How to Get A Job Workshop

For the next few weeks, we’re going to devote the Q&A feature to a workshop. Instead of Q&A, this limited series of columns will be “All Answers,” or, if you will, “How To.” So the only question we’ll be addressing in several editions of the newsletter and in this column will be about how to get a job. We’ll start with “Don’t write a resume!” I hope you find this deep dive helpful, and that you will — as always — dive into the discussion in the Comments section below!  — Nick

How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume

don't write a resumeThe first step on your job search is to become aware of the myths of job hunting. The first myth is that your resume will get you in the door for a job interview.

It won’t. It’s a fallacy.

Don’t write a resume

Don’t write a resume to start your job search. It’s a terrible habit that will slow you down. Worse, you’ll find yourself defending your resume in job interviews when you should be tackling the job you want. A resume tells the hiring manager what you’ve done. What the manager needs to know is what you will do if you’re hired to make the business and the manager more successful. Your resume can’t do that.

Resumes have failed at getting you in the door so often that you’ve accepted it as an unavoidable trauma. All job seekers have come to accept resume failure as normal. But failure is what you choose every time you submit a resume (or the equivalent: a job application) to apply for a job interview.

Calculate the resume myth

You can prove to yourself just how costly the resume fallacy is. How many resumes have you sent out during your life? Make a reasonable estimate. Now, how many job interviews have you gotten from those resumes? Draw a ratio:


I know the ratio it’s tiny. Minuscule. Practically meaningless.

Let’s go a step further: How many resumes have you submitted for every job offer you’ve gotten?

No one wants to view their future as a game of chance, but the resume ratio reveals most job seekers are desperate gamblers.

Your resume will get you rejected

Software developer Joel Spolsky created several successful software companies including StackOverflow, which gets over 100 million visitors per month. He sold the company for $1.8 billion. He built his success by avoiding the myths and hiring people who are smart and get things done. Here’s what this expert hiring manager says about Getting Your Resume Read:

“We get between 100 and 200 [resumes] per opening. There is no possible way we can interview that many people. The only hope is if we can screen people out using resumes. Don’t think of a resume as a way to get a job: think of it as a way to give some hiring manager an excuse to hit DELETE.”

Spolsky isn’t against using resumes per se, but this entrepreneur points out the dirty little secret about using a resume to get a job: It’s a myth that wastes your precious time when you need to stand out and to get an edge over hundreds or thousands of competitors for the job you want.

But it’s actually worse. The resume fallacy is a systemic problem. The employment system itself conspires to make it even harder to get an interview from your resume. As more and more job seekers learn to feed resumes into job-board databases, and as employers rely more and more on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes), these automated resume-scanning machines keep increasing your competition. This lowers the odds that your resume will do what HR managers claim: “The purpose of your resume is to get you in the door for an interview.”

Those HR managers are lying. As Spolsky points out, the purpose of your resume is to help employers reject you. The automated deluge of incoming resumes leaves them no choice.

What gets you in the door?

Consider this: You send your resume to five hundred companies and it sits in a manager’s file while thousands more resumes pile in after it. At some point, the manager will decide whether to interview you. Meanwhile, my candidate is sitting in the manager’s office describing how they will help the manager produce profit and contribute to the bottom line.

There’s a difference between a job hunter who uses a resume and a job hunter who cultivates and uses personal contacts to get into a company they’ve targeted. One gets the job and one doesn’t. Hiring managers rely on their trusted contacts to endorse and personally recommend good job candidates. Meanwhile, your resume is used to reject you.

(A headhunter is a special case of the personal contact that gets you in the door. But don’t count on a headhunter’s help. It’s far better to use a professional referral. 50-70% of jobs come from personal referrals. Only about 3% of jobs come from headhunters.)

So, what’s a resume for?

Should you not have a resume? Of course you should have a resume: a good, simple list of your work experience, expertise and credentials. (Believe me: Employers don’t trust resumes even as they solicit millions of them, because they know over 80% of people lie on their resumes.)

Here’s my myth-busting advice: Don’t write a resume to start your job search.

  • Never hand your resume to anyone “to get in the door.”
  • Never use a resume to apply for a job.
  • Never use a resume “to market yourself.”

The only time you should use your resume is after you have established substantive contact with the hiring manager —

  • not with a recruiter
  • not with HR, and
  • not with any automated applicant system.

Your resume by itself does not count as substantive contact. You have to earn substantive contact, which is usually made through a trusted referral.

What’s a resume really for? The only purpose of a resume is to fill in the blanks about who you are — after you have used better means to meet a hiring manager. If a hiring manager does not already know exactly why you are worth interviewing, your resume isn’t going to help.

