Most of us have a friend or know someone who plays the lottery. This person is always full of hope, praying that they will one day chance upon the lucky numbers that will change their lives forever.

While most of us know someone who plays the lottery, most of us do not personally know someone who has actually won the lottery. What do you think it takes to win the lottery? Do you think your friend might get lucky if he or she buys more tickets?

One of the things I have noticed while talking to job seekers is that many job seekers treat job hunting like playing the lottery. Like the friend we talked about above, they think that they will increase their chances of landing a job by sending out more applications.

What they do not realize is that there is a huge difference between job hunting and playing the lottery. Playing the lottery is a game of chance.

The more tickets our friend buys, the higher his chances of winning, though the increase is only marginal. Other than buying more tickets, there is nothing else our friend can do to increase his chances of winning. It’s all blind luck.

Job hunting, on the other hand, is more about strategy than chance. How many times have you heard someone say, “I have sent 150 job applications and I am yet to get a single reply!”? What these people forget is that, just like the lottery, sending out more applications only results in a marginal increase in your chances of getting a job.

There is a story about a director of a national nonprofit who felt that his work had become redundant and therefore decided to search for a new challenge. Like any other person searching for new opportunities, the director started sending out applications, mostly to well-known tech companies like Google, Facebook and Slack. After a while, it became clear to him that he was getting no responses because his applications were being screened by robots (applicant tracking systems).

Not one to give up quickly, he decided to build his own robot to aggregate hiring managers’ contact information and automatically send out customized emails accompanied by a cover letter and resume to these hiring managers.

The first time he run his robot, it applied to about 1300 jobs in a matter of few minutes. After refining the robot even further, it applied to another 538 jobs over the course of three months. With such a huge number of applications, it comes as a surprise to hear that he did not get a single interview invitation.

This experiment by the director is a clear indication that job hunting is not a numbers game. Data from Indeed also shows that applicants who send out the highest number of applications are 39% less likely to get hired.

So, what exactly is the secret behind a successful job search?

The key to increasing your chances of success in job hunting is not in sending out more applications, but rather sending out better applications.

Hiring managers are usually bombarded with hundreds of applications, therefore if you don’t take time to send high quality, personalized applications, all your efforts will end up in the trash bin.

By applying to fewer jobs, you can then focus on ensuring that your applications are highly targeted and of the highest quality.

Below is a strategy that you can use to send fewer but better job applications and land more interviews.

DEFINE YOUR DESIRED ROLE

The first step in your job search should be to define who you really are. When searching for a job, many people have a hard time deciding what exactly they want to do. They think the best approach is to take whatever job comes their way.

However, this is a very ineffective approach. If you want to market yourself well to potential employers, you need to know who you are and what skills you are marketing. Think about your education and qualifications, your background and your passions. Use these factors to come up with your preferred job title.

For instance, if you just graduated from college with a degree in information technology, there are several paths available to you. You can work as an IT consultant, a health IT specialist, a computer forensic investigator, a cloud architect, a software developer, an IT support analyst, a network administrator, a cyber-security specialist, and so on.

This does not mean that you should apply for all these jobs. Pick one that you want to focus on. For example, if you decide to focus on being a computer forensic investigator, build that as your personal brand.

Start building skills that are specific to computer forensic investigators and highlight these skills in your CV. Any person you interact with professionally should know that you are a computer forensic investigator, not an IT guy.

CREATE A LIST OF TARGET COMPANIES

Once you have defined your desired role, the next step is to come up with a list of 10 – 15 target companies that you would like to work for. This is a strange concept for many job seekers.

Most job seekers think that they will attract more employer interest by casting a wider net. This seldom works. Instead of sending out applications to a diverse range of employers, you should focus your efforts on a narrow segment of employers who are actually interested in the skills you have to offer.

Job hunting is a lot like marketing. You have skills that you want to sell to employers. Job hunting is the process by which you market these skills to potential employers. Now, in traditional marketing, there are marketers who create a product and then try to market it to ‘whoever might be interested in the product’.

However, smart marketers don’t do this. Smart marketers do their research, find out what customers are interested in, tweak their product to match customer preferences and then market the product to a highly targeted segment of consumers who have a high chance of buying the product. By doing this, their marketing is more effective and they end up with a higher return for each dollar they spend in marketing.

