Today’s Big Idea focuses on the frustrations and pain experienced by executives looking for work and battling an increasingly automated job applicant processing system. I will offer some suggestions on what you can do to beat the system.

Earlier this week I was following a conversation thread on LinkedIn. Several executives were writing about their frustrations regarding the recruiting process.

  • They submit applications for a job and the only communication they receive is an email acknowledging that the prospective employer had, in fact, received their resume.
  • When they create alerts on some job boards, they are notified of inappropriate positions — like the hospital executive who received an email that the job site’s computers had identified the perfect job for him: teaching line cooks for restaurants. Another healthcare executive, a clinician, received an urgent email saying the job board had identified an ideal position — selling after market auto parts to retail outlets. The “they” in this case refers to the obviously screwed up algorithms that are scanning the thousands of resumes and postings on the job boards trying to help paid sponsors identify candidates.

These executives were clearly frustrated with that part of the recruiting system. “I feel like a piece of meat,” one man complained. “This is really degrading.”

I sympathize with any executive who feels trapped in the morass of job boards, online submissions and nary a live person with whom they can speak. The number of executives who are frustrated with the process of finding a new job is substantial, even if you rely on just anecdotal evidence.

You add the feelings of rejection that come from being ignored or turned down and it is easy to conclude that looking for work is a painful experience.

I know, because everyday, even when I am busy with multiple search projects, I am constantly looking for new work. Those of us who recruit, consult, practice law or work any number of other professional service businesses must look for work every day to ensure there is a smooth pipeline of new business that will pay the bills. The irony is that recruiters and job candidates have something in common, we all have first-hand experience with rejection. But the only thing worse than rejection is not working.

No matter how hard I try, in my own business development and for the wonderful clients in our outplacement/career transition practice, I cannot eliminate the inevitable rejection from the business development process, and that same rule applies to looking for a job. People go to job boards, post their resume, create alerts and then sit back and wait for the emails or telephone calls to come rolling in. Of course, they don’t. Some of this rejection is self inflicted.

So here are my suggestions to beat the odds and work around the digital obstacle path that has sprung up in recruiting.

  1. Technology is nice, but it will not find you a job and it will only be helpful if you know how to use it and control it for your benefit. Depending solely on job boards and job alerts is a serious job search misstep.
  2. I cannot, nor can anyone else, eliminate the pain and suffering that goes with looking for a job. Unless you are one of the very rare few, being ignored or being rejected is just a reality. A good outplacement coach can help you but he or she cannot shield you from it. Develop a plan to deal with it.
  3. With consolidations and offshoring of jobs — which, surprisingly, has increased during the past year – there are more good, capable executives on the street. You cannot sit back and wait for the employers to find you. That won’t happen, so you must have a job search plan that addresses these issues: your value, your career brand differentiation and your strategy.Your value is your value proposition – the four or five skills at which you excel. This drives your messaging, from your resume to your performance in interviews. Differentiation is a close second when it comes to critical components of your job search plan. Most of the candidates, from their resume to how they perform in interviews are the same. The successful candidates, those who land better jobs in a shorter amount of time, have differentiated their career brand in a meaningful way — through the resume, to how and what they communicate in an interview. When the odds in a given search are 30, 40, or 50 to one, differentiation is absolutely essential.The third element in your job search must be to have a strategy that is proactive. I apologize for using that overused term, but it is the best word I could come up with that frames the reality of today’s job market. You cannot sit back behind your computer, passively surfing and searching thew web, hoping to succeed. The odds are you will not. You must be deliberate in your strategic points and with your execution. For example, identify companies that you would like to work for and then, using the power of strategic networking, begin to build a network of contacts who may be able to help you open the door to the decision makers. This is unbelievably hard, time consuming work. It must be part of your every day routine. It is exactly the kind of hard work that it takes to find a better, new job. LinkedIn is an important tool but you cannot rely on this platform. You have to pick up the phone and make calls to collect actionable job search intelligence. If a contact is across town, get up and go meet them for coffee or lunch. When people rely on emails I think of the former CEO of a 12-bed hospital who communicated with his staff almost exclusively with emails. The operative phrase in the story is former CEO.

So here are some steps I take every day to ensure that I am doing what it takes to find new work.

I start at 5 AM. I constantly surprise myself that I have become an early riser. From 5 to 6:30 AM I read, reflect and write — blogs, podcast scripts or work on my second book. I look for ideas that challenge and inspire my point of view.

At 6:30 AM I shift gears and I plan my day, the people I should call to look for work and outline the tasks I feel that must be completed to keep my current engagements on track. I put all this down in my SelfJournal — no, it is not a namesake creation. It is a wonderful productivity tool. And then, and this is very important and central to my staying focused, I write down the three things I am grateful for every morning. Finally, at the end of the day, after recording my wins and losses along with lessons learned, I journal those three things about which I am grateful. Writing these things down helps me stay disciplined and focused on my goal — delivering great service and finding new work.

I hope this information has been helpful. You can subscribe on our website or iTunes.

Thanks for listening. See you next week.