When I graduated from college back in 2001, I started my post-college job search with incredible optimism.
That lasted about a week.
I quickly realized that, while there were untold numbers of potential positions available out there, very few of them fit with my education and qualifications and my own career goals. In desperation, I started applying for a job with pretty much every opening I spotted.
With that strategy, I heard back from a grand total of zero employers.
That desperation and frustration is familiar to anyone who has been out of work and looking for a job. In fact, there’s a name for the complete lack of response from employers: the Black Hole.
But a recent study by the job-search firm TheLadders used eye-tracking technology to better understand why job-seekers’ resumes get lost in the black hole. According to Lauren Weber of the Wall Street Journal,
“When…job-seekers were tracked using technology that records where and for how long their eyes landed on a page, they spent an average of 49.7 seconds before dismissing a position as a poor fit, and 76.7 seconds with job ads that appeared to match their interests and skills…Even when subjects determined that an opening was appropriate for them, reviewing the actual requirements for the job appeared to be a low priority—results showed they spent only 14.6 seconds, on average, in that section.”
This helps to explain why every job opening seems to attract dozens or hundreds of applications from unqualified candidates.
Knowing this, however, means that job seekers have the ability to make themselves truly stand out by carefully reading and targeting the jobs for which they are uniquely suited, instead of using the shotgun approach to send out resumes for every opening.
If you are currently looking for a job, here are the five questions you need to ask yourself as you prepare to apply for a position. They will help you to target your job search in a way that will provide you with better responses and potentially a new job:
1. Do I want this job?
This may seem like a stupid question, particularly if you are concerned about money. You may have reached the point where any job seems better than no job at all.
But that’s simply not true. If the job you are applying for requires extensive travel, a long commute, duties that you’re not suited to (like customer service, for example, or cold-call sales), applying for and getting that job will just be trading the misery of unemployment for the misery of a hated job.
If money is your primary reason for applying to everything, it might be time to take a temp position or a part-time job to keep the lights on, and focus on only applying for a job that will advance your career. Continuing to apply for jobs willy-nilly, whether you really want them or not, will likely just prolong your unemployment.
Making sure you only apply to jobs you would truly be excited to take means that your enthusiasm for the work will shine through in your application and interview.
2. Do I have the necessary qualifications for this job?
This is something we all seem to gloss over. In fact, psychologists have coined the term the overconfidence effect to describe our tendency to confidently believe in our own abilities. What this means for job seekers is that many of us merely glance at the requirements section of a job posting, feeling absolutely certain that we can do what is asked even if we don’t have the necessary background.
Basically, if you do not have or meet the majority of the qualifications listed by the company, then it’s not a good idea for you to apply to the job. You may be correct that you can learn computer programming on the fly, but in this job market, the HR department will have its pick of programmers who have already proven their abilities. They’re certainly not going to choose you.
3. Am I overqualified for this job?
Being overqualified for a position can land your resume in the Black Hole almost as quickly as being underqualified. Hiring managers will often assume that you are applying for a job that doesn’t match your qualifications and abilities just for the paycheck—and that you’ll leave that job just as soon as you find something better.
4. Do I want to work for this particular employer?
One of the most frustrating career issues is when you’re doing a job you love for an employer you hate. Before you even apply, find out what it’s like to work for particular employers in your field, so that you don’t find yourself stuck in an untenable position. Glassdoor is an excellent resource for reading reviews on employers from their employees. It can help you to narrow down which companies you most want to work for.
5. Do I know anyone who works for this employer?
Networking makes the employment world go ‘round. You can greatly increase your chances of getting your resume into the right hands if you know someone who can refer you. When you find a job listing that interests you, check with your friends and family, both online and off, to see if you know anyone who works for or has a relationship with the company. Taking the time to do this can mean the difference between your resume getting lost in the pile, and it being on top of the heap.
The Bottom Line on Applying for a Job
When you search through job listings, it can be tempting to simply send out your resume to interesting listings and be done with it. But taking the time to think through these questions will help you to find the best match for your abilities and career goals, while increasing your likelihood of landing a job.
Your future employer will certainly appreciate your attention to detail and your commitment to finding the right fit.
Know any other questions to ask yourself when applying for a job?