Looking for a job? Look at who you know

The adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has never been more true in the search for a job. I’m not talking about nepotism and unfair advantage; I’m talking about contacts, networking and referrals.

We look at recommendations and ratings for what we buy, eat, watch and visit so isn’t it natural that we would do the same when we are looking for new employees? A headhunter friend told me, “We (recruiters) are either too busy or fundamentally lazy. Why would we spend time searching high and low when we can just ask someone for a recommendation?” I don’t think it’s laziness per se but it is a more time and cost-efficient way to get a result. 

But how do you access the so-called hidden job market and find out about jobs before they are advertised? And how do you get someone to refer you for a role, bumping you to the front of the queue? And why is it so important?

In 2016, hiring expert and LinkedIn regular Lou Adler quoted survey data showing that 85% of jobs were filled by networking and that networking to secure a role beats applying directly by a ratio of 3:1. There is additional research that the #1 way people find a new job is through networking and referrals. So, it seems you are more likely to get a job through someone you know than applying cold or battling through opaque online algorithms. 

Of course, building networks and finding jobs is LinkedIn’s bread and butter so they would come out with a figure like this but other sources and my direct experience working with clients do back up the premise that securing a role through someone who knows you or of you is more likely than applying through a website. It’s less true for more junior or generic roles but very true the further up the career pyramid you climb. 

Add in the increasing use of ATS (applicant tracking software), keyword match driven assessment that many companies now use to scan and ‘read’ CVs, and there’s an even greater argument for getting your CV in front of an actual person – and a person who has some decision-making power or at least influence.

With online applications you are playing a numbers game. If 500 people apply, how many will get a strong keyword match and make it through the first sift…100? 50? Let’s say 50. Out of those, less than half will make a more detailed sift and perhaps up to ten (but more likely five to eight) will have a first-round chat with a recruiter. Of those maybe three or four will invited for interview.

The odds are constantly against you and – frustratingly – the selection criteria and sifting process are invisible. Dedicated keyword match websites such as Rezrunner and Jobscan can help you identify the likely keywords (which is useful) but they can’t tell you which keywords have been programmed in to make those first and second sifts. 

So how do you boost your chances?

With online applications, applying direct via a company’s website is one step closer than through an aggregator site (though not all companies put roles on their own sites). Even better is to find a recruiter and direct your application to a person. 

In my experience, most recruiters are active on LinkedIn and are happy to receive messages. They are busy and necessarily selective, so you have to be as equally selective as well as persistent, but it’s their job to find good talent and quickly, so make it easy for them to find top candidates and hit their targets. 

And remember, they get bombarded with approaches so don’t make them work for it, be targeted and make yours the type of message that recruiters love to see, where you clearly and concisely pitch your experience, skills and value. Imagine how many ‘I’d love to work for ABC Co. and would like to chat about roles. My CV is attached’ messages they get. 

And then imagine how welcome a message like this would be:

‘I’m a sales enablement specialist with over ten years’ experience supporting international tech sales, five of which were with Salesforce in B2B for enterprise customers. I’m known for my ability to cut through the noise, design effective roadmaps and for building high performing teams. I’m interested in X and Y roles. Can we connect to look at next steps?’ 

Much more likely to get a reply.

Many job hunters are lazy or uninformed about what is needed in today’s market. They create one, generic CV, hop onto Indeed and LinkedIn and click the ‘easy apply’ button thinking that they’ve done enough. And they talk of applying for 100+ roles and wonder why they aren’t getting results. 

Tailoring your CV (and cover letter) is critical to showing you are a great match for the role – demonstrating that you’ve identified the key strengths, skills, experience and knowledge required then showcasing how you match the criteria. You are the one looking for a job, so the onus is on you to put the work in. I get asked how to ‘beat ATS’ or avoid hours spent tailoring CVs and rewriting cover letters but there isn’t a get out clause. 

How can you expect someone else to spend time looking to see if you’re a fit if you can’t take the time to show them?

I appreciate that you might reach out to a lot of recruiters and hear nothing back (this is a reality) but being highly selective, doing your research thoroughly and creating the right type of message will give you an edge. The same is true of working directly with agency recruiters and headhunters. Why make their job any harder by not telling them exactly what you are looking for, why you are good at it and what you bring? 

Being clear, concise, relevant and targeted will make you stand out, will make their job easier and will achieve far better results.

But there is another way. A way to avoid the ATS bots and all that time spent tailoring CVs and cover letters in the hope that they’ll be read. Sound interesting? 

It is, this route appeals to job seekers but, sorry, there’s still no free lunch. There is a price to pay with this approach and that price is putting yourself out there. Which, quite honestly, makes a lot of job hunters flinch. They cringe at the idea of asking for help from someone they are connected to on LinkedIn that they haven’t been in contact with for four years. I get that, trust me, I’ve been in your shoes. I’m not a natural connector but I did learn a critical trick – don’t ask for a job. 

Well, not directly. 

Say you’re in the market looking for X roles and ask their opinion on what is happening in their common field/market/sector. Ask if they’d be happy to suggest anyone they know who might be looking to hire. At the end of the day, people connect on LinkedIn to network and help others find connections and jobs so why not use LinkedIn for the very thing it’s there for? Why be embarrassed? Would you help someone if they asked you? If you’re cringing as you read this, perhaps ask yourself ‘why wouldn’t they help me?’ 

Some might not reply but some will. What harm can it do to ask and let people know you are in the market? 

Create a list of your connections, download your LinkedIn list (under Data and Privacy – it takes about 10 minutes for the download file to be ready) and map who you know and who they know. Create a set of template messages and start sending them out, reactivating contact and making new connections. Ten minutes a day isn’t a big investment of time and you’ll be surprised how many people you can approach on your target list with this small regular commitment.

Use social media too to look for news on your target companies, find people and get updated on any opportunities. Join groups and follow hashtags on LinkedIn and Twitter and use Facebook, Instagram and your phone book contacts as a way to connect, search and let people know you’re looking. It’s not just former colleagues and professional contacts that should be on your list, family and friends know people too and would (one assumes) be happy to refer you. Let people know you are looking for a new opportunity and see what happens. 

There’s lots to consider here but rather than fighting the odds and crossing your fingers, why not employ a mixed approach that gives you more advantages? Blending your search is a good idea. Trust me, I’ve seen the evidence time and again. 

Create a mix of online applications, networking for referrals and direct targeting and you’ll have a much more powerful job search strategy. One that will bring you results.

If you’d like help putting your strategy together, thinking about where and how to look – and how to make those approaches without cringing – then why not get in touch and see how I can help you? You might be surprised at how quickly a change in approach can yield results.

Email louise@careertherapy.co.uk
Linkedin Louise Newton
Header photo Fabio Bracht on Unsplash
Photo Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

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