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Job Search Success Strategy: PROactive vs. REactive Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

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

A typical job board based search is reactive, not proactive.

We search jobs at one or a few job boards. We may also scan the classified ads in the local newspapers. We apply for the jobs that look interesting, maybe sign up to get some sent by e-mail, and repeat the process the next day or the next week.

So, what's wrong with applying for jobs?

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 resumes submitted in response to job ads and job postings. You must stand out, in a positive way, to be noticed, and that takes a combination of hard work, skill, and luck.
  • It's too random.

    The right opportunity for you may or may not be posted, and it may not be posted where you are looking. Finding the right opportunity for you at the right employer is a hit-or-miss proposition.
  • It's hard to find a good fit.

    How often have you found an opportunity that makes you think "I have exactly the skills and experience they have specified for this job"? If you are honestly 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 B.S. in biology - you have a A.A. in Biology; etc.

    Employers or recruiters may over-specify the necessary skills and experience needed for the job, creating a job posting with requirements that no one can meet (e.g., 10 years of experience with a technology that's only 7 or 8 years old).

    Job seekers over-apply. Many recruiters have shared with me that they don't like to advertise a job opportunity because they receive so many responses from unqualified applicants, an estimated 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).

You lose because you must spend a lot of time finding and combing through job opportunities for the ones that match your qualifications and/or interest you.

Recruiters lose because they must comb through hundreds of resumes to find the truly qualified applicants. And, people who repeatedly apply for jobs without meeting the requirements end up on "black lists" of applicants to ignore permanently because they are too dumb or too clueless to read the job descriptions.

Successful Job Seekers Are Proactive!

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. Once they determined the target employers, they focused most of their job search efforts on those specific organizations.

What did these successful job seekers do?

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

They took the following steps:

  • Checked out the employer Website for information on the products, services, officers and senior staff, internal organization, benefits, and any other information they could pick up.
  • Leveraged their LinkedIn networks for current (and former!) employees to connect with, and used the Company follow function to stay up to date on what's going on with the employer.
  • Googled the employer's name to see what could be found (like pending layoffs, new product intorductions, mergers, new rounds of funding, etc.). [MORE: 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.]
  • Checked the various Web resources for information about the employer's financial health (e.g. Yahoo! Finance, Bloomberg, CNN Financial, etc.)
  • Read and applied what they learned from Job-Hunt's Google-izing your job search articles, like using Google Alerts for Job Search.

2. They studied the process used by the target employer to fill job openings.

These successful job seekers regularly checked the employer's Website for job postings.

For example, one job seeker told me that she knew that her target employer always posted new job openings on Mondays. So, she always visited the company's site before lunch on Monday. She got the job she wanted, for the employer she wanted.

They also spoke with the people in the HR department to initiate (if possible and appropriate) the official job application process.

3. They established a contact on the "inside" to help them in their application process.

These job seekers tracked down contacts using LinkedIn 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 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.

Bottom Line

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 around) 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:

About 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, and Google+.

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