how much effort is too much when job searching?

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A reader writes:

How much effort to connect directly is too much when applying to positions?

I am getting the impression from feedback that supply and demand means employers have to sift through many more applications than they have time to process in any depth. So personal contact / networking and briefer applications may have a better chance of getting through than more detailed applications capable of standing on their own, sent into HR email / online talent management systems’ black holes.

However, I have found results haphazard when doing things like finding/emailing the hiring manager, following up after a week or two, contacting people on LinkedIn to connect, etc. for positions where there is otherwise a strong fit to requirements — in other words, when the application could adequately express my merits.

What are your thoughts on acceptable methods / frequencies and deciding factors to back off or escalate? I have read mixed comments from employers in articles like yours — sustained efforts just annoy some managers, others find the tenacity a selling point.

The extras that you’re talking about make sense when you have connections to the employer, or your connections have connections there. In that case, it makes sense to reach out directly to the person you know there, or to have people you know with connections there reach out directly on your behalf.

But if there’s no personal connection, then you’re generally not going to do yourself much good (and in many cases will just annoy the hiring manager).

Notice that this is a good argument for building those connections before you want to apply for a job somewhere — because if you try to do it after you’ve applied, you will blend into the mass of people who are all trying the same ineffective tactics in order to get their applications noticed.

But assuming you don’t have connections to work with a particular job, then the way you stand out is by being a great candidate:  having a resume that shows a strong track record of getting results in the areas that they’re hiring for, writing a compelling cover letter that doesn’t simply regurgitate information they can find on your resume, and being professional, friendly, and responsive when they contact you.

Honestly, very few hiring managers value “tenacity” in the job application process. More often, “tenacity” reads as pushiness. And the hiring managers who do respond to it — and yes, there are some, although they’re in the minority — are precisely the managers you don’t want to work for: They’re the disorganized ones, the ones who don’t value hiring the right person enough to do their job without prompting from a  candidate, the ones who respond to gimmicks or flashiness over merit when you’re working for them. Guess what your quality of life is going to be like on that job? You really don’t want to screen for them by your behavior in your job search.

Job seekers need to get rid of this idea that they’re supposed to demonstrate “persistence” or “tenacity” in the job search. I know there are self-appointed “experts” out there telling you that, but the reality is that — unless you’re in sales* — that’s not what good employers are looking for.

It’s time to stick that idea in a time capsule and bury it deep in the ground … possibly along with the “experts” pushing that idea.

* Possibly not in sales either, as you’ll see in the comments.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    There really is no reason to “follow-up” at all. If you have not been interviewed at all, then anything over 1 follow-up email MAX is annoying; it is only appropriate to follow-up a few weeks later if you are wondering if the position is still open or if someone has been hired. There is no reason to e-mail me again saying you are the best candidate (and please, please do not call me)— just because you meet the requirements listed in the ad that does not make you the best candidate; plus, you had the chance to tell me why you were a great fit with your cover letter and resume.

    If we did not put our phone number, linked in profile, etc. in the ad then it is not an appropriate way to contact us. You had to google me, or call the main switch board and ask to be connected to me, to find these points of contacts— this is not appropriate at this stage in the game. Your resume should speak for itself– If WE believe you are a strong fit and would like to speak with you further, WE will contact you.

    And yes, we are receiving a lot of resumes… but great candidates STILL stand out. And no, they do not stand out by harassing hiring managers.

  2. fposte

    I also think that some people confuse tenacity in the general process–keeping going after you get a rejection, continuing to stay in touch with your network–with tenacity about a particular job. The former is good; the latter usually isn’t.

    1. Katie

      As usual, fposte puts it better than I ever could.

      I’ve been noticing a familiar refrain in posts these days – “don’t do x, y, and z, *unless* you are in sales.” It’s sticking out to me because my company is currently hiring for a sales position, and I’m intercepting a lot of the persistent calls. In our case, the persistence usually falls pretty flat, even for a role that requires a lot of persistence. If you’re terribly awkward and nervous on the phone, leaving me terribly awkward and nervous voicemails several times is not going to move your candidacy forward. If you can’t get through me as a gatekeeper, I’m going to guess you can’t get through the ones you’ll encounter on the job.

