In my career search seminars, I am frequently asked: “Paul, I’ve heard that employers aren’t interested in hiring the unemployed. Is that true?” To a point, this is valid, but of course, it’s not entirely true. If this were the case, after all, no job seeker would get a job today.

This fear came up in June of 2010, when a couple of job postings, including one by Sony Ericsson, stated: “No unemployed people will be considered at all.” Employers have two choices in recruiting: active job seekers or passive job seekers. Stereotyping can give the illusion that top talent is currently employed and therefore should be the first choice when recruiting candidates. Of course, this isn’t always valid; in light of the economy and mass layoffs, there are many good job seekers who are currently in the job market.

I recently interviewed several recruiters and executive headhunters about this issue, and all agreed that there are far too many desperate job seekers. They mass-mail their resumes, apply for positions they aren’t qualified for, apply to every position listed and use any opportunity to hand over a resume at a networking event. When they interviewed these candidates, the recruiters and headhunters concluded that these job seekers just wanted a “job” and weren’t necessarily the right fit for the company. When employers are inundated with poor candidates, they simply change their approach by looking at candidates from other sources.

A large local marketing agency says they don’t consider any candidates who apply through or their company’s website. “Most job seekers coming through these sources are a poor fit and are just looking for jobs,” the company concludes.

So, as someone in transition, how do you change your approach so you don’t come across as a needy job seeker? How can you actively look for opportunities without appearing desperate? What’s the best way to seem like top talent?

It all depends on your strategy and presence. Here are a couple of tips I’d like you to consider going forward:

Don’t take your resume to networking events. Networking events aren’t job fairs. For that matter, most resumes get shredded at job fairs, or recycled back at the company. Why? Because most resumes aren’t tailored to the unique needs of the employer. Even if you research which companies will be at the job fair, your resume still can’t speak exactly to the needs of the hiring manager. Therefore, you should not take it to these events.

Do grab the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s business card. Instead of handing out resumes, take the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s business card and follow up with them after the event with a nice thank-you note. Heather Krasna, author of “Jobs that Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service,” recently wrote a great blog post about two job seeker stories after the presentation she gave at the August ProLango Career Mixer. One job seeker wrote her a nice thank-you note and has been elevated in Heather’s eyes when a job referral comes through, while the other job seeker left a permanent bad impression.

Don’t just apply to any position listed. While you must apply for job openings to receive unemployment benefits, don’t just apply to any position listed. Chances are you’ll come back to this company at a future date for a position that looks interesting. If you leave a negative mark on the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS), it will be hard to change that perception later.

Do target companies that you’re interested and build relationships with them. If there are companies that you really care about, I would caution you about applying to them directly. Chances are high that your resume will get lost in their ATS. Instead, focus on getting to know decision makers and current employees inside the company whom you can use for employee referrals. Also get to know past employees who can serve as referrals to their former colleagues at the company.

Don’t elevator pitch. Recruiters, hiring managers and especially other job seekers aren’t interested in hearing your objective, what you’re looking for and how someone can help you. Job seekers make this mistake when they answer the question: “Tell me about you.” This is an ice-breaking question, not an invitation for an elevator pitch. When you’re elevator pitching, you’re missing a true opportunity to listen to the needs of the hiring manager and position yourself correctly.

Do build relationships. Exchanging business cards isn’t building relationships; neither is talking to someone at a networking event. Building relationships requires careful listening skills and a genuine interest in getting to know the other person. When you do that correctly, you can find opportunities to become a resource to somebody else through referrals, connections, ideas, motivation and expertise. Once you become a resource to someone, chances are they’ll reciprocate. If you become a resource to the right person at the right time, you will increase your odds of joining the lucky club of passive candidates who get back-to-back referrals for great job offers.

Live Seminars in December

The Career Search Excellence seminar is packed with only the hottest tips and tricks for professionals seeking a new opportunity – giving you a competitive edge over the competition. The seminar is free (sponsored) and there are three dates to choose from in December.
  • December 5 (Bellevue, WA)
  • December 8 (Bellevue, WA)
  • December 10 (Bellevue, WA)
Register Now (It's free.)
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