In my recent post from a couple of days ago, I wrote about why employers require applicants to apply online. Their reasons are legitimate, but one cannot be satisfied with only applying through a company’s website; this is just one step in the process.
The advent of online applications has allowed millions of people to apply for hundreds of millions of jobs – and sometimes people will apply to jobs even if they are a very poor match for the position. A friend of mine (she is an executive recruiter with a national search firm) needed to recruit an accountant (CPA mandatory) with 3-5 years experience. She posted the job on a massive job board on a Thursday afternoon and by Monday morning had over 500 applications. Most applications, over 90% in her estimation, were unqualified. For example, there was a recent graduate who majored in English and had never taken an accounting class – but still thought it wise to apply for the experienced accounting role.
What did my friend do? Filter, Referral, Follow-up.
Filter: My friend’s applicant tracking system allowed her to go into the pile of applications and filter out a vast majority of the resumes. For example, she filtered for accounting majors who graduated no more than 7 and no fewer than 3 years ago. She entered other keywords, including “CPA”, to help her find the most qualified applicants’ resumes. While I am sure she eliminated one or two qualified candidates, she eliminated over 400 bad candidates.
What this means to the applicant is one needs to tweak his/her application to highlight as many of the key words/phrases/skills that appear on the job posting. A colleague told me his company “scores” applications by how many matches one has according to the filtering criteria. The more matches, the higher the score and the more likely your application will be reviewed. This process acts much like a search engine that will list pages/hits by “Relevance”.
While most of your resume or application will stay the same for every job application (you cannot change where you went to school or where you worked), the way you describe your past jobs can influence how your application appears to an employer. For one application, you may want to go into depth about your client relationship skills whereas a different application may require you to speak more about your management ability. Same job on your resume, but highlight different aspects of the former role.
Referral: When my friend opened her account and saw the 500+ applications, she shot a quick email asking her colleagues if they knew anyone who would be a good applicant for the accounting position she sought to fill. Within 48 hours, she received a handful of referrals from her network – and she phone screened all of the referrals. In her mind, if someone is willing to pass an applicant on (and indirectly put their reputation behind the applicant), the individual is worth a phone screen. Personally, I always phone screen/interview an applicant who is passed along to me by a contact. Usually the applicant is worth the effort and if not, I want to be able to respond to my colleague that I did follow-up with their referral and the outcome of the effort.
This is where networking plays a major role in one’s job search. Currently, your application is one of 500 resumes sitting in a virtual paper pile and you need someone notice your application to be “pulled” from the virtual paper pile – having an employee of the company alert HR or the hiring manager to your application will increase the likelihood that the application receives a review.
Another reason referrals can be powerful is that many times a hiring manager will ask for referrals from colleagues before (or while in the process of) posting the job online (have done this myself many times). It is not uncommon by the time a job is posted online, the hiring manager has already begun the interview process with candidates who were referred to the manager. This means, by the time you click “Submit” on the website, an offer may have already been made to another candidate who was passed along through networking connections.
Follow-Up: Looking at 500+ resumes was not an appealing prospect for my friend, so in addition to filtering the applications, asking for referrals, she also waited for individuals to follow-up. Those applicants who were willing to call/leave a message had their applications pulled from the pile and reviewed. This may not always be the case with recruiters or hiring managers, but from personal experience, following-up on applications can cause a hiring manager to review your qualifications. Just ensure your follow-up is professional in tone.
Organizations are driving applicants to their websites in order to apply for jobs – it is a necessary step in the process, just don’t let it be your only step in your application efforts.