Job-Search Strategy 101: It’s Not a Numbers Game

The old “might-as-well-apply-because-you-never-know” approach doesn’t work. A successful job search follows a strategy – not blind optimism.


On more than a few occasions over the years, I’ve heard people who masquerade as career coaches and employment experts telling people that job hunting is a numbers game.

It isn’t.

In a way, it’s a lot like the Lotto myth: People believe their odds of winning decrease as more people play.

They don’t.

The odds of picking the winning number are absolutely independent of the number of people who play. What decreases are your odds of being the only winner. That’s basic statistics.

The job search, on the other hand, is about strategy, not statistics.

There is no question that a recession and weak employment market have an impact on hiring. That’s absolutely true. But a dramatic increase in the number of competitors in the marketplace does not suddenly make it a numbers game. If that were true, the misguided people who send thousands of resumes would be the ones getting the jobs. Or even the interviews.

But they aren’t.

Your success in the job market is not a function of how many resumes you send but rather how much time and effort you spend understanding the needs of a potential employer and tailoring your experience to demonstrate your potential.

This takes time. More time than most job hunters are willing to spend.

Why your job search should be graded

I’ve always believed that if resumes were somehow graded and ranked for their relevance, people would put a lot more thought into them. They would also probably invest time, money and energy on Kaplan-like courses in hopes that a higher score would land them a better job.

But that’s not what happens.

Instead, many people spend as little time as possible on the resume, send them out and wait for a response. Sadly, they view it as a black- and-white proposition: E ither they get an interview or they don’t.

But there is a world of difference between just missing the cut and never coming close. The thing is, most people have no idea where they fall on that continuum.

It’s only when people discover where they fall in this range that they can take the necessary steps to correct the issues. That requires an outside perspective ; it is too easy for people to connect the dots in their own heads without realizing that potential employers aren’t making the same connection.

For example, I remember a client named Tim who told me his biggest challenge was the fact that he had applied for a job that was “tailor-made” for him. He was frustrated because he couldn’t get the company to call him back.

After reading the job description, I reviewed Tim’s cover letter and resume. My first thought was:

“I wouldn’t have called you, either. I don’t see the connection.”

But I didn’t say that. Instead, we spent the next few hours going through all the primary requirements. In each case, I asked him to share experiences and accomplishments that would give people a reason to believe he could excel in that area. Through this process, it began to make sense why the position was a great next step for him. Armed with this new information, we customized his cover letter and resume and re-contacted the company.

The hiring manager called him within 10 minutes of receiving his revised paperwork. Incidentally, this was the same person who hadn’t returned Tim’s calls over the previous three weeks. That’s the power of a more strategic approach.

Refine more; send less

Had Tim continued to use his original approach, it wouldn’t have mattered if he managed to contact every person on the planet. He wasn’t going to get an interview until employers clearly saw the connection between their needs and his abilities. When people don’t see the connection, they don’t call. Unfortunately, there are countless job hunters in the market who don’t realize they aren’t doing an effective job of marketing themselves and continue to make the same mistakes. For them, the job hunt will be a long, frustrating process.

In short, if you aren’t getting calls, there is an excellent chance you need to overhaul your strategy. Sending out more resumes isn’t going to solve the problem. Instead, contacting fewer companies with a more focused, compelling message will be more effective than canvassing the world an ineffective presentation. You can count on it.