I recently gave a presentation called Career Search Optimization to professionals in transition, emphasizing the need to become more strategic if they want to find their ideal job. Many, if not all, job seekers are so focused on advertised openings that they often miss out on what’s most important to them.

It’s a little like dating. You can troll dating websites, see who is available and send customized emails asking them out, or you can take a step back and ask yourself, “What do I want?” By identifying your values and goals, you’re likely to zero in on the few people who would be a good fit for you long-term — many of whom might not be online.

The same goes for finding a job: Being more strategic will help you find your ideal match. Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t apply online first:

The employer gets too many résumés.
 Local employers have told me that they receive anywhere from 350 to 1,600 applications for just one opening. If a job is posted on Craigslist, a company might receive from 100 to 400 résumés in just one hour. Employers are flooded with applicants — over 90 percent of whom aren’t qualified or aren’t a good fit — and chances are high that your résumé will get lost among them.

The employer’s needs aren’t clear. Most employers don’t receive formal training on how to write a job description. Many rely on HR templates that come with the human resources information system (HRIS) or even from other companies. If you see a job posting by Starbucks, for example, the hiring manager’s specific needs — say, someone with a strong retail-operations background — won’t necessarily be identified. So even if you send a résumé tailored to the ad, you’re just customizing it to the template, not the actual job.

The employer has several filters.
 In previous columns, I’ve talked about how employers screen your résumé, how they profile you on social-media sites and how that information helps to determine whether they speak to you. There are too many filters that screen you out, and you’ll likely be rejected before a human sees your application.

The employer could blacklist you. I’ve discussed various reasons why employers would blacklist an applicant. They might not use such a harsh word, but most companies have a “do not hire”/”do not look at this applicant”/”not a good fit for our company or culture” list. These are generally maintained for seven to 10 years. If you rub an employer the wrong way, you could land on its blacklist, which would greatly reduce your chances of working there.

The employer may prefer another method. 
In my column “Where you come from matters,” I discussed the variety of ways that employers hire. While Expedia prefers employee referrals, for example, certain departments at the University of Washington prefer applicants who apply through The Seattle Times. Knowing which method the company prefers could determine whether your application is reviewed.

Before applying online to an advertised opening, take the time to learn about the employer’s needs and hiring preferences. I want to caution you, however, that you probably won’t find the job you want. To find happiness and build a successful career, you’ll need to become even more strategic. Start by asking yourself questions such as: “What do I want?” “Why do I want that?” “Whose help am I going to need?” and “How am I going to get there?”

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13 Responses to Why applying online first is a waste of time

  1. Cynthia Cooper says:

    I found this infirmation very useful. I wonder, can you give any additional pointers on how to determine a company’s preferred hiring method?
    Thank you!

  2. Roxan Park says:

    Your article is spot on; as a Certified Career Management Coach, I coach my clients daily to use a back door, side door approach, make contacts and relationship build to find the job for them. My job club is now focusing on this and getting interviews like crazy with companies who aren’t even advertising postings.

    Job Seekers,
    Target the companies YOU want to work for and build relationships within those companies. Don’t wait for an internet posting…..Paul is right….applying online is a waste of time. Consider spending your time building valuable relationships, making new contacts and pursuing the job of your dreams instead of spending wasted hours on job boards to be part of the herds randomly applying for just any job!

    Believe in Yourself ~ Discover and Pursue Your Career Dreams!
    Roxan Park – CCMC

  3. Carreen says:

    Thank you for the well written overview on the hiring process. The misfit of the posted job description to the hiring manager’s specific needs.is reason enough to spend valuable job quest time away from the internet postings!

  4. Michael in Seattle says:

    I find this article encouraging because it reaffirms the logic of my current job search approach. I gave up applying for jobs directly (on-line) months ago, despite a torrent of criticism from family and friends. I’m still in the midst of building a network and making contacts, but I’m more convinced than ever that the side-door, back-door approach it the way to go.

