The uncertainty of the labor market has been a hot topic of conversation for going on three years now. Between April 2020 and November 2021, the United States saw a record spike in Americans quitting their jobs, going from roughly two million to 4.5 million in a span of 19 months. We’ve heard every catchphrase from the “Great Resignation” to “quiet quitting.” The only certainty about the future of the labor market is uncertainty; I’ll leave the speculation as to what lies ahead to the expert economists.
In my role as Talent Development Partner, I’ve dealt with hundreds of job vacancies and thousands of job seekers. Based on my observations, here are 10 simple ways you can improve your chances of securing the next job you pursue:
1. RESEARCH THE COMPANY BEYOND THE JOB DESCRIPTION.
There are a variety of popular recruiting sites, such as ZipRecruiter and Indeed, that are useful to job seekers because they aggregate job ads from companies of all sizes, locations, and industries. As of this writing, Indeed has 672,030 jobs posted—a lot of fish in the proverbial job seeker’s sea! But how do you know which one(s) may not only be of interest but are also a good fit? Just as if you were perusing singles’ profiles on one of the many popular dating apps, you’d do a little more online research.
A company’s job post gives you a sliver of insight in comparison to what other resources offer. Start with the company’s website. There, you can learn more about the business they are involved in, get a sense of the company culture, and find more detailed information such as employee benefits. The company’s social media accounts can offer another perspective, including how its audience interacts with the company. More specifically, websites such as Glassdoor collect employment related information from employers and employees.
You can find information to support anything. While doing your research, it is important to keep in mind that these are just data points. The same way a company is going to want to put its best foot forward when marketing itself as an employer, you may come across seemingly negative content associated with a company that could have been posted by a disgruntled employee. Take it all with a grain of salt, as they say.
2. TAP INTO YOUR NETWORK.
One way to get more qualified information about a company you’re interested in is to connect with folks in your network who may be familiar with that company. Perhaps they are or a current or former employee, they work in the same industry, or they’ve engaged with the company as a consumer.
I liken this approach to asking a waiter or waitress what they recommend on the menu. If you don’t know said waiter or waitress and they don’t know your culinary preferences, how can you make a decision about what to order off that ”blind” information? But if a close friend takes you to their favorite restaurant, odds are they have a sense of what you like and don’t like and they’re confident you’re going to like something on the menu.
Going back to tapping into your network; many companies offer referral rewards to its employees. If you connect with a current employee, it may benefit you both to share that information. Ask your contact if there is an internal referral process or if you can/should mention their name when submitting your application. Ensure that the person you’re associating yourself with is in good standing with the company. Otherwise, you might be “guilty by association.”
3. READ CAREFULLY DURING THE APPLICATION PROCESS.
Some feel that applying for – and ultimately landing – a job is simply a numbers game. The more lines you cast the more likely you are to catch a fish. While this may be statistically true, it’s important that you do not sacrifice quality for quantity. When applying, be sure to carefully read each question and take each step through the process. By overlooking a seemingly small detail, you could unintentionally miss a critical step in the process and/or leave your application incomplete.
For example, I help conduct a behavioral assessment as part of the interview process. I would estimate that 50% of our applicants do not complete this step as intended! Some note that it is already on file but we are unable to find them in our dashboard; some state they will take the assessment via the link in the email and fail to do so. While we do follow up directly with candidates of interest, this is a simple way to display transferrable skills such as attention to detail and following instructions.
BONUS: Want to stand out in an electronic world? Go analog!
If you live close enough to the company you’re applying to, it may be worth your while to drop off hard copies of your application materials.
Why would you do this?
Well, some companies receive hundreds or thousands of applications. Depending on the size of their talent acquisition team, that can be a lot to sort through. So, if you deliver hard copies addressed to the talent acquisition team and/or the hiring manager, that’s a potential extra touchpoint that gets your application in front of the right people.
You’re also making an impression on whatever current employees you interact with during your delivery. It’s important to put your best foot forward—look the part, be confident and respectful, and put a face to the name on the paper.
4. MONITOR YOUR EMAIL REGULARLY – INCLUDING YOUR SPAM FOLDER!
Email is technically over 50 years old! But it didn’t really become mainstream until the late ‘90s, with internet users jumping from 55 million in 1997 to 400 million by 1999. Even so, email has been a relatively common form of communication for 25 years. Somehow, we still don’t consistently get it right.
It’s safe to assume that when you apply for a job online, the next form of communication will be via email. Typically, companies will send out a basic acknowledgment thanking you for your interest in the position and noting they will be in touch about next steps. However, some email acknowledgments include said next steps in that very email. As noted above, we send out the behavioral assessment that we require as a link. Other companies will offer micro-interviews and include a link to a calendar for scheduling.
Simply put, it is your responsibility—and an important one—to be on the lookout for communication from your prospective employer. Don’t ignore your spam folder or, even worse, blindly click the “Delete All” button until you are sure there’s nothing of importance in there.