      Now, if someone called persistently who didn’t do those things, we would probably fast track them for an interview. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It might be more accurate to say that it’s not just persistence that’s helpful in sales jobs — it’s effective selling techniques. Persistence might be a part of that, but certainly not on its own. It’s got to be combined with good social skills, the ability to read people’s cues and pick up on how those signal you should proceed, etc.

        But as I said to E.R. below, I only started adding that exception for sales because people kept telling me I had to. I’m totally open to being told it’s wrong — and in fact would like to hear if it is!

        1. Jamie

          I always assumed when people talk about the exception for sales it was in the instance where it’s a sales position dealing with the public in the pushier industries.

          This kind of tactic wouldn’t work in the higher end B2B sales I see in my industry – because our sales team is basically part of project management and working with engineering and production on long running stuff. It’s way more about being able to communicate technically and developing business relationships that are on going than one time sales.

          So I don’t think that the same skills or techniques in the hiring process would work for Salesperson A and Salesperson B if A is tasked with selling a million people something for $1 and B is tasked with selling one company a million dollars worth of product.

      2. KarenT

        I think it’s true sales is an exception but only in higher pressure, older-fashioned environments. I don’t hire sales reps but I have sat in on interviews, and I remember one guy kept calling us and emailing us and leaving us messages. Our sales manager bluntly told him to stop calling and that he would hear from us when we made a desicion. He kept calling, and she called him back to say all you are telling me now is that you don’t listen.
        And when he tried to argue he was being persistent, she quickly told him he was not being persistent but was being aggressive and pushy and that she wasn’t going to risk him aggravating our key customers.

      3. KarenT

        I think that idea of sales being an exception is (a) an old fashioned one, much like the advice about calling to follow up on applications/dropping by an office to drop of an application, and (b) perhaps for high pressure sales, like gym memberships, car dealers, or telemarkters.

        I don’t hire sales reps, but I have sat in on sales interviews many times. We had one candidate who would phone, then email, then phone again. Our sales manager called him to tell him to stop it, and that he would hear from us when we made a desicion. And, this guy continued to call. So, our sales manager called him back and said, “All you have shown me now is that you don’t listen.” When he was rejected (our sales managers tend to give honest feedback) he was told it was because he was way to aggressive, did not listen to our indirect and direct cues about not calling, and that our sales manager couldn’t risk him treating our customers the same way.

  3. Anon

    “Notice that this is a good argument for building those connections before you want to apply for a job somewhere.”

    This is more important than I realized before I started job-hunting. It’s often to your advantage to make personal contact with someone *before* filling out the company’s online application, as long as your communication with them is genuine, polite, and non-pushy. I recently emailed an acquaintance in my field at XYZ Big Company to ask about his experiences there. He was very kind, willing to recommend me for a position there, etc., but told me that he could not recommend me internally if I had already applied via XYZ Big Company’s website. Fortunately I hadn’t, and he was able to send me the internal-recommendation method to apply. But I would have had no idea if I hadn’t talked to him first. I’ve now had a phone interview there and I have an in-person interview scheduled.

    Every other interview I’ve had has been at companies where I had some semi-personal connection, even through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.

    So I’d recommend taking the effort that you would have spent on following up after the fact, and focus that effort on polite, thoughtful, brief discussions with everyone you can think of who might have any connection to your field. Always ask, “Do you know of anyone else I should talk to?” (And *always* send thank-you notes afterward, of course.)

    1. AnotherAlison

      Kudos to you to doing things the right way. I’ve had people I know contact me and I talk to them and tell them to send me their resume & I’ll get it in the right hands before they submit it through the online system. Then they go out and send it through the online system without even using me as a reference or sending it to me separately beforehand so I can take a look & forward it to the HM. Sometimes they’ve sent their resume to me after they submit it online and it’s not very good, so I can’t do anything with it. It’s frustrating when you try to help people and they don’t follow directions. What’s the point of networking, then?

