How to Avoid the Job Search “Black Hole”

You’ve sent out ten, fifty, maybe a hundred applications, and heard nothing. That is the job search “black hole”. Not only is it discouraging, but it eats away at your self-confidence. In order to avoid the job search “black hole” we must first understand the employment funnel.

When you apply for a job by responding to a posted job opening you will be competing against – pick a number – 50, 200, 500, maybe several thousand other applicants. Because of the large number of applicants, many companies do an initial screening to eliminate as many applications as possible. How do they do that? Often it’s done by a computer (read about Applicant Tracking Systems) or a person in Human Resources, neither of which understands the job requirements fully nor can interpret your qualifications.

In order to reduce applications to a manageable number, the computer or HR professional will look for specific requirements (Hmmm… the job description says, “2-5 experience doing XYZ.” – candidate doesn’t have that – application is eliminated) and/or keywords (for example, in accounting they could be Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Audit Controls, Balance Sheet, Benefits Administration, Billing, Budgeting and Cash Flow, etc.). They may also look at how recent your relevant experience is, or how long you performed certain kinds of work.

If you make it through the first screen, you may then have a phone interview, often with someone in Human Resources who asks a list of questions to further screen out candidates who don’t meet criteria. Then a small number of qualified applications are sent to the hiring manager, who decides which applicants to interview. The first interview may be a phone or virtual interview. Only the “cream of the crop” are invited for a face-to-face interview.

At each step of the process, the number of candidates under consideration decreases. What are some implications of this?

  1. When you apply for a job that’s been posted online, the information you submit must be targeted to that specific job. In the “old days” you could have one resume, and customize it with a cover letter. No more. The resume must stand alone, and must demonstrate your qualifications for the position. Think of it as a targeted marketing document. View this webinar on how to create a resume targeted to a specific job. Need help with how to do this? Contact Debra Franke at 215.991.3582 or
  2. The ideal would be that each time you apply for a job that’s been posted online, there is already someone in the organization that can go to the hiring manager and vouch for you: “I know a person who may not be the perfect match on paper, but I think you should strongly consider them because of …”. (Keep in mind that in many companies, employee referral is the No. 1 way positions get filled – not the only way, but the hiring manager’s preferred way of identifying candidates.) I call these people internal advocates, and where they don’t already exist, your job is to create them. How to do this? I highly recommend the book The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton. This book presents a step-by-step process to develop a prioritized list of target companies/organizations, identify people to contact, conduct a conversation by phone, and follow-up. It is not enough to have one conversation – you must stay on someone’s mental “radar screen” so that when they hear Susie Q. is leaving her position to move to Poughkeepsie, you immediately come to mind.
  3. Keep in mind that many jobs are never posted – anywhere. This is called the unadvertised, or hidden, job market. Again, developing internal advocates is how you tap into these opportunities.