Teaching Clients How to Find “Real” People in a Job Search

woman talking on cell phone

This article has been edited for a career practitioner audience. The original was published on Jobscan.co on February 26th, 2019. 

By Maureen McCann.

Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way people search for work.

Years ago, technology made it easy for job seekers to connect with employers via email, but with thousands of résumés being sent to human resources (HR) inboxes, HR departments quickly found themselves overwhelmed. Manually screening hundreds or thousands of résumés was neither cost-effective nor efficient.

Enter Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). ATS automated the screening process, freeing humans from having to sift through stacks of résumés. While ATS has improved the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the hiring process for companies, we all know that these systems are not designed to benefit job-seeking candidates.

I’ve observed that as automation, robots, and ATS have taken on many tasks in the hiring process, there is one element of job search that appears to have been forgotten: the lost art of human connection and conversation. It is, after all, a human, not a robot, who will decide whether to hire a candidate, or not.

According to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, only 16% of job seekers said they check out hiring managers on social media platforms while job hunting. Just 16%! This means that 84% of the job-seeking competition isn’t conducting preliminary research about the people and companies they hope to work for.

Encouraging our clients to conduct this research, and showing them a few tactics for how to do it, will help improve the effectiveness of their job search. In essence, we’re teaching them how to differentiate themselves.

Search the company website.

Some (usually smaller) companies have employees listed on their website. Large companies and organizations (Government of Canada, for example) have dedicated employee directory sites. These can be used to learn more about the people inside an organization.

Call the company’s main line.

Prior to submitting their job-search documents, applicants can call the targeted employer and ask the receptionist for the name of the person to whom the cover letter should be addressed.

“Hi, this is Maureen calling. I’m applying for the position of Career Coach, which is posted on your website. I’d like to personalize my cover letter before I send it. Can you please tell me the name of the person I should address my letter to?”

Instead of a generic “To whom it may concern” cover letter, the client is able to send a tailored letter addressed specifically to “Ms. Beyoncé” (for example). Armed with Ms. Beyoncé’s name, the candidate can then try to learn a bit more about her using Google, the company website, and LinkedIn.

Conduct research using LinkedIn.

Clients can use LinkedIn to search people, jobs, content, companies, schools, and groups. The search feature can be used to find decision makers at specific companies.

For example, if someone wanted to work with the Toronto Public Library, they might search “Toronto Public Library, Human Resources” as a starting point, or “Toronto Public Library Executive”.

Once a person of interest has been identified, their LinkedIn profile can provide a lot of valuable information.

The job seeker can readily determine whether any of their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd connections may already be linked to this person. If so, reaching out to that contact to learn more and ask for an introduction is a good next-step. This is the true value of a well-cultivated network on LinkedIn – the ability to leverage network connections in order to obtain introductions to other people of interest.

“Oprah, I see you are connected to Ms. Beyoncé on LinkedIn. She’s the decision maker at Company JZ, a company I’m looking to work with. Would you please introduce us? Here are a few things to highlight about me in your introduction…”

If the candidate is not connected to anyone in the targeted firm, they may consider using LinkedIn’s InMail feature to write a polite message explaining why they’d like to connect.

Before reaching out to anyone in the company by email, LinkedIn, phone, or text, the candidate should carefully prepare their message to ensure that they’re communicating something of value to the recipient. They should not try to wing it. Preparation is key because they may only get one chance to make an impression.

Note of caution: Reaching out using the LinkedIn InMail feature can either be done well or in a creepy, uncomfortable way. It is imperative that job seekers avoid “stalker-esque” behaviour that may give off the wrong signals, potentially torpedoing any chance of a connection. As in any relationship, trust must be established before the relationship can proceed.

If a job seeker is worried that they may appear too eager, they can turn their privacy settings to “Anonymous LinkedIn Member” before beginning their research.

But, if they’re comfortable about performing this research activity, they may choose to keep their account’s “Profile viewing options” set to display “Your Name and Headline.” Who knows? Maybe the person being researched will be impressed with the job seeker’s ability to learn more about them and the company.

Bottom line: Keep it professional.

Find an email address.

Austin Belcak shared a trick for finding anyone’s email. With the name of the company, a first name, and a last name, go to Hunter.io or Voilanorbert.com, then test the email using Hunter’s Email Verifier or MailTester.com. With an email address, job seekers may be able to connect to relevant people within an organization.

Get creative. Reach out to others.

Recently, I worked with a client to prepare for an upcoming screening. I had encouraged her to do some research to learn more about the organization and the people in it. She was savvy. She identified the person who vacated the position and reached out to her. They spoke about the organization and my client was able to gain additional access to information. Because the job posting was vague, talking to someone who had worked in the organization for 25+ years gave my client greater insight into the role.

Remember that hiring is a process, not a hot potato. 

Our clients can’t just lob their cover letters and résumés online like hot potatoes and think that they’ve done their due diligence. Let’s encourage them to be proactive. Find a way to make a human connection. This not only makes them a better-informed candidate, it provides them a definite advantage in an automated job search.

In a labour market where only 16% of the job-seeking competition is conducting research on the people inside the hiring process, we can help our clients stand out from the crowd in ways most other candidates haven’t even considered. They’ll impress with their desire and ability to establish relationships, ask questions, learn from people, and apply that learning to create a much-improved opportunity to make the candidate shortlist.

We’re trained to show our clients how to effectively “talk” to robots (ATS) during an online job search. Let’s help them revive and master the lost art of human conversation.

Photo by rawpixel on Life of Pix


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