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Why Insiders Get Hired -- And You Don't

By James Frye

Today it's easy for job hunters to use the Internet to track down managers by name and to submit resumes to them directly. But this trick isn't so clever. Managers see names they don't recognize and ignore their e-mail as spam. Given a choice, managers still tend to hire candidates referred to them by people they know and trust. They can still distinguish applicants who have an inside referral from those who do not. Using the Internet to be clever isn't nearly as effective as using it to be smart -- to actually meet those trusted insiders that managers turn to when they want to fill a job.

Don't waste your job-hunting time sending your resume "blind" into a company. Don't try to be clever by sending it to a "name" if that name doesn't know you. If you want to get hired, first get referred by someone the manager trusts.

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My applicant filter
When I've been in management positions, I've preferred to interview and hire people through my trusted network of friends and professional contacts. If I get unsolicited e-mail that cannot cite the path the person took to get my name, it's almost guaranteed to end up in the trash. You may think that's foolish on my part. After all, you're a great employee -- right? -- and I should be happy to have you!

The reality is that in the same week I get an e-mail from a stranger, I'm probably going to get a couple of e-mails from a FOAF (friend-of-a-friend). These are all known entities to me. I know how the person got my name. I know that if the friend gave out my contact info, the friend also did at least a nominal screening, since my friends don't just dish leads for fun. I know that I can follow up with my friend to get information on the applicant (although many times, a friend has contacted me first to ask permission or even to promote the candidate).

The simple fact that the candidate has passed these barriers has eliminated many questions. The candidates I talk to have been filtered. This saves me time and increases my chances of hiring a great worker.

Meanwhile, the unsolicited candidate is a huge unknown. The candidate thinks pulling stuff off my company's website exhibits research; I probably recognize it as a minimal cut-and-paste effort since a dozen others have tried this already. I know that no truly inside information is being exhibited in the letter. I suspect that I'm merely just another name on a massive mailing list, and I'll react the same way I do with all my junk mail -- I'll use it to feed the recycling bin.

You may call it reckless and stupid since I may be turning down a good candidate. I call it using my time well, since I know I have other options that have higher odds of payoff.

Odds are, your resume will get tossed 
One of the best hiring lessons I had came when I left my first job. I left on good terms, so I was asked to help screen my replacement. I was handed a stack of paper a couple of inches thick and asked to sort through the pile.

I learned several things, but one of the most important was that I could have arbitrarily dumped 3/4 of the resumes in the garbage without even looking at them, and I still would have had a good pool of qualified candidates out of what was left. I did pretty close to that. I skimmed every single one in my pile. Spelling mistakes -- gone. Two-line cover letter -- gone (without even reading the two lines). Hard-to-read printing -- gone. I spent less than 10 minutes going through over a hundred resumes, and I hadn't even bothered to flip the page from the cover letter to the resume. I ended up with a smaller pool, and I repeated the process with the resume page.

Within about 20 minutes, I was down to a stack of 15-25 or so resumes. I whittled the list down to five, every one of which was at least as qualified for the job as I was, and in three cases, far more so. Those five all got contacted for the position. Did I throw out some good candidates? Probably. In fact, certainly. I still ended up with more candidates than we could have possibly handled anyway. The rest got tossed.

What did I learn? The random application works for a few candidates, but in general, it is not likely to work.

Become a real insider
Since that first job, I've built up a network of business contacts. The likelihood of a random applicant getting an interview decreased as my network got bigger. I have always hired (when in a hiring role) through personal referrals. Pulling a couple of sound bites off a web page and thinking it is research is not going to work better than getting referred to me by someone I know and trust.

If you are surfing the web for contact names so you can get to the manager, don't just send a resume to a name you found. Instead, use the phone to get hold of those managers and ask for an informational interview. Or, find people who know the manager. Talk to them first. Help them vet you, so they'll want to refer you to their friend the manager. (Even big cities seem to have a small-town feel to them once you start making connections.) Ask everyone you know if they know a person at the company you have targeted. If they don't, ask them if they know someone who might.

Give your contacts some credible reasons to see you as an insider, which will improve your odds of having someone pay attention to your application. Send it blind, and you'll be waiting a while.

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Nick Corcodilos is the brutally honest, forthright and insightful headhunter who serves up tough love to job seekers while taking job boards and others to the woodshed."  U.S. News & World Report


James Frye has over 10 years of experience in the IT industry and was a manager at a Big-5 IT consultancy. He is now a statistician at a Fortune 500 company and a freelance writer.


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