A long job search is loaded with emotion, but it can be analyzed with basic math. In today’s market an attractive job has a horde of job seekers, and you are one of the horde. It’s likely that you are one of a hundred equally qualified applicants. Mathematically speaking, those are poor odds.
But the reality is far worse because the basis of most hirers' pre-screen is visible qualifications: the traditional combination of education, skill and experience. How can the odds be even worse than 100 to 1? Because 20% of the people in the application line have qualifications that are visibly superior to the rest of the long line. So the mere mortals are cut (usually as swiftly as possible) before the real game even begins.
The qualifications-based search is difficult for another rarely discussed reason. If you apply next week for a similarly attractive position, nothing has likely changed in terms of the strength of your education, skill, and experience. And given a universe of 99 competitors, the top 20 will be pretty much like last week's top 20. This is clearly not good if your position is somewhere from #21 south.
Some advisors suggest applying for every job that sounds remotely attractive, often involving "jumping industries." Our math analysis questions this idea. If you're south of 21st in your own industry, odds will only be worse in another industry for which your experience even more inferior than those highly qualified applicants in the Top 20.
Okay, let's wrap up the gloomy math with some constructive advice. If you objectively know that your visible qualifications are not Top 20 for a given search, you have three choices.
- Pray fervently that no one notices (more bad odds).
- Skip the aggravation and don't apply.
- Find a way to end run the traditional screening process and stay in the game.
There are a variety of end run possibilities, but their common objective is to demonstrate that out of all the candidates, you will be the best for the job, even though you likely aren't the best-looking candidate on paper.
Edge Strategies Have Better Odds
Edge strategies vary in boldness. A good goal is to be bold enough to give yourself a chance to stand out. Of course, at least one of your negative relatives will deliver warnings such as, "Don't do that. What if the hirer doesn't want a customized direct-mail campaign (or whatever your Edge strategy is going to be)?"
Okay, finally, some good news about the math. You only need one job! You're not a brand of candy bar that must taste good to 99% of tasters. So you can ask your negative relative, "Which is better? To send a vanilla application and be tossed at the pre-screen stage by all 100 hirers? Or be bold and risk offending 90 screeners, but be viewed as interesting to 10?" Of course, the answer is obvious, but it is true that you need to dig into the courage barrel to take an Edgy step.
Here’s another piece of good news. Every veteran hirer has been burned by selecting a candidate that looked perfect on paper. There are all kinds of reasons that the mighty (looking) fall: arrogant, lazy, unreliable, lousy team player, zero common sense, and more. If you can communicate the qualities that hirers value, and if you can argue compellingly that you'll learn quickly enough to overcome any experience gap, you've got a shot.
Be aware that there’s some hard work involved in a winning stand-out strategy. You must know as much as possible about the hiring organization. Studying business strategy is fundamental. Now we’re talking about understanding culture: attitude toward customers, quality, teamwork, community involvement and any other intangibles that you can discover. Three things happen when you skillfully communicate the fit between your values and the hiring company’s culture: (1) You are end-running the cold screening process; (2) you are showing a high-level of interest in this job…a competitive plus vs. cookie-cutter applications; (3) you are showing work ethic, creativity and communication skill – all valued qualities.
Methods of end-run communication can range to the bizarre – jobs have reportedly been won by people walking the street with Hire-Me sandwich boards. If the bizarre doesn’t fit you (or shouldn’t, which is the case for most openings), end-run options include well-timed direct mail, phone calls, and email as both value communicator and conduit of links to online personal information. Online content can include videos, demonstrations of your work, and favorable social media content.
The key, of course, is relevant boldness that earns attention; secures a look at the qualities that wouldn’t be seen in a qualifications-only pre-screen; and communicates that you are the right person. Why not give an edge strategy a try, and improve your odds?
Bill Corbin and Shelbi George were unconventional job search pioneers in the 1990s. Their book update “The Edge Rides Again” articulates the importance of stand out search tactics, and includes today’s digital technology in the communication toolset. Check out The Edge.