How many job applications are too many? One night I was clicking around the blogosphere when I stumbled across an entry from July 2010 entitled Dear HR Pros, Be Transparent. This blog was written by a recent college grad and intern who was struggling with his job search. He thinks craigslist is a joke (don’t tell my boss, that’s where she found HER job). He wonders if there has been a breakdown between HR and applicants. As I’m reading his article I’m actually on his side. He’s got a valid complaint and he’s articulating it well. Then he said – “I’m not sure HR professionals really understand the effort and time it takes to fill out these applications. If a job applicant was only applying for their job, I’d understand the time that it takes, but we are filling out 5-10 applications a day.”
5-10? A DAY?? That could be 50 or more jobs a week! I decided to conduct a little experiment and see if I could realistically apply to 50 jobs a week. On Sunday I did some searching. I looked at all the usual job boards (yes, even craigslist) and company sites. I compared my background, education, and experience to the MANY job openings that are out there for recruiters right now. I narrowed it down to four. FOUR jobs that I was a strong match for, and that I felt I could do a decent job of tweaking a cover letter and resume to. Same thing on Monday – minus the jobs I found Sunday, I found one more. Now I’m up to five. Tuesday comes; two more - one is kind of a crap shoot that I’m not sure I’d want to apply for anyway. Took a deep breath, thanked God I have a job I love and I don’t have to do this crap. If I continue at this pace I might find 10 – this week. Let’s say I spend two hours on each application. That’s four hours a day. That still leaves me 4 hours a day (assuming I’m unemployed and in keeping with an eight hour day) to work the phones, attend networking events, tweet, email, inmail… all the other fun “job search stuff” one can do. And realistically, the stuff that can help you get closer to an actual interview.
But it’s a NUMBERS GAME, you say. I HAVE to apply for a million jobs a day in order to get an interview… right? Sorry, I don’t think so. In fact, I think you’re spreading yourself too thin. It seems counterintuitive to spend 2 hours on an application that a recruiter is going to review in 10 seconds. But guess what – we can tell when you’ve actually taken the time to do a thorough and accurate application. If you’ve done that, you should only apply to jobs that you’re qualified for. Furthermore, you’ll be telling me in your cover letter and resume how and why you’re a fit for the job. That lands you in the “yes” pile for further review. Your odds increase.
You can’t swing a loaf of bread in a grocery store without hitting a guru, a thought leader, and at least 3 self-proclaimed “recruiting experts” – they will probably all disagree with me. I find it hard to believe that my experience is all that rare… when it comes down to the very narrow scope many postings allow, I’m simply not “qualified” for a lot of jobs. Apply to the ones you’re an “on paper” match for, network your way into others you’re interested in. Several times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a great candidate who approached me at a ProLango mixer, by referral, or through LinkedIn when I otherwise might have overlooked them. Applications aren’t going to go away – it’s all about picking your battles and using the technology more effectively. If more job seekers took these steps I’d have a whole lot less crappy applications to read and way more time to spend on the one that matters – YOURS.