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How to Beat the System to Get a Better Job

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According to the Department of Labor 235 thousand more people got jobs last month. While impressive job growth, the quality of these jobs and how they got them is what should matter. To get a sense of this it’s worth reviewing the details in a comprehensive study just released by Lever – a hiring management system used by small and mid-sized companies around the world – that describes how their 600+ smaller clients hired 15 thousand people.

The big news is that 1.5 million people applied for these 15 thousand jobs. That’s only 1% of the total. So if you’re a job seeker it’s pretty depressing news. However, digging deeper into the numbers tells a different story.

  • The odds were worse for people who applied on a job board – 130 to one. But 48% of their jobs were filled this way. So while inefficient, it is a major source of hires.
  • Getting referred was the best way to get a job. It only took 12 people to hire someone this way. This is 10X better than applying. Based on other survey data and our own research this approach also resulted in better jobs. According to the Lever data only 14% of all jobs were filled by referrals.
  • Only 4% of all hires came through a recruiting agency but in these cases the company only needed to see 25 people to hire one person. What Lever missed was the number of people the recruiting agencies needed to see before presenting any candidates.
  • Corporate recruiters search through LinkedIn and resume databases to find candidates. This direct sourcing approach represented 34% of all hires and its recruiters needed to screen 65 people to yield one hire.

As both a successful contingency recruiter for 10 years and retained recruiter for another 15, these numbers overall seem pretty accurate to me. However, there’s a big mix difference when hiring for more senior-level staff and mid-management positions. My estimate is that for these types of jobs less than 20% are filled via people who apply online, 40% are referrals (including recruiting firms and staffing agencies) and 40% are direct sourced.

For job seekers the specifics matter less than how the information is used to get a better job. Here are some ideas I’ve been dispensing for years with a few new twists.

  1. Mix it up. Go narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. Use a mix of all the techniques. Idea: Find 20 jobs every week you think look interesting and narrow this list down to the best five. And then only apply to 2-3 of them you’re perfectly qualified to handle. But don’t just wait to hear if the company is interested. Instead use the backdoor to get an interview. This means finding someone in the company who can get you a referral to the hiring manager.
  2. Be found. Reverse engineer your LinkedIn profile and online resume to make sure recruiters can find it. Of course, when they find it make sure your major accomplishments and track record are instantly visible.
  3. Bypass the screener. Most candidates get blown out of the water when they’re screened on the first call. If you get an onsite interview the chances for getting a job are pretty much the same (10%) regardless of how you were initially found, with one exception. For referrals it’s twice that at 20% of the time.
  4. Build a true network. Networking is getting people who can vouch for your abilities to recommend you to open jobs they know about. In parallel actively participate in allied business and alumni groups where people in your field hang out. Recruiters review these online listings to get referrals.
  5. Build a reverse network. Take every call from a recruiter. Listen to what they have to say and then provide a great referral. They will pay you back with a few interviews down the road. This is part of building a reverse network. The other part is helping people you know find a better job.
  6. Force a discovery interview. If you do all of the above you will get interviewed. But the likelihood you’ll get an offer is still only 10% unless you’ve been referred, then it will be 20%. To increase your odds of getting an offer you need to make sure you’re being interviewed accurately. This starts by asking the interviewer about some of the big tasks the person hired will likely be assigned to handle. Then give detailed examples of work you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable. Done properly, you’ll likely be invited back as a finalist.

The Lever data is insightful. While primarily designed to help companies design better recruiting practices, it’s invaluable for job seekers, too. Knowing how to beat the system allows you to concentrate your efforts where they’ll do the most good.