  5. dave says:

    Thank you for the insight, infact, as I graduate in may this article has really changed my thought process moving forward in the job hunt. Thank you

  6. Anthony in Seattle says:

    Thanks for your post Paul, I enjoyed reading it. The “What do I want?” question seems fundamental and maybe even philosophical, because even if you make the right contact and land that plum job, if you’re not chasing what you really want then you might be looking again in 1-2 years time. Couple not really knowing what you want with employers who write job descriptions that bear little description to the actual job (which I can really relate to), and it’s hard to know how I can ever find a satisfying niche. I’d be interested to read something about this from you.

  7. Donovan says:

    Hi Paul, While I agree with most of your points and the general theme of your article, I have never worked for or heard of an agency or HR department that will “Blacklist” someone or add them to a Do Not Call list merely for applying online. These lists are not taken lightly and there usually needs to be a sound reason for adding people to them. Previous experience with that candidates that quit no-notice, overstate their skills and perform poorly on the job or have a criminal background are examples of why someone might be blacklisted in my experience. Have you really seen someone blacklisted just for applying online?

  8. Rosei says:

    [Name Censored] sucked – HR VP at Microsoft blacklisted people and did not support women in the workplace. Mormon. Didn’t do his research. Get some stinking compassion dude.

  9. Art Boulton III says:

    Hi Paul,
    I generally agree with the theme of your article, I am certainly in favor of using back door, side door or referrals. An HR person at one company told me they received 500 to 1,000 applications a day. Some companies only except job applications electronically. Even though I have a couple of family members who work for Boeing. Boeing doesn’t accept referrals. Microsoft fills their jobs either through electronic submissions or through Temp agencies. I have several friends who work at Microsoft and the best they can do is tell me which temp agency is being used at the time.
    I will have to check with some of my HR contacts about blacklisting someone for applying too often. Never heard that one before.

  10. Ben says:

    While I generally appreciate the honestly that applying online first is usually a waste of time, and the advice in how to go about using side doors and back doors, I have also had the experience as a job seeker that hiring managers, HR departments, and supervisors in some organizations react negatively to any perceived attempt at circumventing the official process. I worry that there is some risk to a job seeker of inadvertently getting on a company’s black list by trying to use side doors and back doors. I’ve personally been chastised over the phone on some occasions for as little as requesting the hiring manager’s name so that I can address my cover letter accurately. As much as I would like to be in a position where I can simply write those companies off as places I don’t really want to work, I’m not in such a position.

  11. Jeff Wilcox says:

    I agree that being more strategic can help. However, job seekers cannot wholly dismiss applying online as a waste of time. In my experience, finding a job, ideal or otherwise, calls for the exploration and use of every available avenue. An employer that has received an applicant’s information online may not call immediately and instead may call in the future about an opportunity that is even better than the original.

  12. Annette Suh says:

    I have to point out that this is one perspective – but that it does NOT cover employment-seekers in all situations.

    Me personally, every job I’ve ever gotten with one exception has been from me applying online, anonymously. This has been over the 10-year span that online job posting has been widely used. As a contractor/consultant, I’ve had probably 20+ engagements in that time span – WAY more than the average Joe.

    I get frustrated when I read your articles that express the sentiment they do, like I’m somehow not cool enough that I’ve never had an inside track or secret handshake to get a job. I’m still scratching my head wondering how often this approach even works as there’s really no data to support either method. LOL.

    So again, it’s one approach, but one that I’ve never been able to employ successfully. Maybe I’m just weird that I always do it on my own. *shrugs*

  13. Kali Orkin says:

    All my jobs have been from applying online. I think timing is important. My call back have come from jobs I have applied for the day the position was posted. You also have to do some research. Identify exactly what you have to offer in relation to the position, try and look up the hiring manager, and if possible email the application directly rather than through the board.
    In some cases, Ben is right, many HR departments do not want to deal with unsolicited resumes. Also, you hear advice all the time to build a relationship with the companies you like, but I talked to several people that worked for Amazon, applied for several positions, connected with multiple recruiters on LinkedIn and never got a call. In the meantime, I was hired by a consulting company last week that I found on Craigslist.
    Building relationships is great, of course, but a lot of it is knowing what you want and how to package yourself, and getting your application in at the perfect time so that your name is at the top of the list.