Your first clue that you're not likely to get the job is that you're applying for it.
Your second clue is that you're interviewing for it.
Most decent jobs are filled by word-of-mouth referral, not by formal application/interview. As a jobseeker, your goal should be to get the job offer before there is an official, advertised job opening because that's how most good jobs are really filled.
HR departments don't want you to know this and they work very hard to preserve the illusion that their searches are thorough and meritocratic but they almost never are. I say this with no bitterness. I have benefited from the unfairness. Several times in my first career as a health industry manager I got jobs I didn't apply for, never wrote a resume for and never interviewed for. I was never the best candidate for the job, I was just the candidate who knew somebody, was known by somebody. Then I changed industries and found myself actually competing for jobs, filling out applications, writing resumes, interviewing. I once "interviewed" for a job while the guy who already had the job offer was literally moving into his new office just yards away from where the hiring manager was conducting our show interview so he could tell HR he'd interviewed several "candidates". Truth is, I was never a "candidate". I was window-dressing to preserve the illusion that the hiring process is meritocratic and that the best candidate wins.
I'm sure our teachers, parents and other adult authority figures thought they were doing the Lord's work when they prepared us for a meritocratic world which doesn't exist and never has, but even though I wasn't the sharpest 7th grader at St. Albans Junior High School I suspected that my home room teacher doth protest too much when, once a week or so, he climbed up on his big, hardwood, 4-pedestal banker's desk - like the kind that rich cigar-chomping fat cats sat behind in old movies - and jumped up and down preaching against the saying "it ain't what you know, it's who you know." When it comes to job-seeking, everything in my adult experience has taught me that even if a man you're supposed to trust screams it with floor-shaking, jowl-jiggling, red-faced, clenched fisted, dignity destroying drama, don't believe anybody who tells you job search is fair. There's nothing fair about it. If the best man gets the job it's only because he also knew somebody who helped him get the job.
I recently ran across a couple of quotes that all jobseekers should stick to their refrigerator doors, to the dashboards of their cars and to their computer screens:
"All I ask is an unfair advantage." - W C Fields
"If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck." - John Steinbeck
What every job seeker needs, what he or she should be seeking is to avoid being in a "fair fight". Playing by the rules, trying to write the perfect resume, learning how to interview better - these are the tactics of suckers who still live under the delusion that life is fair and job search is meritocratic. LIsten, while you're out there waiting in the lobby for your chance at a fair fight, the guy you're supposed to meet with is on the phone or at the Starbucks next door getting introduced to the guy who's going to get the job offer. What every job seeker needs and should be seeking is an unfair advantage. The unfair advantage is a relationship that your competitors don't have. Most of the time, hiring processes and interview processes are meaningless shows because in most hiring processes, there's a candidate with an unfair advantage - a relationship - and he or she is the candidate who will get the job. As a job seeker, your job is to make sure the candidate with the relationship is you.
Ask yourself this question: Suppose I offered you a choice of two envelopes. In envelope one are 100 job leads where you get to "compete" against hundreds of applicants, write 100 targeted, taylored resumes, send them out and wait for invitations to interview.
In envelope two is the name of an employer where you have a relationship that will give you the edge you need to get the offer before anybody else even knows about the job. Which envelope do you want?
That's what I'm talking about. Spend your time finding the place where you have an unfair advantage. Don't spend your time looking for a fair fight. In what's supposed to be a fair competition, there's always somebody who's not in a fair fight, somebody who's related to the hiring manager, goes to church with the hiring manager, is an old sorority sister or frat brother with the hiring manager or is the friend of the friend of the hiring manager. Unless the hiring manager is new in town, has no friends, has no network, there's always somebody in the "fair fight" who's carrying a secret weapon you don't have. So don't go to fair fights. Only go where you're the guy with the secret weapon: to your network.
