Your Career Q&A: Job Hunt Like a Pro

By Martin Yate Dec 8, 2015
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This week's Your Career Q&A column tackles the challenges of job hunting, from navigating job boards to writing that cover letter. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I’m in the middle of a job hunt, and I find it very frustrating that many of the large job boards, like Indeed and Simply Hired, list HR jobs that either are outdated or simply don’t exist. It’s such a waste of time to apply to jobs and then not hear anything, and when I follow up and speak with someone at the company, I hear that the job has already been filled (often months ago), or was filled internally. Would you suggest avoiding those types of job sites? I haven’t had this issue with smaller, more targeted job sites within my area.

Thomas, Minneapolis

During a job hunt, technology brings us many benefits when it works, but it isn’t a universal panacea. There are problem listings on all sites, and Indeed and Simply Hired are no better or worse than any other, although I’m a big fan of the benefits of using smaller and more profession-focused niche sites.

When any site you visit shows opportunities that align with your target job, it’s worth completing a profile so that you can be notified of matching jobs when they’re posted. I’d keep the job parameters a bit wider at first, since it’s always better to see a few jobs that don’t match than miss a few that do. Then gradually narrow those parameters as you see the results.

The first problem with applying on job sites is that everyone else does, too (it’s the easiest option for job hunters), so you are far more likely to be lost in the crowd. Second, there are so many job sites (no one knows how many, but they exist by industry, function, location, etc.) that you can never be sure you’re hitting every one that might feature your dream job on the day you visit.

What to do? Consider the use of job boards as just one tool in your toolkit that shouldn’t consume more than 20 percent of your job search activities each week. The rest of your time should be spent on networking with your existing contacts and trying to meet new contacts at potential employers, which can be accomplished through referrals, social media and trade associations. And, yes, even through job boards, but not the way you might think.

Instead of just applying for interesting HR jobs you find on Monster, CareerBuilder and the like, try using those sites to research where openings exist. When you identify a job you think you’re qualified for, use social media to uncover who works at that company, and then reach out to schedule a call to discuss the organization and what your contact can share about the culture, as well as other aspects of working there, and perhaps suggest others you can speak with.

Remember, the goal of using a job board is to land an interview. But there are many efficient ways to achieve that goal.

My daughter is starting her first job hunt, and I’ve never understood the value of a formal cover letter. I don’t think they add any information that interviewers can’t get from a resume. Yet HR colleagues who work in recruiting tell me it’s bad form not to include one. Frankly, with most applications done online, the cover letter seems passé. What do you think?

Rich, Princeton, N.J.

A cover letter never got anyone hired, but there are some considerations as to whether or not they are a waste of time. If the applicant’s resume is uploaded into a resume database and there is no option to upload a cover letter, obviously you can’t use one. If there is a way to do so, it certainly can’t do any harm and may help the resume become more discoverable.

However, the real benefit to a cover letter is when sending it directly to a headhunter or a hiring manager. In these instances, a good cover letter will get that resume read with more serious attention. This is especially so when the cover letter makes life easier for the reader.

While there are many types of cover letters, perhaps the most perennially effective is the executive briefing. This format has an intro paragraph that demonstrates interest in the job and the company and then is divided into two columns: The left column identifies the needs of the job, as taken from the job posting, while the right column lists the applicant’s matching skills.

The result (as you’ll see in the above link) is a cover letter that succinctly states, “Here are your needs matched by my skills. The attached resume will fill out the details.” Because it plays such a meaningful communication role, this is the cover letter that gets a resume hand-carried to hiring managers.

The additional benefit to this approach is that every recruiter and hiring manager in the world hates wasting time with unqualified candidates. Consequently, going the extra mile in helping match the needs of the job with one’s skills and experience serves to position an applicant well for an interview. It also highlights an individual’s written communication skills and ability to cut to the heart of a matter. Thus, cover letters and other written communications during a job search are valid, and they help set a candidate apart from the competition.

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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