Whatever You Do, Don’t Follow the Rules

This morning, I was reading one of my favorite career-related columns, Heather Huhman’s Examiner.com column, and came across her interview with Katy Piotrowski, author of “The Career Coward’s Guide to Job Searching.” The first tip was this:

Follow job application instructions to the letter. After running a job ad, one hiring company received 116 applications, yet only 27 of the applicants had followed directions correctly and submitted the three pieces of information (application form, résumé and references) requested. “If job seekers miss the basics in applying, how will they handle the more difficult details on the job?” asked the hiring manager.

Good question. But with 116 applications, how does anyone have a chance of standing out or being evaluated properly? My advice is a little different – first, apply to the job and yes, follow the instructions. It’s like they say about the New York Lottery – “hey, you never know!”

But then the real work starts. Your goal is to get referred into the company by a current employee, so that the hiring manager receives your resume from someone he or she trusts.

First, ask everyone you know if they know anyone at the company. If not, go online. Search your network on LinkedIn. Don’t see anyone? Search the whole of LinkedIn looking for people who work at that company. Look for people who are second degree contacts (meaning they know someone you know) and then ask your friend for an introduction. One note: Be honest about why you want the introduction – it’s important that the company employee accepts your request knowing what he or she is getting into, because this means they will be far more likely to help you.

Can’t find anyone on LinkedIn? Do internet searches looking for blogs written by people at that company. (Use Technorati to search). If you find them, make contact with the blogger. Read back through their posts and then send a nice note complimenting or discussing what they have written. If they write back, you can casually ask “Hey, what’s it like to work there? I saw a vacancy advertised and wasn’t sure if I should apply.” It might not work, but it might just get you an introduction.

Let’s say you can’t find someone to introduce you. You can still go further than the other 115 people who are following the rules. First, try to find out the name of either the hiring manager or someone who works in that department. Search Twitter looking for people who work at the company. Or use Google to track down the names of employees. Research the company website looking for names and see if you can figure out the email protocol from any published email addresses. This means that if you have discovered Sam Smith is the hiring manager, you can now guess that his email address will be “sam.smith@..” or “ssmith@..”

When you do find contact information, send an enthusiastic but short email explaining that you have applied for the position as directed, but that it’s such a great fit that you wanted to reach out directly. Include the 3 or 4 key points that prove you are the right person for the job. Be upbeat, positive and above all focused on how you can help the hiring manager reach his goals.

If you can’t find email addresses or you prefer the phone, try calling the company and sweet-talking the receptionist into telling you who the hiring manager is. You may even get through to talk to him.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means – these are just a few ideas for going the extra mile with a job application. You may have better ideas (and I’d love to hear about them in the comments). The point is that if you do something more than everyone else, you will be more successful than everyone else … and whatever you do, don’t follow the rules!

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