Proactive vs. Reactive Job Search Strategies

Most of us search for a job by responding to job postings we find that look interesting.

However, job boards are not particularly useful for job seekers now.

An effective job application must be customized to the opportunity to be found in the applicant tracking system, so applying for jobs can take a substantial amount of time.

On the other side of the process, employers are buried under applications from too many people applying for jobs they are not qualified for (or without making their qualifications clear).

So, job boards don’t work well for employers, either.

Reactive Job Search

In a job board based search, we search the jobscurrently posted at one or a few job boards, apply for those that look interesting, and, maybe, register a resume. We may sign up for emailed notices of new job postings.

We may also scan the classified ads in the local newspapers or register at a some local employer websites.

We apply for the jobs that look interesting, and then wait to hear back from the employer. And wait…and wait…

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Why Applying for Jobs Doesn’t Work

While checking job postings on a big site like or can be excellent research (who’s hiring, for what, where??), spending all your job search efforts scanning job postings is not as productive as it feels for these reasons.

  • It’s too limited.

    We are depending on what others have done both in describing and in posting the job. And, an estimated 70% to 85% of jobs never get posted or advertised anywhere!

  • It’s usually too competitive.

    Recruiters receive hundreds of resumessubmitted in response to job ads and job postings.

    You must standout, in a positive way, to be noticed, and that takes a combinationof hard work (matching your skills and experience with each job’s requirements), skill, and luck.

  • It’s too random.

    The right opportunity for you may or may not beposted, and it may or may not be posted where you are looking.

    Finding the right opportunity for you at the right employer isa hit-or-miss proposition.

  • It’s hard to find a good fit.

    How often have you found an opportunitythat makes you think “I have exactly the skills andexperience they have specified for this job”?

    If you arehonestly assessing your qualifications and reading the job description carefully, the answer is probably not very often. They want 5 years of experience, but you have 3 (or 7); they want at biology — you have a A.A. in biology; etc.

    Employers or recruiters may over-specify the necessary skillsand experience needed for the job, creating a job posting withrequirements that no one can meet (e.g., 10 years of experiencewith a technology that’s only 5 or 6 years old).

    Job seekers over-apply. Many recruiters have shared withme that they don’t like to advertise a job opportunity becausethey receive so many responses from unqualified applicants, anestimated 80% to 90% of responses.

    Job seekers view it as a “why-not” opportunity; recruiters see it as dumb (or lazy) applicants who didn’t pay attention or don’t understand what is required.

Some people would call this a lose/lose situation. Studies have shown that less that half of the average 250 applicants for every job meet the qualifications for those jobs, so by over-applying, we’re killing the goose that laid the proverbial golden egg (the job postings).

4 Steps to Proactive Job Search

The successful job seekers I’ve interviewed selected the kind of job they wanted (e.g. bank teller, entry-level professional, senior executive), the industry (e.g. banking, retail, healthcare), and then the local employers that they liked best.

What did these successful job seekers do?

1. They selected target employers.

Speaking from painful personal experience, one of the biggest mistakes you can make when you are looking for a new job is being more interested in leaving a bad situation than in being sure you’re going to good place to work.

The best way to avoid that mistake is to choose employers that would be good places for you to work.

Having those target employers in mind made the rest of their job search more focused, and — today — a focused job search is a shorter and more successful job search.

2. They learned as much as they could about the target employer.

They took the following steps:

3. They established a contact on the “inside” to help them in their application process and to benefit from the employer’s referral system.

MOST employers (not all) have a formal process for current employees to refer job candidates to be hired, typically called the Employee Referral Program. When a current employee refers someone who is hired and works successfully for several months, that employee typically receives a financial reward that can be quite substantial, depending on the job and the employer.

These job seekers tracked down contacts using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. They also checked with friends, family, neighbors, former colleagues who worked at one of the target employers or who knew someone who worked at one of the target employers.

Then, they worked with these people, providing as much support as possible, to identify appropriate job opportunities and get their resume submitted.

Hiring managers don’t want to make mistakes — it’s expensive for the employer to recruit an employee and a few “bad hires” can definitely be career-limiting events for the person doing the hiring.

Employers LOVE “employee referrals” — potential employees referred to the employer by current employees. Most have “employee referral programs” which reward employees who refer someone who is ultimately hired and becomes a successful employee. Studies show that someone who is referred into the company by another employee is usually a successful employee.

[MORE: Shortcut to a New Job: Tap an Insider.

4. They stayed in touch with their internal contact, if they had one, the HR department, and/or the hiring manager.

Nicely, politely, relentlessly following up…not every day or even every week. But once or twice a month, by phone, in person, by e-mail, or even by Twitter. Whatever works best for you and is most effective in reaching a person at the employer’s office.

Early in my career, I worked for a senior manager in the Personnel Office of Harvard University, and, many years later (we won’t discuss how many), I still remember the ultimately successful applicant for a major construction project management job.

He called every two weeks to see how things were progressing — always polite, always nice, and always in touch. It worked for him (he got the job) as it has worked for many thousands of job applicants and sales people. I’ve used it myself, too.

The Bottom Line on a Proactive Job Search Strategy

You probably don’t want to be doing another job search in a year or two, so use this job search as an opportunity to find a job with an employer who will be around (and keep you employed) for a while. The research you’ve done in selecting your target employers should help you avoid the ones that will disappear or disappoint – although no one has any guarantees in life or work.

For more information:

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
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