As a career coach, I get to dive into so many wonderful careers. In fact just this week I’m working in museum management, music education, graphic design, engineering management, executive leadership, electric vehicle quality, behavior analysis, cybersecurity and entrepreneurs with startups. Cool right? I love it!

Regardless of what type of career they have, most job candidates believe that if they just have the right words on their resume in the right format, they will quickly get the job of their dreams. Unfortunately, its rarely that simple. While the resume helps, its not THE THING. Even the most beautiful, keyword optimized and eloquent of resumes can often sit in an untouched electronic pool while the hiring process moves forward. Many hiring managers never even look at them. Meanwhile, candidates check their email for responses. When none come they take it as a sign that they are doomed to failure. This is not the case.

To find out what really happens, let’s go to the mind of a hiring manager. I was one for years and was close personal friends with many. Managers discuss these things.

Hiring a candidate is an important decision. You’re spending the company’s money on a resource you deem necessary. That’s put your reputation on the line to make the hire deliver for the company. Also, the way headcount is managed, you often need to hire quickly before the headcount goes away. If the company has a bad quarter or something else comes up that headcount is reallocated and POOF! No more new hire.

Because of all these reasons, managers want to hire the best person in the shortest amount of time possible. They’d rather skip the resumes from the greater applicant pool if they can because that’s a lot of work with an uncertain return. They’d rather hire someone they know and never meet a stranger.

Of course, managers differ but most go through a sequence like this.

  1. Think of people they know who can do the work and contact them.
  2. Go to close colleagues. Explain what you want and ask if they know of anyone.
  3. Go to the broader network.
  4. Go to a recruiter. (this can be anywhere in the cycle depending on the relationships with recruiters and the company’s attitude towards recruiters)
  5. Go to an online applicant pool – even filtered by HR.

They are looking for applicants that come from the most trusted source and don’t want to wade through a ton of resumes. That’s why its the candidates job to get through to the hiring manager through the most trusted source which will increase their visibility with the hiring manager and thus their chances for an interview. Way more important than a resume.

So then the question goes – why all the focus on the resume and little on the outreach strategy? I have a theory and its proving to be true the more I test it. Resumes are comfortable. The other things are not. “The other things” REALLY help get us the jobs we want – focusing our search, networking, taking chances, opening ourselves up to judgement, doing the pre-work required to get it and seeing if we can do it. But wow are they uncomfortable. Its much safer to focus on writing bullet points about ones accomplishments, staying safely behind a computer screen, and clicking apply.

A resume is a really important piece of the puzzle, but in the end its equivalent to a data sheet or product brochure. Every organization knows that a product’s data sheet or brochure helps, but without a targeting strategy, an outreach plan, the right feature set, the proper positioning of feature gaps, there is not going to be a sale. Candidates are the product and the jobs they want are the target market.

Doing the upfront homework to understand what hiring managers are really looking for, making the positioning and visibility strategy reflect that, and then crafting a resume to support the effort is a sequence that wins big. The bonus is that you’re doing interview prep along the way.

Of course we can land jobs from applying online with our resume and its a solid part of any job search strategy, but more often than not the best jobs result from a conversation prior to the resume ever being sent.