How to get your application off the slush pile and in front of decision makers

Applying for a job requires a lot of time and energy, but all that time and energy can be for naught if you’re not getting your application into the right hands.

Donald DeSantis, Co-Founder of Nava, and Adam Loving, Principal Software Engineer at Pioneer Square Labs, chat with Ladders about how to get your application off the slush pile.

Reach out to your network

The application process doesn’t end after you hit “Submit.” Search your network for any connections to the company, be proactive. Sending your application into the abyss of anonymity will yield few results. According to What Color is Your Parachute? (2019), resumes alone lead to a staggering 7% success rate. 

If you’re really interested in a job,” says DeSantis, “you can’t count on submitting your resume and getting a call back. Most jobs are filled by outbound recruiting efforts, agencies, and referrals from people in the hiring manager’s network. If you’re not coming in through one of those channels, you need to find a way to get in front of the hiring manager. Do you have a shared connection? Ask for an intro.”

Your network is your most valuable resource, put it to work for you! And if you don’t share a connection, try making one. DeSantis says “cold outreach” can also work. Find something that connects you and someone in the company and uses it to introduce yourself. Be bold.

Bypass HR and move on when it’s time

While you should be confident, don’t be passive, remain proactive until your application is in front of someone with decision-making power. That can mean bypassing HR, but know when to cut your losses and move on.

As DeSantis suggests, “Try figuring out who the hiring manager is and send them an email letting them know you’re interested. Keep it short and to the point. If you don’t hear back, send one more about four days later (on the same thread) to try and get their attention. Link to both the job you’re applying to, your LinkedIn profile, and (in one sentence) why you think you’re a good fit for the role. If you don’t hear back after that, it’s time to move on.”

Hiring managers seek to cull applications, give them a reason to keep you in the consideration pile. 

Build your network before you need it

The bulk of what makes your application stand out is done before you know the job existed. Just as the application process doesn’t end when you hit “Submit,” it doesn’t begin when you see a listing. That process begins early. 

“The best way to stand out is a referral,” says DeSantis. “This means building your network well before you need it, and casting that net far and wide. Try to help other people get jobs and help them in their careers. This will come back your way, and it also feels great to do.” 

In addition, DeSantis reminds, “There are services that help people build their network and move forward in their careers. Breaking through the noise is hard, and you’re going to need all the help you can get.” 

Always be networking.

Have a robust online profile

As you’ve seen, resumes aren’t very successful at getting jobs. Hiring managers often look for other means of differentiating talent, like cover letters (link to your article on cover letters) and Ladders profiles.

Loving offers this insight, “I skip the resume and look straight at the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. I prefer the familiar format, and immediately scroll to the bottom to read the recommendations. The best tip I have for getting recommendations is to spend some time writing them. Even if only 1 out 4 people you write recommendations for write one back, it’s still worth the effort. Plus, when you write a recommendation for someone else, that creates a link to your profile from theirs–a super valuable “backlink” connection.”

LinkedIn has become an essential career tool, be sure it’s working to your advantage in terms of showing who you are and building your network. This will help you stand out from the crowd.

Do your research and know who you want to work with

We’ve all done it, applied blindly, hoping to get lucky. Stop. It’s an all-around waste of time netting almost no results. The website is a valuable source of information and tells you what they do, who they are, and what they value.

“The most frustrating, overlooked thing for me,” says Loving, “is when an applicant hasn’t researched the company they are applying for. Check out the home page. If you can, try the product. Just like you feel good when the hiring team takes interest in you, they’ll feel good when you take interest in them.”

Informing yourself about the company helps you know who the decision makers are. Going in blind and hoping to make a shot in the dark is just that, a shot in the dark. 

Educating yourself about a company, expanding your network, using tools like LinkedIn, and being proactive increases your chances of getting your application into the right hands and differentiating yourself. Be resolute and don’t let your efforts go to waste.