“I’ve been looking for a job for months now. I’ve probably submitted more than 100 resumes, and I haven’t gotten a single interview. I know I’m qualified, too.”
As a career coach, I hear variations of this sentiment almost daily. The frustration in my clients’ voices rings alongside their worry and pleading. I also hear their exhaustion and despair.
Here’s the most-likely reason you’re not landing interviews: Someone inside of the organization has identified and recruited an internal champion. That’s it.
According to Fortune magazine, “44% of new hires are employee referrals.” Within the social-impact community where internships and volunteerism are often well-trodden avenues to paid employment, that number could easily be higher.
The good news is that if you have clarity about your target, meet the minimum qualifications for the roles you’re seeking, and are persistent, the jobs you’re pursuing are within reach with a simple redirection of your energy.
Now that you understand the likely reason for the crickets you’re hearing in response to your submissions, here’s how you can shift gears to change your approach:
Decide where you want to work
If you don’t know your target, it’s tough to hit it. The more specific you are in terms of where you want to work, the more precise you can be in shaping your strategy.
Criteria that you might use to narrow your list of target organizations include:
- Geographic location
- Program focus
- Population served
- Financial scope and income source
- Number of employees
Consider where your attention is drawn to pinpoint some organizations. Where do you donate money and time? What headlines catch your eye? What makes you tear up or clench your fist in anger? Are there themes in your social media feeds? Use the data you gather about what interests you and identify organizations that fit the patterns you notice.
Start your search by checking out Idealist.org and sort by organization type (government, nonprofit, consultant, recruiter, and social enterprise). Start taking notes, and if you want to add to your list, access additional tools such as:
- GuideStar. Online directory with several search parameters.
- Chambers of Commerce within your geographic target location. You can generally isolate your search on these websites to nonprofits.
- Your local library. Most public libraries offer free access to databases that support job seekers. One well-known database is ReferenceUSA. Ask your librarian to help you conduct a search using terms such as “social service and welfare organization,” “nonprofit organization,” “social advocacy organization,” or a term that fits your target impact area.
- Facebook. Look up an organization that you’re interested in and check out who they follow and who follows them.
Create a spreadsheet that includes organizations that pique your interest. Rank the organizations on your spreadsheet in descending order of your interest in working for them, and also include columns for items such as:
- Location (and commute, if that’s an important part of your ultimate decision)
- Website (both homepage and careers page)
- Names of contacts (plus dates of each interaction with them)
- News article (use links)
- Resume submission details (include date and position titles) (create a folder where you store copies of job descriptions for the positions you’ve responded to)
- Interviews (include dates, name of interviewer, and mode such as phone, Skype, in-person)
- Notes (include details such as recent grants received or projects of interest)
Create relationships with people connected to those organizations
Consider people in your current sphere who are connected to these organizations, and begin to identify authentic and comfortable ways to reach out.
Perhaps one of your former professors has connections at one of these organizations. One of my clients spied another parent at his son’s baseball practice and remembered that she worked at one of his target organizations and struck up a conversation. Consider neighbors, people in your faith community, connections in your extended family, former colleagues, and people you went to school with. Are there Meetups or other gatherings that appeal to you? Cast your net widely, as it’s often loose connections that spark the best ideas.
After you’ve taken inventory of the people you already know, think about people you may want to meet. Potential approaches include:
- Run a search on LinkedIn to find people who currently work at your target organizations
- View the staff directories on the websites of your target organizations
- Explore lists of speakers at conferences that cover topics in your areas of interest
- Tap networking articles for additional ideas
Now that you have a list of people you want to talk to, send emails using templates to guide your approach. As you reach out to people, keep a few basics in mind:
- They’re likely overloaded, and their attention span is short. Be brief while offering enough detail to intrigue them.
- Research pays off. What details can you offer to help them see the overlap between your path and theirs? Perhaps you attended the same undergraduate institution. Maybe you’re both active in a professional organization. Perhaps you share a passion for early literacy programming. Tell them about how the two of you are similar and they’re more likely to respond positively to you.
- Steer clear of boilerplate and generic introductions and requests. It’s easy to see if something’s been copied and pasted.
Use authentic means to stay on people’s radars
Now that you’ve grown your network, it’s time to water it (just like a garden). If you’ve asked permission to stay in touch, loop back to your networking contacts every couple of months or so. Send them an article that you think they’ll find useful. Even a simple meme that touches on your conversation is great. Brevity wins here. You want to stay in their sphere without overwhelming them.
When a position is posted in one of your target organizations and you’ve established a connection inside the organization, that’s when you spring into action. Ask for advice. Are there particular skills you should emphasize on your resume? Would they read your cover letter? What do they think will be the swing variable in the hiring decision?
The tone of your request is critical. Preface your request with phrases such as “if you have time” or “if you don’t have the bandwidth, no worries.” Make sure that you’re not pestering your contacts and going to the same people with the same requests every time. If they haven’t offered a particular form of support, see if you can get the same advice from another source.
Become the inside candidate
With this approach to your job search, you change the landscape from one of aimless wandering to a targeted, systematic approach. Won’t it be wonderful to be the person floating to top of the candidate pool?
When you’ve set up your spreadsheet with your list of target organizations, find a way to celebrate. Tweet your success and tag @idealistcareers. That’s a great way to let your network know that you’re moving forward on your path to a new career chapter.