Job seekers can spend a lot of time trolling job sites and sending resumes en masse without culling much of an employer response let alone landing an interview. While the job market is rebounding, employers still receive between 102 and 137 applications per job from both social-media networks and job boards, says a 2014 study from Brandon Hall Group.
Effective job search and generating employer interest requires careful thought, research and strategy. To help maximize your chances of finding a job that fits you and your desired career path, consider following these six steps.
1. Understand your job search criteria.
First, be able to articulate what it is you are looking for in a job. Figure out your top five priorities—whether it is company culture or a specific job position. “If you understand what motivates you as an employee, it will be easier to target your applications to opportunities that match your skills and ambitions,” says Paul Sandusky, vice-president of talent acquisition and development at Ceridian, an HR software company.
Also be flexible. “You don’t want your specificity to cost you your dream job at your dream company,” advises Mariah DeLeon, vice-president of people at workplace ratings and review site Glassdoor. She suggests that if you get to the point where you’re interviewing for a position at a company you want to work for but that isn’t quite the right fit, be candid with HR or the recruiter about your expertise and desire to work there. There’s always the possibility of a better opportunity opening up within that company.
2. Create a list of jobs that meet your criteria.
Once you’re able to articulate what you’re looking for in a job, use this criteria to guide you in your search. Create a list to keep track of information. Sheryl Sandberg used an Excel spreadsheet to organize her job search when she graduated from Harvard Business School. Use the format that best suits you.
3. Read the job description carefully.
Reading the job description during your job search may take up time up front, but it is a major time-saver in the long run, because you won’t be applying for jobs for which you are an unlikely candidate.
“Companies generally have limited flexibility on their mandatory requirements, be it a particular university degree or specific job experience,” Sandusky explains. “[However] you should apply to a position if you are confident you can do the job, just be prepared to explain precisely how your skills or experiences are applicable to the opportunity at hand.”
4. Customize your résumé and cover letter.
Once you have your hit list of jobs that meet your criteria, customize both your cover letter and résumé to speak to the company, position and job requirements. Having multiple “versions” of your résumé can be an effective way of tailoring your experience to a particular role or industry, Sandusky says.
DeLeon recommends that after applying online, try to email your résumé and cover letter to someone who is likely in the hiring and decision-making mix, such as a manager or director in the department you’d like to work in.
5. Activate your referral network.
Employee referrals and word-of-mouth are the most common means of external hiring. Many job openings are not advertised, which is why attending relevant industry events and conferences, career-related lectures, seminars, or training sessions can pay off. Reach out to alumni networks, career and interest-driven organizations and meet-up groups to let people know you’re looking and ask about open positions.
Also, let your friends know that you’re looking and ask if you can email them your résumé to provide an informed idea of your experience and skills. Chances are, at least one of your friends is a connector—one of those people who knows everybody and builds relationships quickly—who knows of several people who can provide either guidance, a connection, or a referral.
6. Follow up.
If you’ve submitted your résumé and application and haven’t heard a response, send a follow-up email to ensure HR or the hiring manager has received the application, DeLeon says. “Your note can be short, but you should reiterate why you want to work for the company and what you bring to the table that will ultimately help the business move forward.”
Following up after an in-person or phone interview—ideally on the same day of the interview—is not only a common courtesy but it reinforces that you are genuinely interested in the position while helping keep your name top of mind amongst those who are hiring, Sandusky says.
While there isn’t a magic bullet when it comes to finding a job, focusing your job search on quality over quantity is generally the way to go in your career.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.
Photos from Flickr ( Renee Bertrand ) and by Karen Adiova