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Get a Great Job

Success Comes From Applying for a Small Number of Jobs With Great Intensity and Attention to Detail...

Below is an excerpt from my ebook, It’s Not You, It’s Your Strategy: The HIAPy Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market. I wrote it because I saw so many cool and talented people struggling to find work, and making the same elemental mistakes. You can download the full, 80-page e-book for FREE.

If you like what you read and would like to information about my coaching services please click here or email me at In my coaching, I aim to have at least 1/4 of my clients' resumes result in an interview, and 1/4 of interviews result in an offer. We generally achieve these results in just 5 - 10 hours of coaching, so, in terms of time saved, coaching makes sense even when you're on a strict budget. - Hillary


It's Not You, It's Your Strategy

Recently, a coffee date with a friend took a serious turn as he despondently narrated the saga of his latest failure to get hired, and then the whole sad story of his past two years of unemployment. It was a familiar story of resumes not acknowledged, telephone calls not returned, and some excruciating near misses where he had gotten to the final round of interviews but wasn’t hired.

“I need you to tell me what’s wrong with me,” he finally said, his face strained. “Why I’m not getting hired.”

It was a brave request. Not many of us are willing to lay our failures out on the table for someone else to inspect and critique.

So I asked him for the details: what jobs he had applied for, how he had found out about them, what process he had used to apply, whom he had he used as references, etc.

And this is what I concluded: there was nothing wrong with my friend. Nothing. There was, in fact, a lot right with him. He was a presentable, personable individual with solid credentials and a lot of interesting work experience.

What was wrong was his strategy. He wasn’t applying for jobs effectively.

He was making, in fact, a lot of the mistakes I discuss in this ebook. If he corrects those, he should have a much better chance of getting hired moving forward.

The odds are that, if you’ve been unemployed a while, you’re also walking around wondering what’s wrong with you – but there’s a good chance that, the same as with my friend, the problem isn’t with you, but your strategy. Strategies can be changed, so take heart and keep reading.

This ebook focuses on the foundational activities and strategies underlying a successful job search, but does not include information on tactics (e.g., how to interview or write a resume), partly because that information is widely available elsewhere. If there’s sufficient interest, however, I’ll write the tactics book later on.

Because a lot of this book focuses on mistakes you yourself might be making – on the premise that that is the most fruitful area of discussion, since your own performance is something you can control and improve – I want to be very clear that I do understand that the U.S. economy is in a very bad state and good jobs can be hard to find. And yet, the good jobs are often out there, but people sabotage their efforts to win them. That is the problem I focus on in this book, and that I hope to help you solve, but please do not think I underestimate the difficulties and pain of finding work in a weak economy.


85% of people screw up their job applications.



Holy cow! It seems incredible, and yet that’s the number most often quoted. Here are two examples:

In an article in the April 6, 2004 Wall Street Journal, a human resources manager says that about 85% of the cover letters she receives have typos, misspellings (including the recipient’s name), or other errors.

Scott Bennett, author of the popular The Elements of Resume Style (American Management Association, 2005) says: “If you’ve hired people yourself, you’ll know the following to be true: As an employer, if you receive 200 resumes for an open position, maybe 10 are error-free (if you’re lucky).”

That’s *95%*, folks!

Many hirers report the same results. And it’s not just resumes and cover letters, either. People screw up all kinds of things in their applications:

They apply for the wrong jobs.

They show up late or badly groomed for interviews. In a 6/1/04 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Dated Suit, Dirty Nails Can Tip the Balance If You're Job Hunting,” writer Joann S. Lublin discusses the myriad grooming mistakes hirers report having seen in candidates. The list is incredible, actually, and includes: wearing inappropriate clothing; wearing dirty or wrinkled clothing; wearing clothes that fit badly or are years out of style; showing up with hair not cut or combed; showing up with bad breath or body odor; wearing obnoxious perfume or aftershave; and wearing too much makeup or makeup badly applied.

They show up unprepared or unrehearsed for interviews.

They don’t send thank you notes.

They use the wrong people for references, and/or don’t coach their references on the important points they need to make.


That 85% is both good and bad news, as we’ll see below.