Similarly, marketing yourself to a highly targeted segment of employers will make your job search efforts more effective. Targeting your job search will also lead to jobs that are more rewarding and best suited to your strengths.

To start building your list of target companies, start by creating a broad list of some great companies within your industry. Below are some ideas on how to identify companies that will go into this list:

  • Brainstorm a list of companies that are leaders in your industry.
  • Look at companies that did business with your current or former employers and find those that might need someone with your expertise.
  • Check out “best of” lists in business journals and websites.
  • Do a geographical search for companies within your geographical location that might need someone with your skill set.
  • Brainstorm a list of companies that are in line with your hobbies and passions.
  • Get ideas from co-workers who share your interests.

Once you have created this broad list, it’s time to go through the list and identify 10 – 15 companies within the list that you would actually be interested in working for. Below are some considerations you should keep in mind when creating a list of target companies you would like to work for:

  • Type of employer: what type of organization do you prefer? Do you want to work in large companies or smaller organizations? Do you want to work in the private or public sector? What industries are you interested in working in? For instance, with an IT degree, one person might choose to work in the health industry, another in business and another in the tech industry.
  • Skills and experience: Which employers would provide the best value to your unique set of skills, experiences and strengths?
  • Company culture: Does the culture of the company align with your preferences? Do you want to work in a company with a free spirited, fun culture, or are you more comfortable with the conventional corporate culture? Keep in mind that company culture will have a big effect on your job satisfaction.
  • Advancement opportunities: Will the company provide you with career advancement opportunities? You don’t want to work for a company where your career will stagnate.
  • Geographic preferences: Are you willing to relocate, or are you looking for a job within your home area? What length of commute are you comfortable with? It makes no sense applying for a job that requires you to relocate if you are not willing to relocate.

RESEARCH YOUR TARGET COMPANIES

Once you have identified 10 – 15 companies to target, the next thing you need to do is to research these companies. Go through company websites and find out all you can about these companies. The information you uncover here will come in handy once you start crafting your application. Many company websites also have a vacancies section that will show you whether there are any positions that are currently open.

Go through the companies’ LinkedIn profiles as well. LinkedIn is a great resource that will help you discover information such as open positions and company executives (this is a good way of identifying the hiring manager). LinkedIn can help you create a connection with contacts who can then help you get your foot in the door once you send your application.

Other resources you can use to research your target companies include company social media profiles, review sites like Glassdoor.com and YELP, company databases like Hoovers, AtoZ databases and Reference USA, Google search, and professional association and industry websites.

Why should you go through all this trouble? Is it worth it?

Researching your target companies is totally worth it. The information gained in this stage will help you:

  • Identify open positions and discover unadvertised job positions.
  • Identify how your skills, qualifications and experiences can help the target companies overcome their current challenges.
  • Determine how to align your personal brand with the company’s needs.
  • Craft a cover letter and resume that will resonate with the company.
  • Make important connections with key decision makers who can help you get your foot through the door.
  • Come across as an informed, knowledgeable candidate once you are invited for an interview.

EVALUATE JOB LISTINGS

I mentioned that one of the benefits of the research phase is that it will help you identify open positions posted either on the company website, LinkedIn, or their social media pages. Now is the time to send applications to all relevant openings, right? Not so fast!

Before you start sending applications, you need to evaluate the openings that are relevant to you and find out if you should really send that application. Go through the job descriptions once again. Here, you should confirm that two things about the job are right – your level of competence and your level of excitement.

In other words, you should confirm that you are qualified for the job and that you actually want to do the job. If you are not qualified, then it beats logic sending the application, because it’s obvious that you won’t get hired. And if you are not actually excited about the job, then it means you won’t be satisfied with the job even if you get it. Be honest with yourself here.

NOTE: You can still send an application even if no open position has been advertised by the company, but you still need to ensure that you are qualified and excited about whatever position you are applying for.

If you are qualified and excited about the job, it’s now time to move to the last step.

CUSTOMIZING YOUR RESUME AND COVER LETTER FOR THE APPLICATION

At the start of this article, I mentioned that the secret to increasing your chances of getting invited to interviews is to send better applications. The key to sending better applications is to make sure that your applications are customized and targeted to the specific job you are applying for.

