the skills terms shown. If your LinkedIn profile doesn't show up, you won't be getting many calls. Now you need to reverse engineer your profile to be found. Part of this is learning the missing skills.

Step 3: Build talent hubs and attract some great followers.

One major initiative companies are now implementing is the casting of wide nets by job category to attract strong followers. Some of this includes sponsoring and combing through LinkedIn groups. Make sure you follow your companies of choice and actively participate in the related group discussions. LinkedIn uses this information to rank order candidates who do apply, and recruiters sort through these databases when new job opportunities develop.

Step 4: Post a boring ad and hopefully find a perfect candidate.

Companies still do this and wonder why it's the least effective way to find talent. Candidates actually apply to these jobs and then wonder why they don't get called. A more creative ad will attract better people. But more creative candidates will use the job post as a lead and try to find the name of the hiring manager or department head and use one of these backdoor techniques to get noticed.

Last year, I suggested all job hunters implement a 20/20/60 get-a-new-job plan. Basically this means that no more than 20 percent of your efforts should be spent on applying directly to a specific job posting. The balance of your time should be evenly split between networking and getting jobs using job postings as leads.

The big reason networking is superior to applying to postings is that you don't need to be skills-qualified to get the job! You need to be performance qualified. This is the criterion companies use to promote people and that managers use to hire people they've worked with in the past. So, if you can demonstrate you're performance qualified, your future career opportunities will expand at least 10X.

So, given these technology and economic trends, here's my sticky-note advice to job seekers.

  1. Become a networking fanatic forever, starting today.
  2. Reverse engineer your résumé and LinkedIn profile so companies will find it.
  3. Follow your companies of choice and participate in their group discussions in every possible way.
  4. Use the backdoor to get an interview.
  5. Demonstrate you're performance qualified by controlling the interview and asking lots of forced-choice questions.
  6. Negotiate the size of the job, not the compensation package. The money will follow the performance.

Bottom line: Recognize that there are two job markets--one offers ill-defined lateral transfers; the other, real career moves. Don't waste your time looking for a lateral transfer. This is why applying for a job is frustrating, even if you get a job this way. Instead, invest your time in finding a career move. The amount of work is exactly the same, but it will be worth every minute spent doing it.