Our Take: When Less Is More

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Which is wiser: To pursue as many potential opportunities as possible, or home in on a carefully selected circle of job openings and professional contacts, giving each significant attention from the get-go?

In my opinion, it's no contest. For an experienced professional, selectivity is vital to a successful job search. Given the avalanche of highly qualified applicants now pounding the pavement, there's little sense diluting one's efforts among hundreds, even thousands, of potential opportunities and contacts, blindly hoping one scattershot blast will strike an unseen bull's-eye.

That's my main takeaway from the story of Byron Wilson. A former investment advisor, insurance company vice president and Big Four CPA, Wilson contacted more than 4,400 chief executives, headhunters and alumni of his college and business school after being laid off from his last job in August 2008. His efforts produced not a single interview. When eFinancialCareers News picked up the story from the Philadelphia Inquirer early this month, several eFC users chimed in to endorse our view that Wilson should have devoted more effort to researching his targets and winnowing his list instead of writing to every recruiter and business leader he could find.

"What does this guy want to do?" wrote one user. "If he's out there hawking his resume to that many executives, somehow I doubt he has a really good idea beyond 'get a job.' I don't hire those people -- I need to know why they want to work for a firm like mine."

Job Postings and Elevator Pitches

Now let's talk about job postings. Should you answer as many as you can in the time you've allotted to that particular job-search channel? Or, should you apply a rigorous filter, and target a handful that look especially promising?

The widely endorsed "elevator pitch" concept points toward the latter: Having a clear and concise statement of the specific type of opportunity you seek, what you've done and what you're good at, that you can articulate smoothly in under two minutes, is indispensable for making new contacts. Why? Because it shows new acquaintances exactly how they can help if they're so inclined.

To work, your pitch must be narrow enough to let most contacts instantly locate you within the framework of job categories they carry in their heads. Try defining yourself as all things to all people, and you'll end up representing nothing in particular to anyone. Figuring where you fit in is a task you should be performing. You shouldn't be thrusting it onto your contacts' shoulders. The more work you make them do in order to help you, the less likely they will.

How does this relate to job postings? The more postings you apply to, the greater the radius between the least promising among them and the core of your skill set. If you adopt the scattershot approach, you may not even have sufficient time to gauge how closely each opening meshes with your skill set, or tailor your resumes and cover letters to spotlight facets of your background that best match each opportunity you seek.

Time Per Posting

On Thursday a member of the eFC Group on a networking site wrote, "I'm sure that thoughtful cover letters help a lot, but where do you draw the line between answering as many postings as possible and doing so creatively? Spending half an hour or more on each application can limit your exposure."

My response: I believe most job-seekers actually will do better to limit their exposure by concentrating on the best possibilities, and devoting significant time to crafting individual resumes and cover letters that maximize the likelihood of a response. To get the most bang for your buck, winnow down the number of openings you pursue, and utilize a variety of channels, starting with networking.

As a point of reference, when I was unemployed and engaged in a full-time job search from mid-2006 through early 2007, I spent an average of two hours crafting a resume plus cover letter for each posting I answered. I got callbacks - an initial phone interview, at a minimum - roughly 7 percent of the time. I've been told that's a strong response rate, even for the boom period when I was doing this.

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