Our Take: Which Facts, and Whose Opinions, Should Guide Your Job Search?

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A running debate I've been having with a good friend goes something like this. He'll email me about a friend of his (or two or three) who just landed a well-matched job through an online posting. I'll reply with equal-and-opposite anecdotes about acquaintances who networked their way to opportunities that were otherwise closed to them.

I'll go on to cite the well-worn statistic that most job openings are filled through networking. And I'll point out that most large companies seek to turn each and every employee into an in-house recruiter by paying cash rewards for referrals that culminate in hires. In turn, my friend, an investment professional at a private wealth management firm, will relate how his own past attempts to network into desired employers always led nowhere, and he and every employed person he knows found their jobs from answering postings.

Since I work at a job board, you'd think I would hold a favorable view of job postings. Well in fact I do. I even got my current job though a posting - with no attempt to network in. But while I reject the conventional view that job boards should play a minor role in any professional's search process, I don't consider them the be-all and end-all either. There's simply too much evidence that openings often get filled through other channels - which usually can be uncovered and exploited by diligently pursuing an eclectic approach.

How Can You Determine Whose Advice Is Right?

My reason for writing this, though, isn't to resolve the debate over job postings versus networking. Instead, I want to spotlight a question that sounds ethereal, but is really essential for a disciplined job search: which kinds of evidence should guide your choice of resume wording, interview strategy and other tactics? And if two sets of facts or two authorities conflict, how can you tell which is more reliable?

If you read this column regularly, you might have seen me mention Larry Dinsmore, who says he snagged a job offer in 2005 by wearing a T-shirt with his resume printed on it. And Mary Berman, who jump-started an ultimately successful interview process in late 2009 by sending a multi-color resume accompanied by a coffee cup emblazoned with "Hire Mary." (I actually just caught myself typing "Hail Mary" - which is how that particular tactic strikes me.)

I have no reason to doubt either story's veracity. Still, I wouldn't advise copying those desperate tactics simply because they succeeded on one occasion.

Here's a more recent example. A financial professional deliberately omitted a street address or city from his resume when answering two job postings. One of his responses led to an interview. That's a 50 percent hit rate: excellent, right? Does hearing that give you an urge to run to the computer and delete the address from your resume?

'Hard' Data Have Flaws Too

As the above incidents illustrate, when you adopt a resume or interview tactic because it happened to work for someone else, you are taking two big risks:

- The person in the success story you heard might have been lucky. Her tactic might get her screened out by 95 percent of employers... but this time, she got an offer.

- Although well matched to the industry and company that figured in the success story, the tactic might clash with bank or hedge fund culture.

So how can you tell if an incident from someone else's job search is relevant to yours? I don't think the answer is to reject all anecdotal evidence and trust only survey data or other statistics. Most of the hiring process is impenetrably private, and some employment-related surveys look like they're designed and interpreted with the aim of maximizing media coverage rather than creating information that can help job-seekers. Instead, I favor a middle ground. Incorporate anecdotes into your information matrix, but rather than draw a clear-cut "lesson" from each and every outcome, leaven your interpretation with judgment.

I also recommend giving less credence to:

- Incidents involving an employer outside of the financial services industry... or even within the industry but involving a department or job outside your particular specialty.

- The many career coaches, authors and other experts whose own background lacks substantial experience within financial services firms.

In sum: Take account of anecdotal evidence, discounted by common sense and your personal experience and knowledge base. That's a large part of what career coaches do in their day-to-day work. It's what I aspire to as well - whether I'm writing a column or conversing with a job seeker.

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