|  August 23, 2012

When applying to jobs, is it better to cast a wider net?

They don’t call it a hunt for nothing.  The job search can be a grueling process filled with anxiety and stress… and at the root of that stress is the fear that regardless of all of our efforts, we may remain unemployed.  And that fear can cause us to want to take every imaginable step to avoid that.  We may think that applying to a high number of jobs will increase our chances of getting one.  But when it comes to applying for jobs, is casting a wider net the way to go?

As always, there are exceptions to every rule but I would argue that in this case, less is more, and that applying to every open role you see can come back to haunt you.  In past recruiting roles, I often came across a candidate that looked promising for a particular job and proceeded to take a look through their profile to see their interview/application history (mainly to avoid interviewing the same person another team member has already interviewed).  Finding what I like to call a “thoughtless” and “desperate” application history was a big red flag.

Let’s take an example of a candidate named Julie (fake resume pictured below).

If I came across Julie’s resume for a Marketing or PR Assistant role, her background would look perfect – great school & GPA, relevant past roles, and the right level of work experience for an Assistant role at my company.  She applied for that role so I automatically assume she is interested in building on her major (communications) plus her previous experience (both intern & full time).  I then see in her application history that she has applied to 15 other roles (varied in function and level) at my company over the last 6 months.  That tells me a few things right off the bat:

  • Julie is not focused in her search and despite past experience, Julie doesn’t necessarily care if she ends up in the area where she has built her expertise
  • Since Julie has applied to roles at various levels (requiring different years of experience), it would seem that she hadn’t even read through the job descriptions before applying
  • For an unknown reason, Julie is desperate to get out of a job she has only been in for a few months

These are not things you want a recruiter to think about you while they are considering your application.  While perhaps Julie was only trying to increase her chances of employment, it came at a price.  Instead of seeing a candidate who was focused, interested, and thoughtful, I would see just the opposite… and generally, that type of candidate won’t get an interview.

So, what is the right way to cast a wide net to increase your chances of employment?  Below are the steps, I would suggest.  They will increase your probability of getting an interview, but don’t make you look unfocused.

  • Based on your background, experience, and interests think about a few functional areas that make sense for you to focus on in your search
  • Identify companies that are likely to have this type of function in their organization and compile a list in excel or a google doc (it definitely can be a long list in this case!)
  • Visit the careers pages at those companies
  • If the companies have a role you are both interested in and qualifed for, apply then and there – mark that in your spreadsheet
  • If there are no roles available set up a “search agent” – this is a way for the website to alert you when a role with a certain keyword or within a certain category opens up – surprisingly, many career sites have this function… mark that in your spreadsheet
  • If there are no roles available that you qualify for and there is not the ability to set up a search agent, mark that in your spreadsheet and plan to visit those sites bi-weekly or weekly until the right role pops up

Yes, this approach takes more effort than blindly applying to 100 different roles.  But guess what recruiters & hiring managers look for in a candidate?  Determination, intelligence, thoughtfulness… and definitely effort.

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