They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Yet, I am baffled by the number of engineers who come to me talking about the 100 or 200 positions to which they applied in order to gain an internship or job. I even had one student show me the list of the 500 companies to which he submitted a resume!
Are you kidding me? What an absolute waste of time!
I get it, you want to land that job, but is this really the most efficient way to land one?
The cause of this problem is fairly obvious. We have created a system where online application forms can be easily completed through cut & paste while at the same time reducing the human interactions needed.
What is the goal here?
If the goal is to make it easier to apply, then we have succeeded.
If the goal is to make applying open to a broader group of people, then we have succeeded yet again.
However, if we narrow the goal down to getting you a job, I think we have failed.
Let’s break it down . . .
From the employer side of things, online applications are awesome. They post a position with really specific requirements and sit back to watch the feeding frenzy. Applications come in left and right and they can just toss aside anyone who doesn’t fit their tight criteria. All of a sudden, they have 1,000 applicants for a job when they used to only get 50.
Does it matter if a required item on the application is really applicable to the job? Does it matter that you are really good at another area, but happen to lack a skill that they noted which is actually easy to learn on the job? Nope, they can just toss out your resume for any reason. After all, they have so many from which to choose.
From the applicant side of things, this situation stinks. It pits you against literally hundreds (or even thousands) of applicants. The simple fact is, you can be an above average candidate, but still not make the cut because there is always someone better . . . ON PAPER.
The real problem here is that you are not even given a chance . . .
Those last words in the section above “ON PAPER” is the crux of the issue.
At the application stage, cuts are made based on very strict (often automated) criteria. If you were able to get to the interview stage, then perhaps you could give more light to your experience and help tip the scale in your favor. However, many don’t even get the chance. Instead of weighing various skills or experience against each other, the applicant is left just checking off boxing and trying to pass this first line of defense.
So what can you do to get a leg up on the competition and get your resume to the right people?
Here’s a little secret, while companies do use online applications, they often hire through direct contacts that are never advertised. Additionally, some positions are advertised just to make it “fair” but they already have a few candidates in mind.
Therefore, the key to landing these jobs is to try and sidestep the online application process (or at least add to it). This is how I have landed my jobs and how I also gained new clients for my consulting firm.
How to reach out effectively . . .
Here are the three initial tips I would recommend internship and job seekers take to land the position they want regardless of what the online application notes:
- Research – Find the companies for whom you want to work. Start to look through their website, press releases, LinkedIn employees, and do a general Google search. Note down the names of some of the department managers and some of the projects on which they have worked. This stage can take a few days, but it is well worth it.
- Check for connections and email addresses – Go through LinkedIn and find some of the key players. Do you have a shared connection or perhaps a shared group? Some might have their email addresses listed on their page and others might take some digging to find. If you have been building your network as I recommended HERE, then this step can be much easier.
- Reach out to these people – Use your connections if you have them to make the introduction or just reach out yourself (remember the personal note as I mentioned HERE). Write a personal letter to each and detail why you think you might be a good fit at their company. Express to them what it is about the company and their projects that makes you want to work for them. As an added bonus, if you do reach the supervisor for the position they are trying to fill, he may be able to recommend another position or future opening to you if this is not a good fit. That is something that HR may or may not be able to do as they do not have a hand on the pulse of the work flow.
Reaching out to these people will work best if you have time to develop a relationship with those in your network. This is one of the primary reasons that I advise all engineers to work on their network development EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT JOB SEARCHING.
Is this a fail safe method? No.
Is this harder and more time consuming than online applications? Yes.
However, when it works, it sure beats being one of a thousand in stack of resumes. Using this method will certainly take more work and determination to submit your resume to each position, but the results will be much greater.
With whom can I network, if I don’t know any engineers?
A lot of younger engineers hold themselves back thinking that they should only reach out to other engineers.
However, think about the goal here. You are not necessarily trying to reach the decision maker specifically, you are trying to reach anyone who can connect you with a decision maker.
With this in mind, think about any engineering firm. They have a production team, accountants, front office staff, physical building staff, technicians etc. Any of those people could be a viable conduit to a decision maker.
In addition, think about any of your social networks; churches/synagogue, boy scouts or other youth groups, high school friends, your parents friends, neighbors, and other alumni from your school. People like to help people with whom they have some connection, so having these initial things in common will often lead to them lending a helping hand.
Given that some companies only accept online applications and some may be impossible for your to crack otherwise, you may have no choice but to follow the online route. Additionally, it can’t hurt to continue some online applications, even though the effectiveness is low.
However, where possible, I highly recommend you give this a try.
In the end, what do you have to lose?
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