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Go to Menu The Two Fallacies (part 2)
By Nick Corcodilos

This special edition of The Headhunter Articles comes in two parts, and it's dedicated to debunking two fallacies that may have kept your job search stuck in low gear up to this point. We covered the first fallacy in Fallacy #1: Don't worry! It's a job hunter's "market"!.

Fallacy #2: Job hunting is a numbers game!

When he was a human resources manager at Sony, Kevin Brennan received over 100,000 resumes from job applicants in a single year. And that was at just one company location. Where did all those resumes come from?

"Most come from want ads we run. But we fill no more than 10% of our open positions from those applicants," he says. What happens to the resumes? "They get circulated, they get filed, sometimes they get trashed. When an HR manager is trying to fill a position, he finds the best candidates by asking around -- by talking to other managers in the company and to contacts outside. You want to hire people you know something about, or people who are known to people you know."

Job search has turned into a numbers game because the traditional recruiting methods used by many employers have come to dictate a "numbers" approach. The plethora of want ads in widely-distributed publications makes job hunters feel obligated to compete by getting as many resumes out as possible. The ease with which email can be sent to thousands of employers turns otherwise talented, smart people into hopeful gamblers. Yet judging by comments like Brennan's, the numbers strategy is not the best way to win a good job.

Numbers are blind
What is this numbers strategy? It includes any job search method that relies on "quantity" and "playing the odds" as opposed to careful research, planning and selection. Picking twenty job ads from the newspaper every day and replying to them is playing the numbers. Sending resumes to the "top 100" companies in your industry is a game of chance, too. Shooting email inquiries to every person on America Online whose AOL profile includes the words "headhunter" or "recruiter" is an odds racket.

All these approaches are blind. At worst, you'll get no responses because, like Brennan, employers want to talk to candidates from within their network of contacts. At best, you'll get invited for an interview by a company you didn't even realize you applied to -- and you'll be about as motivated and prepared for that interview as you would be to sit down and program the navigation system of the space shuttle.

At a time when good companies are evaluating job candidates more carefully and expecting immediately profitable results upon hiring, the essentially random numbers approach can put you at a disadvantage. Just because an employer has positions to fill doesn't mean he'll fill them indiscriminately. He's still watching his bottom line.

Even putting Brennan's "personal contact" approach to hiring aside, there are other reasons why playing the numbers isn't very effective. Here are some of the pitfalls, and some ways to get past them to achieve your goal of winning a great job.

More people are looking (?)
The widely publicized "great job market" is daily creating more and more competition for you. Pent-up desire to change jobs or careers (suppressed during the even more widely publicized downsizings of a couple of years ago) has resulted in everyone and their brother "out looking" (stumbling blindly is more like it), even while they're securely employed. But your competitors are using resumes and playing the numbers. Operate on a higher level.

GET PERSONAL. Don't be another resume on some personnel manager's desk. Instead of wasting your time mass-mailing resumes, use your contacts to go straight to the hiring manager. If you don't have contacts, your efforts should be devoted to creating them. Call a salesperson (this is one department that always takes calls) at your target company and ask for advice -- and for the name of someone in the department you want to work in. Call into your target department, ask about the company's products, refer to articles you've read, ask for more advice and form a relationship. Then get an introduction to the manager.

The competition is stiff
Though record numbers of new jobs are being created, downsizings - especially in the geographical area where you want to work - are creating a new kind of competition for you: desperate, highly talented people who will take a lesser job just so they can pay the mortgage. How do you compete with this?

BE RIGHT. Your competitors are ill-equipped to walk in the door of a company and demonstrate how they're going to increase the company's profitability. Each company they apply to is one of hundreds or thousands. And it shows when they interview. In playing the odds, they reveal a fatal weakness: lack of in-depth preparation. Remember that your skills, abilities, past jobs and experience matter less than one key attribute: your ability to show the employer that you can do the work profitably. This takes lots of research, planning and focus. Devoting the effort to pursuing each company like it's the only company makes you stand out when you interview. It makes you right and leaves everyone else looking like a tirekicker.

The selection process is bogged down
Growing numbers of applicants are swamping the limited resources of personnel departments, and that can leave your application buried. ("There are a lot of tire-kickers looking for jobs on the Net," says Brennan, who now manages recruiting for a medical products company. "They waste a lot of our time.")

TAKE CONTROL. Participating in the resume/application frenzy leaves you at the mercy of the personnel department. Whether you're "on the money" or totally wrong for a job, you're increasingly likely to be waiting a long time to hear back from an employer, if you hear at all. Create your own selection process: call the manager you want to work for and explain that you're not calling about a job, but that you've heard great things about his company. "Headhunters have been encouraging me to apply at your company, but I'd like to hear it from someone who's involved in the work that I do. I'm curious to know more about your company's success in xyz." Nothing can get your candidacy on the road like the manager who is impressed with your no-nonsense approach.

The selection process is sloppy
High-volume interviewing by employers who are receiving record numbers of applications puts the truly qualified candidate at a disadvantage. You're more likely to be cut from the running by one of many unqualified screeners, or to be bypassed by a tired resume reader.

STICK TO THE MAIN ROAD. Once personnel sets you to meandering along the byways of the hiring process (applications, forms, tests, screening interviews, waiting for others to be interviewed), you're on your way to la-la land. It's to your advantage to have your expertise assessed by someone who understands what you do (and who understands the work to be done). When in doubt about whether to send a resume or a letter, pick up the phone - and call the hiring manager. Your risk of getting lost in the process is far worse than the risk of the manager hanging up on you.

Look out; you may get what you asked for
A company in a rush to hire may make you a job offer, but your lack of careful research into each and every company you apply to can land you in a job that will leave you job hunting again.

SELECT YOUR QUARRY; DON'T BE SELECTED. The paramount difference between a company hiring through want ads and one hiring through a headhunter is that the former is "taking what it can get" while the latter is actively seeking what it wants. Don't fall prey to this mistake as a job hunter. Getting one interview and one job offer out of 500 companies you applied to is like getting a blind date: in your desperation, you settled. Research, choose carefully, pursue doggedly and take a job for the right reasons.

Follow the money
Careful thought, research and planning are more important than ever when you want to pursue a new job. In good times and bad, headhunters use the same approach to match the right worker with the right job. Our methods have to be right on the money; if they're not, we don't eat. These methods keep us in business when hiring levels are low, and they make us all the more valuable to our clients when hiring is rampant. As Kevin Brennan points out, no employer wants a thousand candidates to pick from -- he wants the one who's right. Playing the numbers is a game of ignorance -- and risk. Learn how to be one of the "right few", and your job search will be right on the money, too.

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