To get a meaningful shot at winning the job you want, make sure the hiring manager knows all about you before they read your resume. Rely on your resume only to fill in the blanks for a hiring manager who already has adequate information to want to interview you.

Interviews and jobs don’t come from resumes

Beware the resume myth. Don’t start any job search by writing a resume that’s “a marketing piece.” Your resume doesn’t “sell you.” It is a dumb document that a manager can use to quickly reject you after spending about 6 seconds looking at it.

So don’t waste precious time on resumes when you can invest it meeting hiring managers. People don’t get jobs from resumes. They get jobs through people the manager knows and trusts.


How to Get A Job: Pick only the right 3-4 companies

I invite you to post your thoughts, experiences and advice about resumes and how to get a job in the Comments section below. Related questions and suggestions for future topics in the Workshop are welcome!

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  1. When I have supplied a resume in the past, it was not read as evidenced by the questions asked which were already answered in the resume. Unprepared interviewers. Most annoying.

  2. A reminder that Nick talks the long game.

    Someone who starts practicing what he says today, and gets laid off tomorrow, has to do whatever they need to do to get health insurance and sash flow.

    Additionally, many of his readers have stories of doing everything Nick says not to do, and things turning out fine. I put that in the same category as people I know whose hookup turned out to be a long, successful, satisfying marriage. I still do not recommend that for finding Mr/Ms Right.

    Happy hunting!

    • Gregory,

      To get sash flow, just make sure the sash is the right length. If it’s too short, it won’t flow at all, and if it’s too long, it will mostly just drag on the ground until a good breeze comes along. In my experience, a length of 35-45 inches is about right. And be sure to pick a nice color.

      Sorry, I was (obviously) unable to resist that one.

      • Nobody like a smarta$$

        Especially someone who would post the same thing if he got a chance. ;-)

  3. Put another way: A “C” resume, shared with an A-list of contacts, will take you farther and faster, than an “A” resume, shared with a C-list of contacts. might be useful reading for those who can’t quit the resume game entirely, but want to play it better.

  4. Great advice, because I hate writing resumes with the heat of a thousand suns. Of course I have written them plenty of times in the past, but as Nick says, I have seen it work to my benefit only once, for my most recent job that I (and everyone in the office) got laid off from because of COVID.

  5. As to resumes. Yes invest in the time to put one together. As to the question what one is for I’d like add that I think it’s big value is you, especially if you’ve not looked for a job before, are changing career paths or have been off the market for a long time.

    It’s value add to you is it’s a means to challenge yourself, to wrestle yourself to the ground and to determine, and capture …1 what have you accomplished, 2 what’s your value adds, 3) just what is it you want to do & where & why, 4 what are you really good at 5) and of that, so good that it sets you apart from other contenders, 6 and create a timeline, for who, when, where Do a memory dump, organize it, and then do the real work, edit it.

    This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Time flies when you’re having fun and one is surprised by what’s forgotten. So I think the big value in resumes is in creating them,….as to sending them, that Nick has addressed.

    Let me share a real story that I think exemplifies this week’s point. the difference between sending resumes. and going head-on after what you want. this is an extract from an interview of Edson de Castro a founder of Data General, a Mini computer company back in the 70. Done & published by the Computer History Museum (

    ” And Larry was signed on to do the high speed one (computer), but we were looking for another engineer for the low speed one. I got a rather interesting letter from an engineer who at that time was working for General Electric. And he said, “I’ve read about your product, I’ve read your ads, and I’m going to work for you. And I’m going to be at your offices in a week to talk to you about that.” And this was a man named Ron.

    So I called him up and I said, “Gee,
    we’re looking forward to seeing you when you get here, but it would really be helpful for us if you could send your resume in advance so we could be a little more knowledgeable in talking to you about what might work out.” So he said, “Okay.” So he sent us along his resume, and sure enough showed up on
    schedule. ”

    Take note a resume was REQUESTED, AFTER mutual interest was established. Ron did not apply. There was actually the holy grail of an unadvertised job. He targeted the company and said “I’m your guy” & I’m coming over to discuss it.

  6. Most firms have a not-to-be-deviated, iron-clad policy regarding hiring: available openings MUST be advertised. Moreover, HR and the hiring manager are instructed to direct any referrals to the company’s website to apply online, joining the heap of other applicants and rendering the referral useless.
    Perhaps this process does not apply for some senior-level positions, and although as Nick advises the hiring process is broken, nonetheless that broken system is the reality most job seekers have to live with. Moreover, I truly wish the “hidden” job market was not a myth. Yet, it is a myth, because: 1) logically, how do you even work-up a realistic market-sizing percentage for a segment that is hidden? and 2) how many readers of Nick’s column can honestly report obtaining a job through the hidden market, or knows someone who has? Oh, I’m sure some have, but again, playing percentages it might even be lower than the resume/interviews ratio, although to be fair does empirical data on any job-hunting scenario even exist? Finally, it would be interesting to know that in the current environment, where supposedly millions of job openings exist (even good-paying “career” openings), has it suddenly become much easier to get a job through the traditional approach — are just a handful of resumes now being submitted, vs. 100-300 just a few short years ago? (Nick, that would be, I think, an interesting column topic). I’ll respectfully conclude by conveying my thanks for the opportunity to leave a reply to your latest column and would welcome any counterargument to my perspective.

