The hiring processes of companies at the junior level are often hard to understand. Obviously companies want the best employees, but how do they choose who to interview and hire when most people have similar backgrounds?
The ugly truth about hiring at junior positions
Recent university graduates are very hard to differentiate. They all have a degree and either zero or very little professional experience. So hiring managers judge candidates based on school quality, internships, GPA, and extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are one of them) some students can be very weak on paper but still score great positions. 90% of the time this hiring is done because they have a connection at the company.
People’s networks are made up of their connections. People with bigger and stronger networks will get better opportunities. This is not only true of professional opportunities, it is true in every area of life. Humans are social creatures and we like to help each other, especially our family, friends and people that are like us.
What you should do
When you are looking for an entry level position the best place to start is to see if you have any friends or family in the industry. Talk to them and express your desire to work in their industry. Don’t directly ask for a job from them, be subtle and try to learn about the industry from them. When an opportunity comes up they will let you know.
This is the most common form of hiring for entry level positions. Since candidates are all so similar the ones with connections to the company will be given priority over candidates with no connection. This may seem unfair to people who aren’t connected to an industry. Life is unfair, and it is more difficult to find a job but there are ways to increase your chances. Generally speaking there are 4 ways to find an entry level job.
The 4 ways to find a job
Let’s look at the 4 possible ways to find jobs, they are ranked from the most impersonal to most personal:
- Apply to a job ad that is posted on a site like Indeed or LinkedIn
- Unsolicited applications (letters of inquiry)
- Use a recruitment agency or a head-hunter
- Develop a network of people to access the hidden job market
Online job applications
Let’s say you choose the first option. Sending in a resume and cover letter through a job site does not even guarantee that a person will read it. Companies receive hundreds of applications so the use software to cut down the number of applicants.
These are referred to as application tracking software (ATS) and they are used to scan resumes for keywords. You could be the perfect person for the position but if your resume doesn’t have the right keywords a real person will not even see it. The job posting may require knowledge of a software that you can’t learn on your own because of the cost. You may be able to learn it quickly on the job, but the screening software does not know that.
This is why it is so important to tailor your resume for each job you apply to online. If there are 500 applicants, you want to be one of the 50 or 100 that get sent to human resources after the ATS screens them. HR will then sort these resumes for candidates they fell would be the best for the role. If you don’t have the experience they feel is necessary for the position you won’t get an interview.
Passion and genuine interest in a position are hard to judge from the single piece of paper that is your resume. If you are inexperienced or stronger in person than on paper you might want to try a different method.
The unfortunate thing about applying online – a lot of positions that are posted are already filled before they are advertised. Companies know who they want to hire but need to post the position because of compliance/legal reasons. This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. Hiring practices are always uglier than the reality human resources tries to create for PR reasons.
Letter of Inquiry
The second method for finding a job, a letter of inquiry can be hit or miss. They show that you are interested and proactive enough to reach out independently about potential positions. A job hunter will send a letter of inquiry to decision makers (not HR) at companies they are interested in working at but that do not have any advertised job postings.
If your resume and letter of inquiry are average then your success rate will be much lower than if you had a great resume and great letter of inquiry. If a decision maker reads your letter of inquiry and thinks “this is exactly the candidate we need” because of your stellar background you should be sending letters of inquiry out. If your resume is average then you can still send out letters of inquiry because often hiring managers love your initiative.
Recruiters and Head Hunters
The usefulness of recruiters and head-hunters will vary from place to place and by industry. It never hurts to reach out to recruiters but try to target ones that are either
- Industry specific
- Focused on junior employees
Industry specific recruiters will be able to offer great insight into the job hunt and will have more specific opportunities than general recruiters. They may also be able to provide additional insight into how hiring occurs in your industry. This may involve suggestions about networking, resumes, cover letters, and online applications.
Befriending recruiters is also a fantastic long-term networking strategy. You will be able to help people in your network by sending them to the recruiter when they are a good fit for an opportunity. Recruiters appreciate this as well because they are payed based from filling positions.
This allows you to help 2 people simultaneously in your network and curtail good favor from the recruiter who may be able to pass on opportunities to you later in your career.
Networking and coffee chats
The fourth option is the best option for people who are stronger face to face than on paper. Correction, networking and coffee chats are the best option for anyone. It is basically a shortcut to the top of the stack of resumes when an opportunity arises. Additionally, it opens up doors that you didn’t know existed. There is a commonly quotes statistic that a large percentage of jobs are not advertised publicly. These are only advertised through people’s network – who they know!
These jobs exist in what is referred to as the hidden job market. Often these are the best jobs because they are so in demand they do not need to be advertised. When these opportunities arise, they are filled by people who are connected to people in the company.
This isn’t magic and if you aren’t well connected it isn’t too late for you. Building a network is like planting a tree, the best time to do it was 10 years ago but the second best time is now. The coffee chat and networking guide will teach you everything you need to know.