I’ve written and spoken a lot about the chasm that has been created between people outside of companies and the people inside of companies as a result of technology. This is more than just the oft-noted resume black hole; it is a social phenomenon with regards to how companies and people interact. Let me explain.
This nearly predates my career history, but as a job applicant before the Internet if you wanted to get hired for, say a marketing job at a particular company, you generally:
· sent a resume via mail or fax in response to an ad in a written publication
· called or returned a call from a recruiter (either at the company or an independent headhunter)
· Called the company’s Job Hotline via telephone to hear about the available jobs and learn what to put on your envelope (Marketing Manager Job #2987) so your resume has a chance of landing in the right pile.
· Called the front desk and asked to speak to a recruiter or someone in marketing.
· Found someone at the company that you could network with to speak to someone close to the job.
I am fairly certain we don’t receive any calls to the front desk at Google saying, “Hi, I’m really interested in your company, can you tell me if you have any open jobs in the marketing department?” This used to be the case at front desks of all major corporations however, and it wasn’t that long ago; 10-12 years maybe.
The irony in all this is that the ‘old system’ was no less efficient than the current system. This can be explained by the theory of compensating behavior: it is now so easy to apply for a job that more people apply for many more jobs, which means that recruiting teams at companies across the world now have to review a significantly increased volume of unsuitable resumes, which creates monumental inefficiency in the overall system.
In the past, it took substantial amounts of work for an applicant to apply for a job, so the majority of applicants only applied for jobs that they actually really wanted, that they really felt suited for, and at company’s at which they really wanted to work. It was so much work to apply for a job, applicants didn not apply for nearly as many as they do today.
Hiring managers were less selective 10-12 years ago then they are today, because the volume of candidates was less. This is really a problem of economics: we have lowered the cost of job advertising and resume submission so much that we now have a systemic problem of resume and job ad spam.
There have been a lot of studies done on compensating behaviors. One of the more interesting is that taxing the sale of cartons of cigarettes doesn’t lower nicotine consumption. Smokers in more heavily taxed states simply smoke fewer cigarettes but that have more nicotine than those in states with lower taxation. People change behaviors to compensate for changing environment factors. This is what has happened in the recruiting industry.
Similarly, I would argue that job applicants, on average, invest the same amount of work effort to find a new job as they did before the Internet. Because it is now so easy, the volume of applications are much greater, but the overall work effort per applicant is the same. What has changed significantly is that the work investment and commitment level of an applicant to a particular job opportunity has been dramatically reduced.
The best way to understand this is that if you apply for only 1 job, and it is the only job you really want or know of, or are qualified for, you are going to spend a large amount of effort trying to land that job. For example, you might customize your resume to the particular job and company, you might invest a lot of time learning about the company and department by doing research and talking with people and you would most certainly follow up with a thank-you note afterwards. But if you apply for 20 jobs, some degree of reduced commitment sets in, and you stop doing all those little things to try and win each of the 20 jobs. In essence, many candidates do very little to win each of the 20 jobs, beyond the minimum resume submission and (maybe) some light interview preparation.
This is supported by my first-hand experiences as a career recruiting guy. For example, I just wrote a post on this blog where I reference how few thank-you notes I receive as an interviewer. Now consider another example: I have had a work-related cellular phone for the last 10 or 12 years of my recruiting career. I’ve interviewed literally thousands of people during that time. I cannot remember a single instance where a candidate called me on that number, even though it’s been listed at the bottom of my email signature for the last decade or longer.
Social norms related to job applicants have changed to the degree that most job applicants essentially do nothing to win a particular job. The whole job search event has been commoditized.
Savvy job seekers can and should leverage this social dynamic to get ahead in their job hunt. The place to start is to always do the basics to set you apart:
· Invest time learning about the company and interview team: At least do the basics. An hour of research will make you more knowledgeable than 90% of your competition. Do an internet search (please use Google) to learn in advance about the interview team. You should be able to figure out what the business challenges are related to the job you interviewing for, just by doing a little work. You’d be surprised how many people apply to Google and don’t really understand our business model or even many of our products. It has been my experience that most candidates don’t do this.
· Really understand the required qualifications: Take the time to really understand the qualifications for the job and map them to your qualifications. If there’s not a clear fit, I would recommend really reconsidering whether you should apply for that particular job and instead spend more time finding one that is more suitable.
· Always send thank-you notes. In fact, I recommend sending two thank-you notes, one via email directly after the interview, that also includes a relevant additional question or two related to the job (no fluff), and another hand-written thank-you note as a marketing impression to the interview team.
On the other side of the equation, as the talent marketplace continues to heat up and relative scarcity continues to play out, companies that are able to scale while preserving an authentic connection with the talent marketplace will win. This requires foresight and commitment.