Despite having more than a few people put in a word for me over the years, it turns out that every full-time job I’ve ever gotten has had zero to do with networking, having connections, knowing someone who knows someone, etc. These non-networked jobs have included:
- Two government contracts because links were sent out (by strangers) on a mailing list I belonged to
- A full-time NGO position that was posted on a job site for the not-for-profit sector
- My current position after spotting an ad in the weekend edition of a local newspaper
I’ve sent resumes, held my breath and gotten a call for an interview. Or not.
There have been jobs that I’ve been so ridiculously qualified for that it seemed like I wrote the job description myself and I’ve never heard so much as a peep from and then there are gigs like my current one – approximately one million people applied, three were interviewed and I landed the position despite the fact that the sum total of my corporate experience up to that point involved working for a dairy when I was 16. Sometimes, it’s a craps shoot. That said, here’s what’s worked for me when it comes to getting hired sans connections:
It’s a numbers game
I sent out hundreds of resumes, each one targeted to the job I was applying for. If I matched 60% of what the position called for, I applied. Instead of waiting for the perfect job to appear on the horizon and putting all my focus on landing it (and potentially coming away empty-handed), I covered as much ground as possible. I knew from experience that it’s sometimes the least likely opportunities that end up being a great fit.
Make yourself scarce
If you are in a job market that has thousands of people with your skill set and you and those thousands of people are applying to the same job board/Craigslist/newspaper postings, you’ll get nowhere. You, your skills and your experience are pretty much a commodity. Maybe they’ll interview the first 10 people who applied, or the last five, or only people with last names that start with Q, or maybe the hiring manager will get so frustrated in the face of 341 qualified applicants that she’ll ask for personal recs from within the company or her own network. You need to put yourself in a position where your skills and experience are abnormal. Maybe that means targeting smaller companies, switching sectors (private, government, NGO), or even downsizing job markets, so that you can be a big fish in a small pond (my latest method).
Get professional help
I knew I needed any edge I could get, so I paid an expert to look at my resume and be brutally honest about it. My experience was great, but how I was presenting it was not. Find someone who deals with a lot of resumes in your field. They’ll know what should or shouldn’t be in yours. And don’t be too proud to strip your resume down to the bones. My tendency was to cram absolutely everything into the two-page max. My resume writer put the kibosh on this immediately. Think of it as targeting vs dumbing down.
Follow up. Or don’t
This has made absolutely no difference in any of my job hunts. Neither has trying to find an in at the company or asking for informational interviews. What has made a difference? Ditching the cover letter. The jobs I’ve landed interviews for and/or been offered have almost all been ones for which I didn’t include a cover letter. The tried and true rules matter less than you think they do. And if you have the specialized experience/expertise a company desperately needs, you can pretty much break all of them with impunity.
The rest of us should still use spellcheck.
Bottom line: Do connections matter? Yes. Do they work? Yes. Can you land a job without them? Sample size of one says yes to that, too.