Chess or darts - which jobsearch strategy works best?

Mon, 06/08/2012 - 11:57 -- nick

One of Richmond Solutions' series of blogs on jobsearch, this article asks the question relevant to every jobseeker, namely whether you should send out hundreds of applications to any job that seems like it might be suitable for you, or target just a few jobs that fit your skills and experience exactly. One of the key points to remember that isn't discussed below is that, while some job adverts may gather hundreds of applications, some only get a few, and you might get on to an interview shortlist through being 'close enough' rather than the perfect candidate. And as we know, once you're on the shortlist anything can happen...

'One of the more controversial strategies I have advocated on this blog is that you should "apply until your fingers bleed". 

Not everyone agrees. It cuts so against the accepted dogma of job hunting. We all "know", don't we, that you are supposed to spend a lot of time carefully plotting a relatively limited number of applications, and apparently this yields the best results.

This is, if you like, the chess approach. Carefully marshalling your resources in a strategic, or at least tactically strong, approach, addressing the requirements of this shortlist of roles. Following it is standard advice.

The trouble is this model leaves out friction. It's a "pure" model which assumes that job hunting is "fair". It suggests that the best person wins, most of the time anyway. 

I get asked a lot "do you think I will get this job?", or "Don’t you think this job has my name all over it?" The honest answers are "nobody knows" and "no, certainly not".

There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that the recruitment process is deeply imperfect. Why?

  • Imperfect knowledge.  Those doing the recruiting frequently don't really understand what the role they are trying to fill requires. Also, those applying often do a poor job of demonstrating their talent.
  • Volume. The internet and the recession have aggravated the problem, but in truth anytime a recruitment campaign generates more than a couple of dozen applications it turns into a bit of a lottery. Differentiating the skills and talents of that big a list is like spotting the winner of a horse race. The margin on sports betting is huge for a reason. No punter really knows the result often enough.
  • Speed. The pace of business has speeded-up since the 1990s and hiring managers demand quicker and quicker results. Consequently, recruiters, HR officers, and others involved in the process have less time to consider their judgments. Inevitably, they suffer as a result.
  • Stereotyping. This is not mainly about prejudice, although of course that does exist. The simple reality is people form an image in their head of what other types of people are like. It saves time. Few people genuinely are free from an element of stereotyping. Take the old chestnut about the differences between the public and private sector. I've seen this debate from both sides. Huge assumptions are made that have no basis in fact.
  • Fashion. Until five years ago the best name to have on your CV was a merchant bank, followed by one of the major professional service firms. Now it's probably Google, Apple or one of the social media companies. They are not necessarily the best fit for a job, just those with the most prestigious pedigree. Fashion will change. Five years from now the fashionable companies might well all have Chinese names.

So, should you pepper the world with your applications instead? Yes and no. All the above suggests very strongly that you should be applying for a lot of roles, and expect to get one that may not be quite what you thought you would get.

However, don't abandon common sense. There is no hard and fast rule, but unless you have a good 50% of a role’s key requirements you probably are on to a loser in an even moderately large field of candidates.

You also need a really good core CV, a good covering letter, a LinkedIn profile that adds to, rather than subtracts from your employability, and you need to know how to interview.

Sounds hard? It is. But it's not impossible. Never give up. Never, ever, give up.

David Welsh

Via Richmond Solutions