October 23, 2012
One simple way to increase your response rate
A woman came in the other day to meet with me. She seemed distressed and said she really needed to talk with a career coach to address a serious job-search problem she was having.
When I asked her what challenge she was running into, she sighed deeply and said: "I've been job hunting for about a month now and am afraid something must be horribly wrong with my resume. So far, I've only been getting about one interview for every five resumes I send out."
Yes, I know. Not what you were probably expecting. Nor was I. And many of you out there who are "on the hunt" are probably shaking your heads right now, wondering how this person could possibly complain about a 20 percent response rate. That type of batting average has been pretty tough to come by for the majority of job hunters in recent years, simply given the supply and demand of talent out there.
After I explained to this new client that her success rate was actually extraordinarily impressive, and significantly higher than the average person was experiencing, I couldn't resist asking to take a peek at her materials. I was dying of curiosity to see what she'd done to her resume that had made it so irresistible to potential employers.
Guess what? It wasn't the slightest bit remarkable. In fact, it looked like more or less like any other standard resume you'd come across. The format was a common Microsoft Word template -- and the language throughout the document wasn't anything edgy or outside the norm. It consisted of typical descriptions of her job duties, accomplishments, education and the like.
Why, then, was her resume so successful? What was the magic ingredient that was leading her to experience such an above-average response rate?
It all came down to focus and targeting. This woman's last three positions had all been progressive management roles within a highly specialized niche industry, civil engineering, and the job leads she'd been pursuing thus far all happened to be within the same market space.
Her level of success was not based on the cosmetic aspects of her resume or some unorthodox technique she'd devised for presenting her qualifications. Instead, she was benefiting from the simple fact that employers today, by and large, place an enormous premium on applicants who bring specialized industry experience to the table.
I don't routinely come across job hunters who seem to fully recognize this reality or capitalize as much as they could on this important factor. For example, let's say your most recent job was as an accountant with a seafood company. As much as accounting is a fairly transferable skill across different industries, you will still be significantly more likely to land an interview if you target other seafood organizations -- and call out your experience in that specific area of the business world -- versus going after a wide mix of companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks.
This doesn't mean that you should go after firms only in your previous (or current) niche. But unless you're dead set on making a change, I'd certainly add a hefty number of such firms to your prospecting pipeline.
Even if you've already thought to follow this strategy to some extent, there's a decent chance you might have underestimated the number of companies in the key sectors you're familiar with. In the example above, for instance (which is a real one), my client estimated that there were 15-20 companies in town that related to the seafood industry. After we did a little digging, it turned out there are more than 100.
These kinds of discoveries give me great optimism. They suggest that any given candidate might find dozens, or even hundreds, of new "customers" for their skills that they haven't yet contacted.
While a 1-in-5 interview ratio is downright mind-blowing, I think most job hunters can expect to see an uptick in their search results if they isolate the industries in which they have the most direct experience and then go after any and all employers in these fields, emphasizing how quickly they'd be able to hit the ground running.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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