    • Nowadays it seems like resumes are only setup to beat the ATS, but not to actually sell someone on your self, track record or abilities. I worked with a “Career Coach” who said one of the first things I needed to do was update my resume, so he showed me his. It was awful!! Maybe it was good for the ATS, but if I was a hiring manager, I would throw it in the trash immediately! It wasn’t readable at all and very wordy, Yes it had the phrase Career Coach” throughout it, but it never even mentioned if he got anyone hired! I got all of my first 3 manual labor jobs through friends and family, then my first job out of college because the employer was looking for someone who went to the same university as their previous hires and in the interview they found out that I had a bit of experience with the applications they used and that I had some personal initiative. They said that they thought I was a good fit. In that first interview! Another job I got was through a friend at church who ran an IT company. My wife got into the nursing home that she is at through a family friend who worked there. How’s that for examples? The resume will hardly ever be the main thing that gets you into a company.

      • Career coaches (whatever that even means), headhunters, recruiters, and even out of touch HR and hiring managers insist you “update your resume”. Like in your case, the result is a wordy and embellished multiple page resume that gets pitched by anyone with any hiring saavy.

    • Indeed. Some years ago, I was introduced to a hiring manager by a recruiter and the two of us talked on the phone for the better part of an hour. At the end, though, the manager mentioned that, according to policy, before he could bring me in for a face-to-face interview he had to have me apply via their web site. I never heard from them again—apparently, their rejection machine was working as designed. Sadly, that position was still being advertised for months after that.

  7. I can provide an example of tapping into the “hidden job market” which fits in nicely with Nick’s advice of never letting a résumé serve as the initial method of contact.

    Upon graduating from college, I identified a company where I wanted to work – I’ll call it Acme Corp. Through a neighbor, I learned of someone who worked at Acme, and made a few phone calls. Unfortunately, Acme didn’t have any entry-level positions open at the time, so I got a job with one of Acme’s competitors.

    Over the next seven years, I changed jobs three times within the same industry, but I periodically stayed in touch with Acme – not by sending résumés, but with handwritten snail-mailed notes to my contacts, including some “shop talk” and always including my updated contact information.

    One day, I got a call from Acme and was asked if I could come in to chat with a VP. Only after I met with her did I hand her a résumé. I had one other subsequent meeting with an SVP who had seen my résumé, and then I received an offer of employment. I accepted it, and stayed with Acme for eight years. The job was never advertised, and I found out later that I had zero competition.

    This is certainly an example of the “long game” referenced above by Gregory, and it’s not for everyone. But playing the long game is sometimes the only way to get what you really want.

    As Nick mentioned in a prior Q&A, in today’s “broken system,” by the time a position is posted online, an applicant’s odds of success drop to near zero. If a hiring manager has to resort to using online job boards to source candidates, he/she really isn’t a very capable manager at all. As another ATH commenter recently noted, the only reason his employer posts jobs online is for compliance purposes…actual hires almost always come through personal referrals.

  8. I’ve only found one job in my working life using long game methods. Liked the job, the company turned out to be a toxic mess. Didn’t end well. I think there’s some validity to using long methods, but it’s highly selective and focused.
    I’ve only found one job in my working life off advertised classified ads. Liked the job, company was sold to a huge corporation that laid off 80% of its workforce. I was one of the laid off employees.
    I’ve never found a job in my working life off Indeed or any online job boards. The scant few that resulted in phone interviews, Zoom interviews, or the very rare face-face interviews quickly resulted in ghosting.
    I’ve never found a job in my working life through a recruiter or headhunter. Enough said here.
    I’ve never found a job in my working life through networking. I mean zero, nada.
    All my jobs I’ve found in my working life (including my present job of nearly 10 years) has been through either snail mailing paper resumes directly to hiring managers, but mostly by pounding the pavement in industrial parks and handing out paper resumes. While a roll of the dice (what job isn’t) and many companies today won’t accept paper resumes and go bat feces crazy when you try, that’s been the most effective way for me. I had some semblance of luck going around these reactions by taking my resume to grunts at the back door, handing it to them, and asking them to pass it on. Most of the jobs I’ve found this way have been mediocre-poor, but I got employed.
    As far as resumes, I’ve had recruiters and headhunters demand that I embellish a list of “that’s a stretch to downright fabricated accomplishments” on my resume. One of the many reasons I won’t give headhunters and recruiters the time of day, let alone ever try using one again. The resume I’m using currently, taken from an online template, seems to be getting me some hits doing a clandestine job search. Nothing solid yet, nor worth jumping ship for.