No, I'm not saying education and talent and hard work aren't necessary, too. What I am saying is that a certain degree of merit is necessary but not sufficient to land you the job you want. What Harry Beckwith said about "firms" is true of job seekers, too: "Competence gets [a job seeker] into a game that relationships win." This is the whole truth. I could stop right there and a thoughtful reader could extrapolate everything that follows.
Job Search Hard Fact # 2: Trying to Get A Job By Sending Resumes, Going To Interviews and Submitting Applications By Submission "Deadline" Is A Low Percentage Game That Rarely Results In A Job Offer Unless You Already Had An Insider Advantage In The Form of Relationship
If your primary job search strategy is to send resumes to people you don't know in hopes of getting interviewed by people you don't know, you're playing a very low percentage game and you know it. Yes, it's possible this will lead to a job but probably not the job you want. Those jobs, the best jobs, go to people who didn't write a resume and didn't interview for the job. Why? A candidate with a great resume is no match for a candidate with the right relationship. First, the best jobs are hardly ever advertised and if they are they're filled before they're posted. Second, for all their talk about skills and qualifications and selection tools, hiring decisions are made by irrational creatures called people and these irrational people hire people they want to hang out with 10 hours a day, people they feel comfortable with.
I got what I call my "first real job" because the hiring manager's dad knew my dad. I got my first management job - without sending a resume- because two guys met for a beer and one of them mentioned my name. A friend of mine once went to a job interview where she was told that the President of the company, whom I barely knew, would like to talk to me. Yes, that’s right, my friend wrote a resume, went to an interview and didn't get the job. I did NONE of those things and got the job. In each of the above cases I have no doubt that I was NOT the best candidate for the job. Heck, in all but the first case, I wasn't even a candidate. But in each of the above cases I had one thing that better candidates didn’t: I had a relationship they didn't have - and a candidate with a great resume is no match for a candidate with a relationship. Oh, yes, corporate recruiters will deny it and they'll tell you to apply at their website but here's the truth: it's the hiring manager, not the HR department, that decides who gets the job.
Oh, and if you're unemployed, you're about to find out who your friends are. Your friends are the ones who are providing you with job leads, offering to introduce you to hiring managers, and mentioning your name to people who can hire you because it's through such "networking" that you're most likely to get a great job. But keep in mind that some of your friends "don't have the networking gene" and it doesn't really come naturally for them to think this way so don't hesitate to call people and ask them to introduce you to somebody who can hire you.
Job Search Hard Fact # 3: The Next Best Thing To Getting A Job For Yourself Is Getting A Job For Somebody Else
Not only does it feel good to help a deserving job seeker get a job, each time you do so you "seed" a company with someone who thinks you're great and will be there to drop your name to the appropriate person at the appropriate time.
Job Search Hard Fact #4: Statistically Speaking, Your Next Great Job Will Most Likely Be The Result Of A Weak Relationship, Not A Close Or Intimate Relationship
This final observation is not original with me, but you're more likely to get a great new job as a result of a weak friendship than as a result of a close one. Why? It's simple math. Most of us only have a handful of close friends and relatives but we may know hundreds of people a little bit. People we went to school with. People we used to work with but haven't stayed in touch with very well. People we used to go to the same church with but didn't stay in touch with. For instance, of my 700+ LinkedIn "connections" I'm only "close friends" with a few. But my universe of potential job referrals is at least 300 - and this number doesn't include the people I know who aren't members of LinkedIn. The universe of people who might potentially serve to help me find my next great job might be more like 500 or 600.
This is why professional and social networking is so important. I wasn’t close friends with the guy who mentioned my name in a hotel bar and helped me get my first management job. I hardly knew the company president who offered me the job my friend interviewed for. I once got $26k in business as a result of a phone call with a guy I’d never met in person who then passed my name to a friend who, as it turned out, needed my services.
Competence gets job seekers into a game that relationships win. All other job search truths can be deduced or extrapolated from that simple statement.
Higginbotham At Large reads but does not publish anonymous or pseudonymous comments.