Job postings have become less effective for recruiters in the last few years because of the “spray-and-pray” (or “S-A-P”) approach many use when applying for jobs. This theory is that if a job seeker applies for as many jobs as possible, sooner or later, they’ll win the lottery and land a job. Unfortunately, that’s just not how positions are filled.

In S-A-P, unqualified job seekers are thinking “Why not?” or “Might as well give it a shot” when they click the “Apply.” On the other side of the process, employers who receive those random applications are thinking something very different. They are often thinking, “Can’t this idiot read?” or “Are they kidding?”

In addition to being ineffective, this approach is also a big nuisance for employers who may receive an average of 250 applications for each job opening. Because of S-A-P, typically less than 50% of those applying for jobs are qualified. On the employers’ side, this creates a big problem, particularly if they’re working to fill several openings.

Because they don’t have the time to check each application to uncover the few applicants who are actually qualified, most employers use software known as an applicant tracking system (or ATS) to separate the potential candidates from the rejected applicants.

Improve your job search with an ATS optimized resume.

Disadvantages for S-A-P game players include:

    • Posted jobs have the most competition.
    • They don’t make their best effort on any of their applications because that would slow them down, so they seldom make it through the initial applicant screening.
  • They are repeatedly ignored or rejected by employers which is very discouraging.

The biggest disadvantage for S-A-P players is clear: Because they’ve always been unqualified for the jobs they applied for in the past, their applications are automatically disregarded in some company’s systems, even if they manage to apply for a job that is a good fit.

So, think of your job search as a very important shopping expedition. You need to create your best shopping list. Here’s how:

1. Know what you really want — and are qualified — to do

It’s hard to hit a target if you don’t know what the target is. That’s like going into a big shopping mall to “buy something.” You may waste your time and money buying something useless. You will be spending your time and money more wisely if you know what you want and why you need it – like new socks to replace the ones with the holes in them.

Think about work you have enjoyed doing and are good at doing. Go to a job board and research the jobs available (do NOT apply!). Enter the job title you think you might like:

    • Do most of the postings for that job describe work that you would like to do?
    • Do you meet MOST of the requirements for that job?
    • Are requirements listed that you don’t meet?
    • Which employers are hiring people to do that job? What other employers would also need people to do that job?
  • What job titles are used by target employers for the job you want?

If you’re having trouble figuring out the best job for you, search using the requirements that you meet (skills you enjoy using, for example), and see the job titles that have those requirements. Then, go through the same analysis as above.

2. Develop your list of target employers

Back to the shopping analogy– shop at the stores that are most logical for your goal. You wouldn’t go into a toy store or a store with a bad reputation to buy those socks. Having target employers enables you to focus your networking activities, which is the major way employers prefer to hire. Having target employers also helps you to focus your resumes, job applications, and even your LinkedIn Profile with the best keywords (like the job titles and hard skills).

Focus on learning which are the best employers in your area. Maybe everyone you know who works at a major local employer hates working there and leaves as soon as they can. Take that name off your list. Or they love it and are happy to refer you for a job there. Add them to your list.

Check with sites like Glassdoor and even Indeed to look for reviews and ratings of employers. Those reviews will give you an indication of how happy employees are. Also check these employers out on LinkedIn and Facebook:

    • What do their employees (current and former) say about them?
    • Do they seem to be growing or shrinking?
    • Are you familiar with their products or services? Are they good?
  • Do you know anyone who works (or worked) for any of these employers? Reach out to see if they like their jobs and if they know of any openings.

Collect as much information as you can so that you have the shortest job search possible.

Bottom Line

In this very competitive job market, job seekers need to stay focused and bring their “A Game” to every opportunity.

After networking, the best way to succeed is to focus on tailoring your resume and application for a short list of carefully chosen jobs at a pre-selected list of employers.

Susan P. Joyce, publisher of since 1998, has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a former Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on LinkedIn.

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