      1. Good_Intentions

        AnotherAlison:

        Just as a counterpoint to your argument (feel free to strongly disagree), people often choose to go through the electronic resume submission system instead of relying on contacts because the system is likely to be much more reliable than people.

        People can easily forget or misplace a cover letter and resume package and worse yet misrepresent the prospective job candidate in some way when recommending them. Human error is such a big component of job hunting, as shown in countless letters to Ask A Manager and other job-oriented websites.

        I sympathize with your frustration and bewilderment at the lack of follow-through with your networking connections in passing along their applications to you. However, I also believe that we’ve been conditioned to expect more efficiency and objectivity from computer programs than people, and I would ask that you not take it personally and refrain from saying “I told you so” or “You should have gone through me” if/when the candidates in question do not secure either an interview or the position.
        Again, I am more than willing to take a let’s agree to disagree approach on this. It’s just one job-seeker’s perspective.

        1. AnotherAlison

          If people want to send it *only* through the online system, that’s 100% fine with me, just leave me out of it to begin with. Don’t call me and ask me if I can put in a word for you, because I’m not going to pass on your name if I can’t at least see your resume. I don’t want to stick my neck out for you and then have you submit an embarrassing resume (it’s happened, an intern applicant).

          Absolutely, I agree with you that an applicant should send it through the online system, but I think it should be in addition to sending it to the person they’ve been asking to grease the wheels. Otherwise they’re no better off than if they had just applied an never called me, period. I realize not everyone needs my advice or wants special help getting past the gatekeepers — some people just want to learn about the company from an insider — those aren’t the ones I am talking about.

          Also, I don’t say “I told you so” to anyone, because I genuinely want to help people.

  4. E.R

    Can anyone verify that sales manager indeed look for “pushy” candidates? I work in sales, and perhaps it’s just my industry, but hiring managers look for people with a track record of accomplishments (and preferably an ability to meet sales targets), strong writing and communication skills, and passion for the job and industry. They would not respond well to pushy candidates any more than a hiring manager outside of sales would. After all, this person will be representing your company when hired, and needs to understand boundaries. I realize this could just be m industry, but does anyone have different experience? I keep seeing this “sales exception” in Alison’s post, and I’m just curious. Thanks!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ha, this is a good question. I started adding it because people were telling me sales is an exception, but never having worked in sales, I really can’t say for sure. Frankly, it sounds implausible to me for exactly the reasons you say, and I’d love to hear from others who actually work in the industry too.

      1. E.R

        Ah, okay! I was just wondering where it was coming from as it is not true to my own experience. I feel like that rule caters to the stereotype of sales, rather than the reality for most people (at least who I know) who do it professionally and take pride in their professionalism and skills, and let that stand out in their applications and how they conduct business, just like any other professional job.

      2. fposte

        That would be really interesting to hear. Is sales generally the exception some people suggest, or is it just likelier to contain outliers on this topic? “Sales” is also a pretty broad term, so it would be valuable to hear differences between fields.

      3. Katie

        I’m happy to discuss it here, but I would love to see a post on “the sales exception.” Maybe a guest post?

    2. Sasha

      This is just my opinion as a consumer, but it seems like the pushy salesperson is desirable in occupations like door to door sales, telemarketers, and car sales. In my experience those types of salespeople are the pushiest. There are always exceptions of course. I have dealt with a lot of vendors in my job recently and most did not seem pushy – they followed up with me about products but when I told them I wasn’t interested, they very kindly backed off. They represented large companies selling enterprise applications. However that could be due to the fact that I’m a bit low on the totem pole and have no purchasing power – maybe it would be different if I could actually say yes, like with door to door and cars. I can actually buy those things at the time the salesperson talks to me.

    3. AnotherAlison

      Perhaps true when you’re hiring the retail sales guy who hawks the lotion & e-cigarettes out of the mall kiosk.

      Like ER said, it’s not true in my group, which sells services in the $100M and up range. Candidate consideration is all about personal connections, experience, and knowledge. The people hired most recently were all from client or partner companies and knew someone or many people in our organization.

