Excerpted and adapted from my ebook It's Not You, It's Your Strategy: the HIAPY Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market, a pay-what-you-wish download in English and Spanish in my shop.
Somewhere around 85% of those who apply for work screw up in elemental ways. They apply for the wrong jobs, or the right jobs at the wrong times, or they have typos in their resumes, or they send generic cover letters (with typos), or they show up late or badly groomed to interviews, or they send weak or no thank you notes (with typos.) The fact that 85% of your competition screws up is good news, since it means you’re only 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 to do the same: to complete every step of the 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:
Researching: 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.
Rehearsing: 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.
Managing your 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.
Thanking: Send meaningful thank you notes, and otherwise stay in careful touch with the hirer.
If these seem to represent an extreme amount of time and effort to devote to one open position, then that may be why you haven’t been getting offers. It does take a lot of time and effort to compete 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 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. That 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 never to 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.”
How to Get HIAPy
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. (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 weak 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 HIAPily.
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.