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Our Take: When Less Is More

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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AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    23 July 2010

    Looking,

    If you've been sending out resumes at a steady pace for at least a month and received no response at all, you need to tweak your approach. Have a professional resume specialist/coach review one or more versions of your resume. Also show it to some successful friends in your field and get their input. As the excellent finance-career blog called Mergers & Inquisitions put it:

    Persistence is good, but persistent adaptation is better. If something isn't working in your recruiting efforts, you need to figure out why and then change it...make sure that you're not using ineffective strategies ad infinitum.

    Of course, if you've been out of work for awhile, be mindful of Resume Rule #1 cited by every recruiter, coach, hiring manager and clued-in individual professional I've spoken with lately: Some form of recent, preferably current, professional activity (such as consulting work, board service or relevant volunteer work) must be at the top of your "Professional History" section. If you aren't doing anything suitable to list on the resume as a current professional activity, get right to it. Today.

    If you've already taken those steps to be certain your resume is the best it can be, then reconsider the kinds of openings and employers you're pitching to. Is it possible you are mostly applying for situations for which you are either overqualified or underqualified? (In most cases it's worse to be overqualified than slightly underqualified.)

    Finally, there are skill sets for which demand remains deeply depressed and might not recover at all. You're probably in a better position than I to judge whether you fall within that category and might need to consider making a full-blown career change.

    I will say this, though: Don't trust what you read in the media. Both mainstream and financial media tend to go to extremes when evaluating future career prospects, just as they do when assessing the stock market's future prospects.

    Ever notice how whenever the Dow falls 3 or 4 days in a row, 98 percent of news stories - even the more "analytical" ones - suddenly quote only bearish sources who cite all the reasons it's inevitable the world is going to hell in a handbasket? And when the Dow goes up several days in a row, every so-called expert the reporters trot out is a wildly cheering bull?

    Well, it's much the same when the media write about careers. So keep a cool head, and fight your natural inclination to be swept along by the emotions of the crowd. That's good advice for both investing and career planning.

    -Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • lo
    looking for a job
    23 July 2010

    That sounds great. What happens if your sending out 5 resumes a day for a month. After sending out 40-50 resumes w/ no response do you still think its worthwhile to spend an hour coming up w/ a creative cover letter? Sorry but the reason you had a 7% response rate was cause of when you applied. I dont think anyone in the world is hearing back on 7% of their resume's for longer then a week because if they were they'd be employed.

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    Ade
    22 June 2009

    This from my perspective is a good idea and a wonderful approach which I think job seekers should start to consider in their quest.The number of job seekers is totally depressing and the bad thing is that it's still rising so it would be more efficient to direct your efforts in a more specific way rather than trying everything that comes along.
    What that will do is that it erodes your pshycological strenght as you get turned down and that will sink you further into the abyss of frustration.
    Direct your efforts with more precision and I'm sure you'll get better results.

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