Technology is changing the way we search for work.

Technology has made it easy for job seekers to connect with employers via email. But with thousands of resumes being sent to human resources (HR) inboxes with the click of a mouse, HR departments were quickly overwhelmed screening hundreds or thousands of resumes; this was neither cost-effective or efficient.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) automated the screening process, freeing humans from having to sift through stacks of resumes. Companies aimed to hire the best candidate without having to do tedious, expensive work, but even with ATS in place, companies continue to spend an average of $4,129 on a new hire, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

While ATS improved the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the hiring process for companies, these systems are not designed to benefit the job-seeking candidate. So how does a job seeker get ahead?

In the new world of automation, robots, and ATS, one element of job search appears forgotten: the lost art of human connection and conversation. It is, after all, a human, not a robot, that will decide whether to hire you.

According to a 2016 Careerbuilder report, “18% of job seekers said they will check out hiring managers on social media platforms while job hunting.”

Just 18%. This means 82% of your competition isn’t conducting preliminary research in their job search. This is one way to differentiate yourself.

Before doing any of the items listed below, remember: like any relationship, first, build trust. With that in mind, here are a few ideas on how to find and connect with a human in your job search.

Search the company website

Some (smaller) companies have employees listed on their website. Others (Government of Canada, for example) have dedicated directory sites. Use these to learn more about the people inside the organization.

Call the company’s main line

Ask the receptionist for the name of the person to whom you can address your cover letter.

“Hi, this is (Your Name) calling. I’m applying for the position of (Position Title) that is posted on your website. I’d like to personalize my cover letter before I send it. What is the name of the person to whom I can address my letter?”

Instead of a generic cover letter “To whom it may concern,” you send a tailored letter to “Ms. Béyonce,” (for example). Now that you have a name, try to learn a bit more about her using Google, the company website, and LinkedIn.

Research using LinkedIn

You can use LinkedIn to search people, jobs, content, companies, schools, and groups. Use the search feature to find decision-makers at specific companies.

For example: If you are looking to work with the Toronto Public Library, you might search “Toronto Public Library, Human Resources” as a starting point or “Toronto Public Library Executive”.

Once you identify someone of interest, read their profile to learn more.

Are you and anyone in your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd connections already linked to this person? If so, reach out to that friend to learn more and ask for an introduction. This is the true value of a well-cultivated network on LinkedIn. Leverage the people you already know to introduce you to those you want to meet.

“Oprah, I see you are connected to Ms. Béyonce 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 you are not connected, consider using the InMail feature to write a polite message identifying why you would like to connect.

This research and networking only pays off when you are prepared to talk to Ms. Béyonce or any other decision maker at company JZ. Before you reach out to anyone by email, LinkedIn, phone, or text, have something of value to offer them. Don’t try to wing it. Preparation is key.

Caution: This can be done well or in a creepy, unpleasant manner. Choose the former and guard against “stalker-esque” behavior and/or intense following that may give off the wrong signals.

If you’re worried you may appear too eager, turn your privacy settings to “Anonymous LinkedIn Member” before you begin.

If you’re comfortable doing this research, keep your settings “Profile viewing options” set to “Your Name and Headline.” Who knows, maybe the person will be impressed with your ability to learn more about them and the company.

Bottom line: Keep it professional. Here’s the link to make changes to your privacy settings and profile visibility on LinkedIn.

Find an email address

With a first name, last name, and the name of the company, go to or then test the email using or With an email address, you may be able to connect to people within the organization.

Get creative. Reach out to others

Just this week, 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. 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.

It is a hiring process not a hot potato

Do more than submit your online application. Be proactive. Find a way to make a human connection. This not only makes you a better-informed candidate, it gives you an advantage in an automated job search. Where only 18% of your competition is conducting research on the people inside the hiring process, be the top candidate who establishes relationships, asks questions, learns from people and applies that learning into an improved overall candidacy.

Your combined efforts to speak to both the robot and the human in your job search may give you an advantage and prepare you for the next stage in the hiring process in a way most other candidates haven’t even considered.

Maureen McCannMaureen McCann, Executive Career Strategist , BA, CCDP, MCRS, MCIS, MCCS, MCES is a fierce advocate of career development. Founder of Promotion Career Solutions, she is one of Canada’s top executive resume writers with 15+ years’ experience. Facilitator of Technology Optimized Resumes for Career Professionals of Canada, Maureen teaches resume writers how to optimize writing for ATS.

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Maureen McCann

Maureen McCann, BA, CCDP, MCRS, MCIS, MCCS, MCES is a fierce advocate of career development.

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