The problem with sending numerous applications is that you cannot possibly customize each application to the job you are applying for. Obviously, a generic application will not meet any individual employer’s requirements, so you will be playing a losing game.

The information you gained during the research phase will be very useful in this phase. It will help you ensure that your resume and cover letter are totally aligned with the needs of the employer, which will in turn increase your chances of getting hired.

It will also show the hiring manager that you took some time and effort to research about the company and customize your application. This shows that you are a professional who is willing to put in the effort to get the job done. Question is, how do you ensure that your application is customized and highly targeted?

Customizing Your Resume

Below are some tips on how to tweak your resume to match a particular job application:

Title: The first thing that shows whether a resume is customized or generic is the resume title. You should ensure that the title on your resume matches the title used in the job listing. The title should appear immediately below or next to your name. This will make it clear at a glance what role you are applying for. For instance, if the employer advertised for the role of a “Senior Network Administrator”, these are the exact words you should use in your resume title. This shows that you have taken the time to customize your resume for the position and that you are clear about job goals. If you are applying for a job that has not been advertised, you resume title should show the role you are interested in.

Objective: Many job seekers make the mistake of using a generic objective in their resumes. If you look at most resumes, you will notice people using objectives like “To build a long term career in the web development industry and work with a company with opportunities for career growth.” This is a very generic objective that will do little to help your job search. A good objective statement should be specifically targeted to the open position. For instance, instead of the above objective, you can write, “Seeking to use my web development skills to help ABC Web Design Company become the leading provider of web development services.

Qualifications: Since you have already researched the employer’s requirements, you should ensure that your qualifications are well matched with these requirements. If some of your qualifications are not specific to the position you are applying for, remove them from your resume.

Job experiences: Don’t just state your previous jobs. In the descriptions section, highlight aspects of these jobs that make you specifically qualified for the job you are applying for.

Skills: The skills listed on your resume should also be matched with the exact skills listed in the job listing. Not only will this position you a good fit for the job, it will also help you pass safely through Applicant Tracking Systems. For instance, let’s assume an employer has listed the following skill requirement:

Skills: Advanced knowledge of Adobe applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects)

In such a situation, you might be tempted to write that you have a solid knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite, which covers all the above software applications. However, omitting these keywords – Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects – can prevent your resume from going through the ATS, which means that it will not be seen by the hiring manager, even if you are highly qualified.

Customize Your Cover Letter

Below are some tips on how to tweak your cover letter to match a particular job application:

Address it to the hiring manager: The more personal the cover letter, the better your chances of making an impression on the hiring manager. As part of your research phase, you should try to find out as much as you can about whoever is responsible for hiring. You can even make a phone call to the company to find out the name of the hiring manager. You should then make sure that your cover letter is addressed to this person.

Use name dropping to your advantage: If you are acquainted with someone within the company, don’t be afraid to mention it in your cover letter. Before doing this, it’s wise to talk to this person and ask them to recommend you for the job. Name dropping can especially be useful if the company has an Employee Referral Program.

Mention how you learned about the opening: This should come in the first paragraph of your cover letter. If you found the job listing on the company website, on LinkedIn, or through a job board, make sure to mention it. To make your cover letter even better, you can mention something about the company (such as the company mission statement) in the first paragraph of your cover letter.

Don’t forget to mention your qualifications: In as much as the cover letter should not repeat what is in your resume, it should mention your qualifications and show why they are the right fit for what the company is seeking.

Say why you want the job and why: Finally, don’t forget to mention what inspired you to apply for the job. This provides you with an opportunity to show your passion for the job and speak more about that particular company. Explain why you want to work for this particular company. Use the information you gathered in the research phase to tie the company mission to your personal goals.

WRAPPING UP

That’s it!

By following the strategies, you will be able to turn your job search on its head. Instead of applying to every remotely relevant job you come across and getting zero responses for all your efforts, you can improve your chances of success by narrowing your focus and sending out fewer but highly targeted applications.

Simply decide what role you want, identify target companies you would love to work for, research about these companies, evaluate the job listings, and then customize and send your applications to jobs that you are qualified for and excited about.

Do this and you will start seeing more success in your job search.

How to Apply for Fewer Jobs (& Land More Interviews)

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