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5. CALL TO FOLLOW UP ON YOUR APPLICATION.
This falls into the ‘extra effort’ category and it’s a bit of an art to get it just right. Assuming you’ve read through the application carefully and been on the lookout for the next communication, how long do you sit and wait? There are a lot of factors that can affect this but, generally, I think it is fair to follow up in a week if you have not received an update by then.
Some factors to consider… was there mention of next steps or a timeline somewhere in the application? How old is the job post? Older posts may already be filled (which they should still notify you about) and newer posts may not yet be actively reviewed by the hiring manager. You want to come across as interested but not pushy or desperate; in a way, this is another first impression. Make a good one over the phone!
6. ANSWER THE PHONE.
As applicants move down through the funnel and are further considered for a vacancy, communication typically moves from email to phone. A job search is not the best time to screen your calls. Talent acquisition folks are often moving through a list of candidates, making calls back-to-back. If you screen the call and the recruiter leaves a voicemail, who knows when you will be able to get back in touch with them?
Of course, there are instances where candidates simply aren’t available (note: I respect candidates that do not answer the phone during working hours if their current job is one that does not have the flexibility to do so). In that case, make sure your voicemail greeting is up to date (and professional!) and that your voicemail box is not full. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been greeted by, “The user you are trying to reach has a voicemail box that is not set up yet,” or “The voicemail box is full and cannot accept any new messages at this time”…
7. TEST YOUR TECH.
One advancement due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased use of virtual interviews. I say ‘advancement’ because I’m not yet sure if it’s an improvement or not. The extroverted people-person in me really values physically being in the same space as others. The elder millennial and new-ish father in me appreciate the increased accessibility and proactive prevention of spreading germs. However you feel about them, virtual interviews are here and, very likely, here to stay.
Before you hop onto that Zoom or Teams call, make sure you’ve fully tested your technology. As we all know, it may not work today just because it worked yesterday. Try getting into the meeting space early (unless it’s a general link that all candidates use; then wait for your specified time). Use the ‘test’ functions the platform offers. If you have your own account, try calling someone beforehand and asking them for feedback.
Lastly, just as your appearance in an in-person interview contributes to the interviewer’s perception of you, so does your background during a virtual interview. So, either make use of the virtual backgrounds (a minimalist room or office space is always safe) or put away the dirty laundry and take down the inappropriate poster.
8. SEND A HANDWRITTEN ‘THANK YOU’ NOTE.
Again, in a largely electronic world, go analog! It’s easier than ever before to copy and paste the email addresses from the meeting invitation, type out a generic, “Thank you for your time. I appreciated the opportunity to interview for the position,” and hit send. But, for those willing to take their gratitude a step further, I recommend sending a handwritten ‘thank you’ note. I can confirm that most candidates are not doing this and so it reflects very well on those that do.
If you are offered an in-person interview, you can even pre-write the ‘thank you’, fill in the names and address the envelope afterward, then just drop it in the mailbox on your way home. This will convey your appreciation above and beyond the standard email and shows that you are willing to put in the additional effort because you value the opportunity.
9. KEEP YOUR REFERENCES IN THE KNOW.
Most applications do not require you to provide references upfront, but you should still already be curating your reference list. Start with any connections that work for the organization you are applying to. Again, do your best to understand their position within the company; you want to make sure they are at a minimum in good standing. Next, think about those that you have the longest and strongest professional relationship with. The deeper a relationship is, the more that reference will be able to draw from when asked screening questions. Lastly, make sure they are recent and relevant.
The number one hurdle our Human Resources team faces when putting candidates through our pre-hire process are reference checks. Attempting to gather recommendations from two to three people can sometimes take a week, two weeks, or more. This delays the hiring process for all involved and, in some cases, the hiring manager moves on to another desired candidate. Make sure your references’ contact information is up to date (references are not a ‘set it and forget it’ thing). Once you’ve identified your desired references and submitted them to your prospective employer, alert your references that they may be receiving a call And keep them updated as you go through the application process. This will take some work but the last thing you want is for your reference to be caught off guard by a screening phone call or, even worse, to be non-responsive!
10. BE FLEXIBLE AND PROFESSIONALLY PERSISTENT.
Okay, you did everything right through the process and weren’t selected for the job. What’s next? That’s up to you. If this organization is one that you’re passionate about joining, you are well within your rights to follow up with the talent acquisition team and note that, though you were not selected for the position you applied for, you are open to other opportunities. Often, this can lead to a one-on-one phone call with you and a recruiter where they will want to learn more about you, your background, and what you’re looking for in the future.
There have been several instances where the candidate has followed up to inquire about other opportunities or I have proactively reached out to the candidate to see if they are interested in another potential opportunity. In the end, both companies and candidates should be most concerned with fit–the rest can be figured out as you go.
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