We all know that searching for a job can be frustrating, and that sending in applications is only the start of a process that can include a lot of waiting.
And then, well—maybe you never hear back.
In this all-too-familiar scenario, lots of people may wonder what has happened to their application. Has a human being even seen it, or was it lost in some mechanical process?
The curious case of the job application robot
Recently, I read an interesting article by a director of a national nonprofit who was searching for a new challenge. He applied to multiple job openings at well-known tech companies, but soon began to suspect that robots, aka “applicant tracking systems” were “reading” most of his applications.
Eventually he grew so frustrated by the long silences and the lack of a human response that he decided to take radical action. Fighting fire with fire, he designed a robot of his own.
The “contraption of crawlers, spreadsheets and scripts” aggregated hiring managers’ contact information and then submitted a customized email with a resume and personal cover letter to those hiring managers.
It also tracked how many times his cover letter, resume or social media profile was viewed, as well as email responses from employers. In total, the robot applied to more than 500 jobs over a three month period.
So this leads to the big question: Did this amazing job application robot work? The short answer, unfortunately, is no.
Resist the urge to bombard recruiters with applications
Now the truth is that at an executive level, referrals play a big role in job applications. But at any level, the “spray and pray” approach is unlikely to work.
It’s easy to understand why candidates might feel that they should apply to as many jobs as possible to maximize their chances of landing an interview.
However, if you look at it from the side of the recruiter who is overwhelmed with resumes to sort through every day, then it’s easy to understand why it doesn’t work.
In fact, Indeed data shows that people with the highest number of applications are far less likely – 39% less likely – to receive a positive response from employers.
It’s much more effective to write targeted applications, custom made for the jobs you are interested in. Once you’ve identified a job to apply for, your main goal should be to make it clear to a potential employer why you are a great fit.
Four steps to help you land the job
What can help you stand out from the crowd? Here are four tips to help you make your applications more targeted.
Be honest with yourself – The most important thing you can do to improve your chances is to carefully evaluate each job you’re applying for to ensure a good fit. Be honest with yourself and ask: 1) Are you qualified to do the job? and 2) Do you actually want to do this job?
Here’s what a recruiter thinks when he or she receives applications for every job at their company: You haven’t actually read the job descriptions. Trust me, it’s not a good look. This doesn’t mean you can’t apply to more than one job at a time – just make sure they are all jobs you are interested in and qualified for.
Screen and apply to each job with care – Quality is more important than quantity, so focus on crafting a few high-quality applications by reading the entire job description, ensuring you can demonstrate the required skills and qualifications, paying close attention to the application instructions, carefully reading (and answering) all questions on the application and, of course, double-checking your responses before you submit that application.
Stay organized – Successful job seekers approach their search with discipline. Just as if you were studying for an exam or tackling a particularly tricky task at work, set aside enough time to pursue your search methodically, one step at a time. Organize your outreach and keep track of the status of each job application.
Keep a clean resume – Have a “clean” resume on hand that you can alter to fit each job application. For example, adding relevant details or emphasizing past experience to fit a specific job. Don’t just start with the last resume you created for a different job – having a clean resume will make applying for jobs more convenient, and thus the job-application process will go more smoothly.
These steps may not sound as high-tech as building a job applying robot, but the more targeted you can be, the better.
Paul Wolfe is SVP of Human Resources at Indeed. A shorter version of this post was published at SHRM.