Advice from Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?

Finding a job is tough enough in this economy, but many job hunters reduce the odds of their success by using common job-search strategies that often fail. Here’s what doesn’t work so well — and what does…


Five popular job-search strategies that do not work for the majority of those who try them…

  • Mailing out résumés/submitting or posting résumés online.
  • Odds of success: 7%*

    Problem: Employers receive huge numbers of unsolicited résumés. Virtually all of these are filed away without a second look.

    Might work if: Your résumé is handed to an employer by someone the employer knows and trusts — particularly if this individual adds a personal recommendation.

  • Responding to ads in professional or trade journals.
  • Odds of success: 7%.

    Problem: Employers tend to place ads in these journals only for low-wage jobs and other positions that they have had trouble filling. Also, because most trade journals are national, jobs listed there often require relocation.

    Might work if: You have a specific skill set that is difficult for employers to find and you are willing to relocate.

  • Responding to ads on Internet jobs sites.
  • Odds of success: 10%.

    Problem: Employers tend to post jobs on Internet job sites only as a last resort, because such ads tend to bring a flood of responses from mostly inappropriate or low-quality applicants. A significant percentage of jobs posted on employment Web sites are outright scams, and competition tends to be very fierce for the legitimate openings.

    Might work if: Your field is information technology (IT). Attractive IT jobs often are advertised online because employers know that tech-savvy employees tend to use the Internet for everything.

  • Responding to ads in the local newspapers.
  • Odds of success: Between 5% and 24%, depending on your salary requirements.

    Problem: Most employers consider newspaper classifieds an out-of-date way to find applicants. Few bother to list attractive jobs there anymore.

    Might work if: You’re willing to work for close to minimum wage. Many low-paying jobs still are listed in local newspapers.

  • Working with a private employment agency or search firm.
  • Odds of success: Between 5% and 28%, depending on your salary requirements.

    Problem: With the economy struggling, employers don’t see the need to pay search firms to find qualified applicants — there are more than enough coming to them. Also, there is little evidence that agencies do a particularly good job of finding work for clients.

    Might work if: You are looking for a low-wage office position, such as a secretarial or clerical job.


    Five job-hunting strategies that offer excellent odds of success, ordered from least to most successful…

  • Networking for leads.
  • Odds of success: 33%.

    Advantage: Employers love to hire based on personal recommendations from employees and trusted contacts — it vastly improves the odds that the applicant will be talented and suitable.

    Limitation: The success of your networking depends on the size and quality of your network. Don’t give up if at first no one you know has heard of a job. Continue to expand your network when you are unemployed by asking your contacts to put you in touch with their contacts… and remaining active in your community.

  • Knocking on doors unannounced at employers of interest. Express an interest in the company or sector, and ask for five minutes of the boss’s time.
  • Odds of success: 47%.

    Advantage: It’s more common than you might think to find an employer who is about to list an opening, and he/she might hire you without even interviewing other candidates. Small-business owners tend to be go-getters who respect the moxie of those who knock on doors and ask if there is a need for their skills and experience.

    Limitation: You must anticipate that you likely will be rejected to your face. Also, this knock-on-doors strategy doesn’t work well at large companies, where it is hard to get a meeting with an executive without an appointment. Stick to smaller companies with 50 or fewer employees. Midafternoon is the best time to do this. Dress in attire appropriate to that business.

  • Calling companies of interest that are listed in the local Yellow Pages (or white pages business section). As with the strategy above, ask for the owner, very briefly explain your background or relevant skills, then ask if he/she knows anyone in the industry in need of someone like you… or if you could come in and talk with him about the industry. To present yourself in the best light, review your skills before each call and remind yourself that you would be a productive, useful employee.
  • Odds of success: 69%.

    Advantage: This is a great way to get to know businesses in your region. You could be hired for a job that has not yet been advertised.

    Limitation: This is ineffective with large companies that have computerized phone systems and operators who make it difficult to reach those in charge.

  • Partnering with other job hunters. Put together a group of job hunters who agree to keep an eye out for opportunities suitable for others in the group. Meet at least weekly. To build your group, team up with job hunters you know or go to job fairs to meet attendees.
  • Odds of success: 70%.

    Advantage: More eyes looking for opportunities means more opportunities coming your way. And working with a group makes it harder to slack off on the job search.

    Limitation: This works best when members are looking for employment in fields that call for different skills and career goals, so they are not in competition for the same jobs.

  • Taking inventory of yourself, then targeting the employers where you ought to be working. Spend at least a weekend considering which of all of your skills you most enjoy using… in which fields you would most enjoy putting those skills to work… which organizations have these jobs to offer… which people at those organizations have the power to hire you… and how best to approach them.
  • Odds of success: 86%.

    Advantage: Job hunters who use this systematic process tend to appear more confident to employers, which makes them more appealing hires. They also are better able to explain why they would be an asset to the organization.

    Limitation: It takes time to do this properly. The secret is to define your skills and the type of work you wish to do in as much detail as possible. In poor economies, many job hunters assume that they must cast a broad net and look for any available job. These people come off as desperate. The most successful job interviewees write a detailed inventory of what they have to offer an employer and analyze times when they were successful before they actually go to an interview.

    *The “odds of success” percentages cited in this article are based on industry studies and other sources. They reflect the percentage of job hunters who eventually found work by pursuing the strategy.

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