  9. Read the article, the comments, but still lost. First, I believe in the hidden job market. Decent gigs I’ve had were all found that way, never by resumes. The problem is they were strange, coincidental meetings I can’t replicate or scale — I was in the right place at the right time and seized an opportunity.

    I’m now 59, stuck in a soul-killing position as I build out my creative output (I’m a writer), and don’t find that random exposure to people I had in my youth. One of the most frustrating concepts I keep reading is network network network, but that feels like someone saying have a great idea have a great idea have a great idea. I of course want great ideas like I want to network, but doesn’t mean it happens. Every networking event I’ve attended has been worthless, and hiring managers I’ve connected with have all, every single one, instructed me to send a resume to the HR person.

    I agree with the sentiments of the article but don’t know how to realistically act on them, especially since I’m not overly outgoing or social, so networking doesn’t come easy and I’m about effective at it as I am at plumbing (which comes out Three Stooges style with water squirting everywhere).

    I continue to get better at networking and connecting, but for all the effort it’s been ineffectual for me, so I’m lost what to do next. I’m not giving up or complaining, just saying whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so sometimes knowing the problem doesn’t always lead to a solution.

    • @Dale L- welcome to the “older workers club”. I’m turning 64 in two weeks, and at 66+8 months, that will mean nothing. Due to life set backs (job loses), my retirement package is nowhere near where it should be, so I’ll be working until I can’t.
      That said, you at 59 are seeing exactly what most of us are seeing. Out of touch boomers (I’m a boomer but not in that school of thought) preach “network, network, network”, “take care of your job and it will take care of you”, “get worthless college degrees (=massive debt)”, “use recruiters”, “your employers owns you”, yada…yada. No wonder young folks act the way they do. It’s not the 1950s anymore.
      Like you, I’m in a toxic soul sucking job (for almost 10 years), and I’ve been diligently looking for something else, not perfect, but something better. Strange how one’s skill sets developed over the years, 10 years tenure, and experience earned by years in the trenches have little worth to employers today.
      As far as networking goes, you’re right, it’s highly overrated. Here’s the narrative I’ve seen networking.
      Me: “Bob, I got cut in a layoff. Are you guys hiring, or do you know anyone who is”?
      Bob: “Sorry to hear that. Good luck”.

      • Thanks, Antonio. Not I like this older worker’s club! That’s exactly the networking narrative I’ve heard, also. The craziest part is the few times I have connected, it’s been positive, but a type of “wow, you’ve done cool things but we’re not interested in hiring you” discussion. I keep pushing forward but after getting nowhere for so long, it’s difficult to keep up the energy. I hate to admit this, but I sometimes can’t read how-tos on job searching anymore because there is only so much of the same this-is-how-you-do-it advice that hasn’t worked that I can take and it can sometimes be counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong — being positive is essential, but after so much disappointment, I sometimes can’t take one more chin’s up, go network battle cry that hasn’t panned out. Again, I’m not rolling over or giving up, but man, it can really wear you down.

        • @Dale L- tell me about it. Yeah it really can wear you down, and all the “Ted Talk rah-rah this is how you slam dunk it” isn’t real world, and is out of touch. I mentor young guys in my church. The rub is that there’s 25 year old guys there facing the exact same shenanigans that us old guys are facing with employers, and they’re feeling the exact same despondency and disgust with employers that older guys are feeling.

  10. Dale and Antonio,
    Please try to get into something more cheerful as soon as you can. Things to try: many states (I’m in Mass.) offer tuition-free courses for senior citizens at State colleges, you can upgrade skills for free, meet new people, and career services will help you update your job search. Through these online courses, (in English and Poli Sci), I’ve also learned Zoom, Blackboard, practiced putting my “Introduction” into a mini-Powerpoint, all the skills that the 20-somethings have already… You’ll meet new people. You’ll get access to part-time jobs and consulting gigs with new people.

    If you don’t say “soul-sucking”, they will think you’re happy, and they will refer you to other opportunities. Taking a free class TEACHES YOU NEW THINGS, in your “free” time, online with no commuting expenses. If you act like people are “soul-sucking”, you will tire them out, and they will be too worn-down to help you. Fake it (cheerfulness) until you make it.

    Ten years will pass either way, but you might as well be happier!