Sick of the Cattle Call? How to Distinguish Yourself from the Herd

The process of searching for a job can be discouraging with so many people clamoring for just a few coveted positions.

I had a client recently find the perfect position for herself:

  • In her field
  • One step up from her current level
  • Compelling projects that matched her strengths
  • A nice bump in salary and better benefits.

Her excitement level skyrocketed when she read the job description, and she hurried to consult with me on her cover letter and resume customization for the position.

After she submitted for the position, the confirmation email that she received included instructions for checking on the status of her application. She quickly clicked the link to see the site that provided a chart with the status. The company had a great system that included a status that changed categories to signal where the search was in the process of selecting the final candidate, a system that my client found helpful. The categories included:

  • Accepting applications
  • Reviewing submissions
  • Invitations sent for phone screens
  • In-person interviews in progress
  • Search completed.

What my client wasn’t prepared for was the box in the status chart that listed the number of applicants for the position: 319.Cows

She was stunned, and her confidence plummeted. In the space of a heartbeat, she went from giddy excitement to devastation.

It’s a scenario that many of us face time and time again. We find the position that suits us so well, it’s almost as if we wrote the job description ourselves. Then, we get a big picture view of the process, and it’s discouraging (to say the least).

Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to combat this situation:

Get in the door before the job is posted

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Personal Marketing Plan as the launch point for your job search. Once you develop a list of target companies, start gathering intel on them, and forging purposeful connections within an organization. You get so much out of this approach:

  • You can find out what will be emphasized in the decision-making criteria
  • You can tailor your resume and cover letter to speak directly to those issues
  • You can align your interview prep with what you already know about the company
  • You also may have a champion inside the process, either someone on the hiring team, or someone who might be able to influence the hiring team members.

Bypass the search process

It’s true what you hear about the hidden job market. When I worked in outplacement, we collected data from our clients as they were placed, and the figures I heard were that as many as 75% of jobs are never advertised. They’re filled by people making proactive inquiries using their target companies list from their Personal Marketing Plans.

Know your competition

If you can’t answer these 3 questions about the jobs you’re pursuing, you need to do more research:

  • Who else will compete for the jobs you’re seeking?
  • What qualifications do they have that you don’t?
  • How can you position yourself to be the clear winner when you’re compared to those others in the top tier of the candidate pool?

Cast your net widely

If you’re not generating 6-10 viable opportunities for yourself in your search, your scope isn’t broad enough. Most positions will disappear through no fault of yours:

  • The funding will be cut at the last minute after the finalist has been selected (and perhaps even extended an offer).
  • The position gets pulled to be rewritten and revamped.
  • An internal transfer will be forced on a department.

The possibilities are endless about what makes positions vaporize without warning. What’s important is that you make sure that you have other options so that you don’t slip into a sinkhole of despair when a position you’re dreaming about goes away. If you’ve got 6-10 other opportunities in the works, you may feel a sting from one falling away, but you’ll refocus quickly and turn your attention in another direction.

My client made it through the phone screen to the in-person interview, but she didn’t get the offer. She learned a massive amount from the process, and she’s applying that information as she doubles down on her search. She hasn’t yet given up on that particular company, and as she revs up for another go at them, she’s armed with much more information than she had at the beginning, particularly because she’s using the tips that I suggested, and she’s expanded her search and anchoring it with a Personal Marketing Plan.

Have you ever had a dream job slip through your fingers? How did you rebound and redirect your efforts?

5 thoughts on “Sick of the Cattle Call? How to Distinguish Yourself from the Herd”

  1. This is some really solid job searching advice, particularly determining what criteria a company will use to make their decisions about a position and tailoring your interview preparation accordingly, as well as building a relationship with companies where you might want to be (that is golden!)

    I’ve been in the position to interview and make hiring decisions many times and can’t stress enough how much inside knowledge of a company can help you feel like “one of us” to the potential employers. Read everything you can about a prospective company. If you know someone who works there, by all means, talk to them about the culture and the emphasis.

    Like you wrote, Maggie, tailoring one’s interview preparation is one of the very best things you can do. If the job description/ad includes specific line items of what they are looking for, write down beforehand, an answer for exactly how your abilities and past projects meet each of them. This has attained me some of my favorite jobs of all times.

    Betting your client won’t be looking for work much longer!

  2. Great tips for the search, Maggie! I believe that this sort of thing happens in a lot of places in life, showing what makes you different from the rest of the crowd. (It’s definitely talked about a LOT in the entrepreneurial world, too!) But the steps that you list make the process seem a lot less daunting and hopeless, and you have a real-life example of their success in telling your client’s story. Thanks so much for this!

  3. It’s like with everything in life and business, it’s the extra curricular activities that set us apart from the masses and also get us to succeed easier. Your tips also help to be more strategic in the job search which I find very valuable and I am sure makes me as a candidate more interesting.

  4. Roisin

    Some great ideas here that I plan to put into use…if I ever finish graduate school!

    It’s really interesting that two thirds of vacancies go unadvertised. Because of your advice, I’ve decided I need to make a plan and start investigating the universities I’d like to work at when I finish and contact them about possible positions well in advance of completing my PhD.

  5. Val

    Loved this Maggie! Thanks for all the tips and insights. This definitely resonated with me as I spent years applying for jobs with no luck. It makes such a difference to put in the extra work-know what you’re looking for, reach out, and learn as much as possible about the company, position and other employees.

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