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by Kaitlin McManus | October 24, 2018


Man in tunnel

Today’s job search is nothing if not convenient. We can all sit in our beds wearing jammies, resumé at the ready, sending off applications as quickly as we can whip up the cover letters (and you should definitely spend some time on those cover letters—they matter). The process itself couldn’t be easier, but that doesn’t mean the hunt is less stressful.

Let me tell you something that definitely won’t shock you: the easier something is to do, the more people will do it. There are more people playing Candy Crush on the train than reading Ulysses. So, if it’s as convenient as possible to apply for a certain position, it’s likely the applicant pool will swell. That’s probably why many big companies have a proprietary database for accepting applications (that sad, drab webpage where you attach your resumé and then insert all the stuff that’s on your resumé into the appropriately labelled windows). It’s also probably why oftentimes there is no contact information—no one for the hundreds of applicants to follow up with when they don’t hear back in a week. You—and all the other applicants—are forced to sit around and wait for a response that sometimes never comes.

In my most recent job hunt, I spent a lot of time applying to positions at large publishing corporations. I was told (anecdotally) by an employee at one of these companies that upward of 300 hundred people would apply for entry-level positions and, for the most part, we were all equally qualified. If they brought in six people out of three hundred for interviews, I had approximately a 2 percent chance of speaking to someone face-to-face. Every Ivy League school had a higher acceptance rate than that this year.

The HR database is often where good resumés and thoughtful cover letters go to die. But you don’t have to let technology strip you of what makes you a unique and employable candidate. You can flip it, and use it to your advantage. And by that I mean network. You’ve heard it a thousand times, and here it is again. Talk to people–real human beings.
Obviously, it is ideal if you have a friend (or even a friend of a friend) to make introductions for you. But what should you do if your network is dried up and none of your contacts know anyone at your target employer?

Find new contacts.

Search LinkedIn or the company website for any employees with whom you may have a connection. Look for current employees who went to your alma mater, were part of the same sorority/fraternity, or were members of the same club or organization as you. If you can’t find someone with a shared background, dig to see if anyone from your target employer has written articles of interest to you, has a social media presence that you admire, or is meaningfully involved in any organizations that resonate with you.  In other words, find a common denominator that allows you to reach out to the person. Once you find a potential connection, contact them. Tell them who you are and that you’d like to find out more about the work they do. Request an informational interview, a quick coffee meeting, or a phone chat. Be professional and sincere but not desperate or bitter. “I’ve applied to X, Inc. six times and no one’s ever even talked to me” is the absolute WRONG tone to take, especially since the person you’re contacting likely has nothing to do with your past troubles. Most people would love to take half an hour from their daily grind, get a latte, and chitchat about themselves.

Remember the employee who told me the 300-applicant figure? She shared that stat with me during a coffee date—one for which I had cold-emailed her. And then she asked me to send her my resumé and promised to pass it along to someone in the relevant department.

What was my secret? I was polite, inquisitive, and sociable, and most importantly, I took a chance and connected with her. I used technology to help myself stand out as an individual in a mass of applicants. And while obtaining a recommendation is an ideal outcome, it won’t always happen. But gaining a valuable connection is a great consolation prize.

Technology may be making it harder to showcase your individuality among an enormous applicant pool. But it also gives us the opportunity to find interesting people, make connections, and demonstrate that you have the drive to work for what you really want. Don’t get stuck in the black box with everyone else.