Converting online applications to job interviews - the 30 minute solution

bigstockphoto_Boyfriends_With_A_Laptop_2086252"My question is, given the preference most companies have for online applications, how do you convert applications into job interviews?"

Following a recent blog in which I pointed out a few home truths about the probability of getting an interview, someone asked this question on a LinkedIn group.

If you've read many of my posts here, and also downloaded my free ebook, you'll know that I don't think applying for online jobs is ever generally going to be worthwhile. Why?

Well, firstly, most jobs are not advertised. Roughly 80% are created for the individual. Jobs that are posted online are almost certain to attract a high number of applications. At the worst end, 400+. Even at the better end there will probably be 40 or so. Jobs online usually prescribe a form for completion. This favours candidates who conform to arbitrary criteria rather than those who possess outstanding qualities. I could go on.

While there may be situations where you HAVE to complete an online application, this should never be the first that the decision maker has heard of you. You are aiming to be told; "We have to go through this procedure [for whatever reason], but I want you to work here and I'll do what I can to smooth the process."

How do you get into that position? You must be known to the individual; they need to have considerable confidence in you; they need to have any risk factors removed, covered, or otherwise addressed. You will have effectively been interviewed before the online application rather than afterwards.

The book gives several examples of ways of achieving this, but my preferred route is simply to write and ask for their time to answer some questions. You are aiming for a half an hour face-to-face meeting.*

When you eventually complete the form, this means that you will know as many of the unwritten questions or concerns that the organisation has about their future employee as you possibly can. Most forms have a space for a personal statement of some kind and this is where you answer all those concerns. This instantly gives you the advantage over any other random applicant.

For example, someone I was working with recently was wanting to make a significant career shift. He'd got a good record in his original field, but his passion was elsewhere. He volunteered to help with a project associated with one of the key players in the new field. This only took a day, but it meant that he was seen by, several of their top executives in a positive light. He then wrote to one of them and asked if he could have coffee one day because he was considering a career move and would like to understand things better. They spent an hour or so together, which was definitely an interview - though well balanced between him asking questions and being asked. The upshot was that he had deduced a list of the main things that excited the future employer about someone with his background. They had also confirmed that there was one qualification without which employment in that sector was simply a no-no. They also explained that because they receive Government funding they are absolutely rigorous in insisting on a standard online application process. They said that they'd arrange for the link to the portal to be sent to him along with an ad hoc application code.

So, he went home, and immediately emailed a thank you message. He quickly researched the fastest and cheapest way of getting the qualification. He emailed them to update them on his progress. Two weeks later, with this under his belt, he completed the online application. His personal statement explicitly addressed the issues that the person he'd met had spelt out - showing how he was a zero risk in each area. He capped it with a passionate paragraph explaining why he wasn't a typical candidate but hoped they'd see that he would make a great member of the team, and he tailed it with an equally passionate statement about his enthusiasm for this particular kind of work.

Two weeks later he had a 'formal' interview (with the original person and two others) - he was the only 'candidate' to be interviewed - probably because there wasn't a specific position that they had advertised. Later that day he had a call asking him to start ASAP - initially he was to cover for an absent colleague, later it would be made permanent.

* Even when jobs are advertised, the 30 minute meeting is still the way to go. Most job advertisements have a provision for you to discuss them informally with someone. Usually this will be with someone quite senior and often even the ultimate decision maker. While you MAY have to make do with a phone call (PLEASE, make it video by Skype), the ideal is to travel there for the meeting. It may cost a bit, but it is seriously worthwhile. I had another client in the UK who desperately wanted a job in Barcelona. She had four target institutions, two of which had advertised jobs with named contacts. Her email said; "I was hoping that we could have a conversation about the role, however I have been invited to a meeting with another department and wondered if we might meet for coffee instead?" She got appointments over two days with all four. As she was controlling the diary, she bought a cheap return air ticket and stayed two nights in a budget hotel. Her total investment was £300 for four preliminary interviews. Two invited her to apply for particular jobs and one for a speculative opportunity. She did so and was offered two positions within a month.

Best wishes
Graham