The job search process is set up in a pretty dysfunctional way. Job boards and companies post their jobs and indicate that the way to be considered for the position is to apply online. There’s a big shiny apply button next to every job posting. That shiny button leads many job seekers to naturally surmise that the best way to apply for a job is to take all the time to write a cover letter, fill out all the boxes, and submit their resume – hitting the “apply now” button with a combination of stress and hopefulness.

After the apply now button is pressed, most job seekers wait for an answer. They check their email. They have sparks of hope when their phone rings from a number with the same area code. They wait.

After a long painful waiting period, when an answer doesn’t come or they get a “not a good fit” form letter the natural assumption is that their skills, personality, experience and value has been reviewed and deemed substandard for the position they want. They feel dejected, unemployable and worried. Its hell.

And there’s a reason why its hell. Here’s the truth about resumes submitted online. They often never even get looked at.

I was a hiring manager for ten years and I never even looked at the resumes that were submitted online. Never……even……looked.

Ok. I looked at online resumes a couple of times. Then I stopped looking.

I feel somewhat ashamed about that. Now that I’m a career coach, I have direct access to the pain and suffering silence and rejection online causes job seekers. Its really not a pleasant process.

The sin of ignoring online job applications is not mine alone though. In fact, most hiring managers will avoid that pile at all costs. Why? Because its time consuming and time is of the essence when there’s an open headcount.

Even if HR had pre-filtered resumes before they got to me, the quality was too spotty for me to pay much attention to it. Sometimes I never even got the resumes from online because it was in the HR black hole. Many resumes don’t even make the hiring manager black hole yet – regardless of how qualified the candidate may be.

To understand why, let’s look at how most hiring managers go about filling a headcount.

When I had an open headcount, my job was to fill it as quickly as possible with the most reliable choice possible.

The aspect of time to hire creates a lot of pressure. Whenever sales dropped or another department needed a critical hire that was deemed more important than mine, I would lose that open headcount. It would be gone. I didn’t have time to wade through resumes. I needed to get to interviews quickly. Then hire, onboard, train and gain value from the new employee.

The first thing I would do to fill a headcount, often even before writing the job description, would be to think of people who I had worked with or had worked for me in the past that might be a good fit. I’d call them first.

If I couldn’t find a good candidate there, I’d ask professionals who I trusted if they knew of any good candidates. I’d also call up a recruiter who I trusted and engage them to search for the position as well. Notice the word trust. Hiring a new employee can make a manager vulnerable. If the employee doesn’t work out or if they use their position to get political about their boss it isn’t pleasant. Managers want people they trust. In addition to be highly varying in quality, resumes submitted online have the least amount of trust.

Throughout my career, I only hired past employees, colleagues, and professionals sourced from the trusted parts of my network (including recruiters). I never hired anyone who applied online. I know I missed some good candidates that way but the time was not worth the effort of sifting through the pile. My process is a pretty standard one many hiring managers follow. In fact, I picked it up from other hiring managers at some point in my career.

Multiple studies show that 70-85% of all positions are filled through networking – not online applications.

So why the heck do all job postings lead to online applications? Like I said its pretty cruel. I posted the jobs I had because I was told that’s what we do. I also posted them because it made them “real” to people I wanted to recruit. That’s about it.

And its also true that applying online is not a total waste of time. Some hiring managers make a point to look at resumes submitted online. Roughly 1 out of 5 people are hired that way – so its not impossible – it just doesn’t give you the best odds.

The bottom line is that if you want the best and fastest way to get a job the answer is networking. Before networking be sure you’re clear on what you want. The crisper we are in what we are looking for the easier we are to help and the better the results. If you’re clear on what you want, use these networking methods to raise the visibility of your job search and increase your chances of getting noticed.

  • Reach out to people you know with the same position and tell them what you’re looking for. This will help raise your visibility with recruiters because people with the same position can give recruiters your name rather than an “I’m not looking right now”
  • Network to someone at a company that has a job you want and have them submit your resume. Even better if they know who the hiring manager is and send the resume directly to them in addition. These resumes are often given priority over apply online. Also, internal employees are often compensated for finding candidates so they have a vested interest in your getting an interview.
  • Reach out to people with the same position or company that you want to work for and ask for an informational interview. In business, its ok to ask as long as you are polite and offer something in return. Lunch or coffee is just fine. Let them know you think what they do is awesome and you want to learn more about it. In that informational interview, ask all the questions you have about how to navigate into the job you want. If they’re too busy, that’s ok. If they hold a grudge against you for asking, they aren’t going to be a great person to have in your network anyway.
  • Find out who the hiring manager is and reach out to them directly. This can be a bit trickier unless the job posting says which position the role will report too but if it does you are off to the races. Send them your resume directly. When I was hiring, as long as the person didn’t pester me and was polite I always appreciated the initiative.
  • Go to local meetups and events focused your profession or industry. People trust people they meet in person and usually want to help.

In short, the more time you spend on LinkedIn, at lunch, having coffee and sharing what you want with other professionals the better. The Apply Online button should only be a last resort.