Dear Applicant, Part 2: The Thirds

I wrote a post last year on how job applicants can improve their chances with a prospective employer, and today I wanted to explore this in a different way. In spite of the dismal state of the U.S.  economy and the job market (particularly for younger people) there are many, many companies that are hiring and job-seekers with the right combination of skills and experience are in demand.

So, it’s not that there are no jobs out there, it’s just that they can be hard to find and applicants need  to position themselves well to find them. This is where the concept of  “Thirds” comes in. The Thirds is a way to think of your strategy for identifying job openings and taking steps that can increase the probability of filling that opening. Simply put, the Thirds represent the sum total of your chance to land that job: 1/3 is the skills and abilities you bring to the table; 1/3 who you know and how you leverage those relationships, and 1/3 pure unadulterated luck. A candidate who brings the perfect combination of these three things will, in 90% of the cases, land that job. The question is, what can you do to bring the abilities the employer seeks, get the introduction that gives you instant credibility and, finally, time it perfectly so that you are the inevitable choice. Here’s a few thoughts on each of the Thirds:

1. Understand what you bringAny good job counselor or career coach will tell you that we each bring with us  a set of skills to our working lives, some of which are learned and others that are inborn. You may have studied coding or design in school or you may have 5 years of experience in accounting, or just come off of a job as a systems administrator; these are examples of specific learned skills that a good candidate will emphasize on their resume or in a cover letter when applying for a job. But there is more to a person than just what they studied in school or were trained in on their last job. These are your innate abilities and they are as much a part of who you are as your eye color or your height. These can be competence at communication, your leadership abilities, your problem-solving skills, or simply a your bottomless well of energy. These skills can not be learned from scratch, because they are truly a function of personality, but they are abilities which can strengthened over time through practice and repetition. It is the combination these that make up who we are professionally and personally and it is this combination that every employer tries to assess when hiring. The trick is to find job openings that are a good match to your own skill set and personality and to focus on those. The flip side, and perhaps even more important, is that job seekers must learn to filter out the openings for which they are not  a good match and to have the discipline to focus on those that are. In other words, don’t waste your time building a resume and sending to employers trying to fill a job for which you are not a good candidate; stick with your strengths and find the jobs that need those strengths and your probability of landing one will increase dramatically.

2. Take advantage of who you know. Study after study has shown that the most new hires are made with at least some component of networking and recommendations. Why? It’s because when an applicant comes highly recommended by a personal contact or a current employee, the applicant’s credibility is dramatically increased via the personal endorsement, and the likelihood of a good cultural fit is also increased. My advice to applicants is to nurture your networks, whether they be your far-flung LinkedIn contacts, your college friends, your ex-colleagues from jobs past, your family connections, your Congress-person, or your High School debate coach. As you identify appropriate job openings, take the time to see if you have anyone who might get you in the door or make a call on your behalf; do you know anyone who works at that company (or used to)? Do you know anyone who plays golf with the HR person? Is there anyone in your alumni network who might have a contact? The point is to try to get that little extra point of contact that might help to tip the scales in your direction or at least get you that first interview.

3. Always be in the right place at the right time. How, you wonder, can any person control what is essentially uncontrollable? Luck is just that: chance, happenstance, fortune… kismet. We’ve all heard the story of that new hire who just happened to walk through the door or pick up the phone at the very moment a company was in need of someone with their experience and skills. Well not all of us can be that lucky soul, but we can do certain things which may increase our opportunities. One way to do this is to get out there: go to the networking events and professional seminars; meet new people socially or via co-working spaces or even cafes where  other job-seekers and freelancers gather; go after short-term contract or other freelance opportunities that might expand your circle; leverage the social media and the web to market yourself – remember you are a brand and the more people aware of your brand, the better your chances. While we can not possibly control our luck, we can certainly do things which increase our presence and help others to remember us when that split-second moment of chance occurs. Luck is where you find it and how you make it!