In late 2014, the Career Advisory Board’s Job Preparedness Indicator study revealed a startling fact: only 7 percent of hiring managers feel that most job seekers have the right combination of skills and traits needed to fill open positions. This means that while the market is robust and candidates are flooding pipelines, a company might interview 25 people and hire no one. It’s very rare that a candidate applies for whom hiring managers can check all the boxes.
In the interest of providing actionable advice to job seekers, we set out to discover what candidates who are perceived as the “complete package” are doing in order to secure a desirable job offer. In our new Successful Job Seekers research, we surveyed over 550 professionals of varying ages and in different roles and industries. Our respondents had one thing in common: they were either recruited by a desirable company and received an offer without having to search for a new job at all (referred to as passive job seekers), or they received an interview for a job they ultimately accepted less than six months after starting a search (referred to as active job seekers).
Here, I highlight the results of the research, including that the most effective candidates target, customize, and are organized and realistic about their opportunities.
Successful Job Seekers TARGET
A short and fruitful job search is apparently not the numbers game that many think it is. Active job seeker respondents, on the whole, did not apply to dozens of positions and hope to get lucky. Instead, they targeted individual companies and applied to open positions very selectively. Fifty-one percent of active job seekers applied to five or fewer positions and 66 percent applied to 10 or fewer. Ninety percent of active job seekers wanted to be at least 75 percent qualified before applying for a position, and 41 percent wanted to be more than 90 percent qualified before applying. This discerning attitude works, as nearly a third of active job seeker respondents received an interview for more than half the positions to which they applied.
Successful Job Seekers CUSTOMIZE
An essential tool in our respondents’ arsenal was customization. Before applying, 67 percent of active job seeker respondents reached out to the contact person to inquire about the position, and 32 percent reached out to their network to get inside information on the role and company. Alongside their applications, 67 percent included a resume containing the keywords and skills listed in the job description, and 56 percent wrote an email or cover letter pertaining specifically to each open position. Once an interview had been secured, 84 percent of both active and passive job seekers updated or created a new resume for that opportunity. In preparing for individual interview conversations, 63 percent reviewed the company website, 52 percent Googled the company, 46 percent brainstormed concrete examples of how the job description matched their skill set, 28 percent talked to current employees at the company, and 26 percent Googled the interviewers.
Successful Job Seekers ORGANIZE
Organization is important to successful active job seekers: 73 percent kept files on each opportunity, 64 percent stuck to a weekly to do list, and over 50 percent used an online calendar or smartphone app to manage appointments. As one might expect, timely follow up was critical to securing an offer. Sixty-five percent of both active and passive respondents emailed thank you notes after an interview, 17 percent mailed hard copy thank you notes, and 16 percent called to thank the interviewer(s). They didn’t follow up too much, however. While 64 percent of respondents followed up after the interview at least once, only 6 percent followed up frequently. Finally, successful seekers managed their time carefully. Though many career advisers suggest treating a search like a full-time job, most of our respondents didn’t. Only 7 percent spent more than 3 hours a day on their search, 47 percent spent 1-3 hours a day, and 45 percent spent less than an hour each day.
Successful Job Seekers ARE REALISTIC
The most successful active and passive job seekers were willing to settle to some degree. Most accepted jobs that were superior in only a few ways (role, industry, company, geographic location). Sixty-three percent accepted roles they felt were desirable, 55 percent accepted a role at a desirable company, 51 percent accepted a role in a desirable location, and 46 percent accepted a role in a desirable industry. Only 21 percent felt they received an excellent offer, 61 percent thought the offer was good enough, and 19 percent thought the offer was not good, but they wanted the work.
Have you been very successful on the job search? What made it possible for you?