The research is clear. The chance of getting a job by applying directly is less than 1 percent. But there are multiple ways to land the same job by understanding how companies decide whom to hire.

Last month the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 235 thousand more people got jobs.

While impressive job growth, the quality of these jobs and how they got them is what should matter. Lever - a hiring management system used by small and mid-sized companies around the world - just released a detailed report that describes how their 600+ smaller clients hired 15 thousand people. The somewhat depressing news for job seekers is that 1.5 million people applied for these jobs. This is just 1%.

Despite this, for job seekers who bypassed the apply button the odds changed dramatically and for the better.

  • Hitting the apply button is the worst way to get a job. Only one in 130 people got jobs this way. This is even less than 1%! On the other hand, the Lever companies reported that 48% of their jobs were filled this way. Getting tens of thousands of people to apply to just a few jobs that are mass produced seems like an odd way to build a motivated team.
  • Getting referred was the best way to get a job. It only took 12 people to hire someone this way. This is 10X better than pushing the apply button. Based on other survey data and our own research this approach also resulted in better jobs. Despite the value of this approach the Lever data indicated only 14% of all jobs were filled by referrals. Getting referred is the obvious way job seekers can improve their odds and how companies can improve quality of hire and their hiring process effectiveness, too.
  • Only 4% of all hires came through a recruiting agency but in these cases the company only needed to see 25 people to hire one person.
  • Corporate recruiters search through LinkedIn and resume databases to find candidates. This direct sourcing outreach approach represented 34% of all hires and its recruiters needed to screen 65 people to yield one hire.

As both a successful contingency recruiter for 10 years and retained recruiter for another 15, these numbers overall seem pretty accurate to me. However, there's a big mix difference when hiring for more senior-level staff and mid-management positions. My estimate is that for these types of jobs less than 20% are filled via people who apply online, 40% are referrals (including recruiting firms and staffing agencies) and 40% are direct sourced.

When used to develop a job hunting strategy this information can help job seekers get a better job. Here are some ideas I've been dispensing for years with a few new twists.

Mix it up. Go narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. Use a mix of all the techniques. Start by finding 20 listed jobs every week you think look interesting. Then narrow the list to the best 3-4. Only apply to those where you're a perfect fit and use the backdoor to get an interview for the other ones.

Be found. Reverse engineer your LinkedIn profile and online resume to make sure recruiters can find it. As part of this highlight your true strengths and describe these as part of your major accomplishments.

Bypass the screener. Most candidates get blown out of the water when they're screened on the first call. If you get an onsite interview the chances for getting a job are pretty much the same (10%) regardless of how you were initially found, with one exception. For referrals it's twice that at 20% of the time. This is also why the referral approach is far superior to applying.

Build a true network. Networking is getting people who can vouch for your abilities to recommend you to open jobs they know about. In parallel, actively participate in allied business and alumni groups where people in your field hang out. Recruiters review the membership lists and contact the leaders to get referrals.

Build a reverse network. Take every call from a recruiter. Listen to what they have to say and then provide a great referral. At some point in the future they will pay you back with a few interviews. This is part of building a reverse network. The other part is helping people you know find a better job.

Conduct a discovery interview. If you do all of the above you will get interviewed. To increase your odds of moving into the final round you need to make sure you're being interviewed accurately. Start by asking the interviewer about some of the big tasks the person hired will likely be assigned to handle. Then give detailed examples of work you've accomplished that's most comparable.

The Lever data is insightful. While primarily designed to help companies design better recruiting practices, it's invaluable for job seekers, too. Knowing how people are hired and not hired allows job seekers to seek a 1 in 10 route rather than one that's 130 to one against you.