Competing With the “Fab 15%”

The fact that 85% of your competition screws up is good news, since it means you’re only really competing against the remaining 15%. The bad news, however, is that that 15% is playing at the top of their game – and the only way to compete is for you to do the same: i.e., to complete every step of the job search and application process as close to perfectly as possible. That takes a lot of time and effort, as these examples of what you should do ***for each and every important job opening*** illustrate:

  • Research: You should conduct extensive research, not just about the company and its products or services, but its customers and competition, and trends in its industry and customers’ industries. Oh, and relevant overall economic and political trends.
  • Editing: Edit your already-edited resume and cover letter so that they are targeted precisely at this particular opening. (It often takes hours, if not a day or more.) Then, show the documents to your mentors and edit some more based on their feedback.
  • Rehearse: Rehearse ten or more times for your interview. Not five or eight, but ten. Go over every question you are likely to be asked, and practice, practice, practice until you can deliver your answers smoothly and concisely.
  • Grooming: Show up for interviews immaculately groomed, with no detail amiss.
  • References: Carefully select the people whom you want to serve as references for this particular opening, and then advise them on the specific things they could say about you that would be most helpful. Also, present their complete contact information to the hirer in an attractive format.
  • Thank you notes: Send meaningful thank you notes, and otherwise stay in careful touch with the hirer.

If these examples seem to represent an extreme amount of time and effort to devote to one open position, then you have just gotten an important clue as to why you haven’t been getting offers. This level of detail is essential when it comes to competing with the “Fab 15%.” Maybe it didn’t take so much effort to get a job a couple of generations ago, but these days it often does, especially if you have any weaknesses in your background or skills, which we pretty much all do.

Please don’t get scared off by all the work, though. As you’ll learn in the next chapter, my suggestion is that you apply with great intensity for a small number of jobs. This keeps the workload manageable.

All this work, by the way, is similar to what anyone does who competes in a highly competitive field. Think, for example, of elite athletes, who aim to perfect every aspect of what they are doing and try to never cut corners. Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: “I did talk about perfection [to my players]. I said it was not possible. But I said it’s not impossible to try for it. That’s what we did in every practice and game.”

HIAP vs. Willy-Nilly

I’m not a sports fan, but I’m guessing that Wooden’s team didn’t play against every Tom, Dick and Harry basketball team that was out there. No, I’m pretty sure they were selective, playing only against other teams, and at some special events, and on a schedule that allowed them plenty of time for rest and practice in between games. Otherwise, how could they possibly be expected to do their best?

And how can YOU be expected to do your best, if you’re busy applying willy-nilly to all kinds of second- and third-rate opportunities?

Near-perfection, as discussed above, takes a lot of time and effort. If you’re going to aim for it in your job search, it almost certainly means applying for just a few jobs at a time. While that may sound like you’re scarily limiting your options, it actually improves your odds of getting hired because each application is really strong and hopefully devoid of the kinds of problems mentioned in Chapters 14 and 15. (Remember: I use the word “application” to refer not just to the paper application you fill out, but the entire application process.)

I call the strategy of applying for a few jobs in a highly customized way, and with great intensity and focus, the High-Intensity Application Process (HIAP). HIAP increases the chances, at each stage of the application process, that you will be moved to the next stage, so...

HIAPy research and networking should increase the chances that your resume will be seriously considered.

A HIAPy resume and cover letter should increase the chances that you land a phone interview.

A HIAPy phone interview should increase your chances of landing an in-person one.

A HIAPy in-person interview should increase the chances of your being short-listed for the position.

And all of these plus your HIAPy references should greatly increase your chances of getting an offer.

Sometimes, people ask what’s the harm in applying for a few jobs using HIAP, and bunches of “secondary jobs” using standard, low-intensity techniques like shooting off a quick resume in response to an ad. The harm is that the willy-nilly “shooting” approach usually winds up taking way more time and energy than we predict, and distracts us from our HIAP effort.

Another problem with willy-nilly is that you may decide, one day, that one of your secondary choices is worthy of a HIAP effort, but now you’ve compromised the result by having previously sent in a lame resume and cover letter.

If you can spend a few hours posting a strong, generalized resume on an Internet job board, I don’t have a problem with that. But any job you really want is worth applying for using HIAP. And any jobs you don't really want, you shouldn't apply for. (Some people have a problem with not wanting any jobs, or that there are no jobs left in their field - I address this in a later chapter.)

Another advantage of HIAP over willy-nilly is that with HIAP you are using your brain throughout the application process, so that your job application skills, and chances of being hired, should improve over time. Given this, as well as the improved odds of getting hired, all the supposedly “extra” work you are putting in with HIAP should, in the end, save you loads of time and grief.


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