Here’s a not uncommon scenario on the Internet today: you spend several hours surfing the Web at a number of employment Websites; you search through hundreds of job postings in their job databases; and finally, you find what you’ve been looking for. There, right in front of you, is a posting for your dream job. So, what do you do? Send in your resume, right? Well, not exactly; if that were the sum of it, a lot more of us would be getting offers for the jobs we really want.
You see, applying for a job online is actually a two-step process:
- Step 1 is a test, while
- Step 2 is the answer.
Complete the first step, and you will be considered an applicant; complete the second step, and you will get yourself noticed. Do both steps, and you will likely move to the head of the applicant line.
Step 1: The Test
When you see a job posting, you are facing a test. The purpose of this exam is to determine whether or not you paid attention in Mrs. Murphy’s kindergarten class. What was the first lesson you were taught there? That’s right: you must pay attention to directions. So, a job posting is, first and foremost, a test to determine whether you can follow the directions the company has provided for applying. These directions might be:
- Cut and paste your resume into the body of an e-mail message,
- Send your resume as an attachment to an e-mail message,
- Complete the online application form that the company provides, or
- Send your resume to the company by old fashioned postal mail.
Whatever the method the employer chooses, however, the key is that you follow its directions. In essence, that’s the way—and the only way—the employer wants it done. So, this job posting exam in Step 1 is pass or fail; either you follow the employer’s directions and are considered a genuine applicant or you don’t follow its directions and are designated a “graffiti applicant.” The former gets you into the zone of consideration; the latter gets you tossed into the reject pile.
Step 2: The Answer
As soon as you have completed Step 1, begin to implement Step 2. If Step 1 enables you to pass the test; Step 2 provides the answer that will ace it. Why? Because recruiters are inundated with applicant resumes these days, so it’s very hard for any single person—even one who is extremely qualified for an opening—to get noticed. To overcome that disadvantage, you must help your resume stand out.
The minute you have passed the test in Step 1, start networking to find contacts in the organization that posted your dream job. You’re trying to find one (or both) of two kinds of contacts:
- Employees of the organization whom you know
- Employees whom you don’t know, but with whom you share an affinity (e.g., you are both members of the same professional association, alumni of the same college or university, live in the neighborhood)
Networking to such contacts is not as difficult as it may initially seem, thanks to the Internet. Use online databases and directories at the Websites of such organizations as your professional society, college or university alumni association, community softball league, parent-teacher association and community gardening club. Research shows that we are all only separated by six levels of acquaintances, and the Web is the best way to make those connections.
The purpose of this networking is to ask your friend or contact to refer your credentials to the appropriate recruiter in the employer’s HR Department. When they do so, they move your resume from one of hundreds or thousands in the organization’s resume database to one of a handful or less on the recruiter’s desktop. There, it will almost certainly get noticed and considered. Why? Because recruiters believe that the best candidates are those referred by the organization’s own employees.
Does this mean you can avoid Step 1 altogether? Can you simply ignore the submission of your resume in response to the job posting and just network your way in the door? Sure, but you lose some advantages when you do. Sending in your resume puts it into the employer’s candidate database, which ensures that your credentials are also accessible for other openings in the organization, including those that are not even advertised online or elsewhere. In addition, submitting your resume cuts down on the work a recruiter has to do even with an employee referral. Since it’s already in the database, your resume can be quickly forwarded to hiring managers and others for evaluation and a decision.
Simple as applying for a job online might seem, it’s actually both the first assessment an employer will make of your capabilities as a prospective employee and a way to give yourself a competitive edge in the real world. All you have to do is practice the Application Two-Step.