Top Tips: Tip #4 – Prioritize Job Search Strategies Beyond Online Applications!

Looking Beyond Online Applications

Most people dive into their job search primarily surfing online job postings and applying to applicable roles. If you’re a Full-Stack Software Developer, or an Accountant out of a “Big 4” Public Accounting Firm, that strategy will likely produce fast results for you. For most everyone else… it is very likely to be a long, frustrating, and unfruitful process.

As a Recruiter for 36 years, and leading a Job Transition group for many years, I’ve seen this played out thousands of times. While many people assume that’s the best way to find and land a new job, statistically, it’s actually a poor tactic.

This graph, from a 2018 study, shows that while job boards are a source to employers for the majority of applicants, the majority of actual hires come from sources that are generally fed by various forms of networking: Employee Referrals, Internal Recruiter Sourcing, Campus Recruiting, and Agencies. Consistently in these studies, year after year, it is shown that the total HIRES from job boards and online applications amount to somewhere between 12% and 20%.

Job Seekers tend to spend the majority of their time and effort on a tactic that produces less than a 20% success rate.

The Dynamics of the Hiring Process

To understand why this is, it helps to look at the dynamics of the hiring process at most any organization. To the Job Seeker, it seems to make sense to find and apply to open jobs posted online. They know there’s a real job. There’s a clear application process that they expect will get reviewed and hopefully will result in a call. And sometimes it does work that way.

On the Employer’s side, however, things typically aren’t that simple. There are many inputs and factors that lead to interviews and hires:

  • Open positions may be posted on their own website as well as external online job boards (i.e. or LinkedIn). Once a job is posted, it is public information that anyone can find. They often get MANY applicants, MOST of whom are not remotely qualified. Many job seekers apply to all kinds of jobs that may be interesting to them, but that they are not at all qualified for.
  • All of those applications go into a database. Sometimes, multiple databases. One from their own website applications, plus ones from external job boards. Rather than looking at all of the applicants (which can sometimes be in the hundreds), they run keyword searches on the databases for applicants with certain skills listed on their application or resume. The results from those searches are the only ones seen by human eyeballs.

Someone may have had the right kind of experience, however, didn’t happen to list that particular skill on their application, so their application was never seen or reviewed.

  • While the recruiter in the organization, or the hiring manager may be looking at those resumes, they
    may also have an external recruiter searching, and presenting pre-screened qualified candidates. Or an existing employee in the organization emails them a resume of someone they spoke to for consideration for the role. Or in a conversation with a friend outside the organization, they are referred an additional qualified candidate. Or an existing employee would like to be considered for the opportunity. Or the internal recruiter found someone on LinkedIn or through their own network that may be a potential fit as well.
  • Out of all those possibilities, they know the LEAST about the online applicants. In all of those other scenarios, someone is able to tell them something about the candidate, or at least be able to relate a conversation they had. The online applications are nothing more than data on a screen. It is highly likely that those candidates from other sources are going to get greater consideration.

Additionally, of the online applications, there will be some that will have direct, recent experience related to the opening, and many that hope that their transferable skills will be considered. As a hiring manager looking at 5 resumes that have a proven track record in the same kind of job, and several more that are looking for a career change but haven’t proven themselves, it’s not hard to figure out which applicants will more likely get a call.

When pursuing an opportunity outside of the direct experience you’ve had, the online application process will not result in a call.

A career change opportunity is certainly achievable, but it’s going to come about because of a conversation or a referral, and almost never because of simply applying online.

So What is the Alternative?

Networking and reaching out to people is critical!

● Pay attention to relevant postings, however, make it your mission to connect with someone at the organizations you want to pursue.

● Even talking to people outside the area you’re pursuing in an organization can produce helpful information, advice, and referrals.

● Make lists of all the people you know professionally… previous co-workers, vendors, clients, etc. Anyone that knows how you work is a potential advocate for you at organizations they may be working at now.

● Connect with them and ask for “A.I.R.” “As I’m looking for a new role, I’d be grateful for any Advice, Insight, or additional Referrals you may be able to provide.”

● Keep asking for additional referrals, add to your network and follow the trail of breadcrumbs from one to another until you’re talking to someone with an appropriate opportunity or lead.

● Don’t treat your networking like a series of One Hit Wonders! Follow up periodically to let them know of your progress, and remind them you’re grateful for any additional leads or referrals.

● Don’t just focus on current openings, but look for ways you can add value to an organization. Jobs are often created in order to hire someone that could be an asset.

Staying Plugged in to Community

Spending the majority of your job search time and effort in front of a computer, surfing job postings and endlessly applying to positions online is typically unproductive, and drains your energy, communication skills, and people skills.

Scripture tells us the importance of relationships and staying plugged into community:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” -Hebrews 10:24-25a

Isolating yourself in your job search is discouraging. Get in the habit of connecting and your results will improve dramatically!

Harry Urschel has been a recruiter for over 35 years. He is a partner in a retained executive search firm in theMinneapolis area in addition to doing executive outplacement coaching. On a volunteer basis, he also leads MN Crossroads Career Network (, an affiliate of Crossroads Career.

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