      1. Anonymous

        Pushiness won’t get a salesdroid far even down in the $100k range. I was once getting quotes on a computer cluster for that sort of price, and one of the vendors kept pestering me…. and then emailed my boss (with me CC’d) accusing me of shopping their quote to other vendors to get better prices. I was considering composing a response assuring them that I had absolutely no intention of asking any of the other vendors to match their quote. Then my boss’ reply landed in my inbox…. shall we say that that vendor never bothered me again :-)

      2. Katie

        Those kiosk people! They are relentless! But their tactics make sales, offensive as they may be to many of us. Preying on vulnerable consumers may be distasteful, but it makes money.

        I’ve been meaning to write in the other discussion on rejecting workplace romantic advances how much the scenario reminded me of a pushy salesperson. And I think in both situations, people “don’t take hints” because this kind of dogged pursuit can get you what you want. If you’re looking to make a sale, constant pursuit can wear down even savvy consumers. If you’re looking to get a date (or more), pressure can get you that. It’s ugly, particularly in the latter case, because there’s a lack of consent.

        I imagine that lack of consent is not good for long-term business/relationship, but perhaps in these cases that’s not what the salesperson/suitor is looking for.

        1. E.R

          I see what you’re saying and I know that we (salespeople) have a bad reputation in general. But as “sales” can refer to a wide range of jobs across industries, responsbilities, and skill levels, I think it’s important to try not to stereotype. I’m an introvert, but I excel at building relationships. I respect a no and I would never, ever be rude or pushy to a client (or go over their head to their boss – ew!). I love my clients and I want them to be happy! And I always make my goals. In sum, don’t assume that all salespeople are icky and pushy. I appreciate where everyone’s differing perceptions are coming from, though. I’ve certainly encountered my fair share of terrible salespeople.

          1. Katie

            Oh, you misunderstand – I too work in sales! And I certainly don’t think I take the approach to sales I outlined in my post. I was more referring to the fellow who attempted to sell me a $70 dollar nail kit, and was so dizzyingly good at talking circles around me that he almost succeeded (almost).

            I’m new to my sales role, actually, and my position is such that I don’t really have a mentor. I’m very interested in a post dedicated to sales because I want to excel at my job, but I know I have lots to learn, and unfortunately my company isn’t structured in a way to help me learn what I need to know.

            I’m somewhat concerned that I’m not well suited for the job, and if that’s the case, I would like to figure that out sooner rather than later. Whenever I try to research these things, I tend to find Glengarry Glen Ross platitudes (e.g., salesmen are born, not made, ABC, etc.) that aren’t terribly helpful. Your success as a relational salesperson suggests there’s lots of promise in this field for me.

            1. fposte

              It’s interesting to pay attention to salemanship that works. I’m fussy about my sheets and my beloved standbys aren’t made any more, so I went fancy sheet shopping at a fancy sheet store. And the salesguy was *brilliant*–utterly delighted to point out markdowns and explain ways he could ship to me (I was out of town, because I do not live in Fancysheetville) and put together sheet/pillowcase combinations that he thought I’d find pleasing. I bought more than I planned and don’t remotely regret it–and that right there is the hallmark of good selling.

  5. Anonymous

    If you’re the one they want, they’ll call you. If they don’t call you, work on your résumé and cover letter. That’s it all you have to do!

    1. AnotherAlison

      I was going to take two paragraphs to say the same thing.

      The thing that makes it so hard for the job seekers, though, is that it IS all you can do. Use your CL/resume to tell me whatever great thing about you that you would tell me if you had me cornered for 5 minutes. (Please don’t make me guess what you actually did when you “assisted with marketing plan”, because to me that phraseology means nada. . .plain English – what can you do, what did you accomplish. Those are the two things I need to know to decide what to do with your resume.)

  6. Anonymous

    I was in the same position. Applying and never hearing anything back. Feeling demoralized, like I’d work at this dead end job, being abused over the phone daily, I found this blog. I worked on my cover letter and resume day and night and when I was finished with something I was truly proud of, I applied for about 5 jobs. It felt better than just submitting something like I had before and thinking “we’ll here goes nothing.” I knew I had out my best foot forward. I had 2 interviews (one at MIT, go me!) and it ended in an offer (not at MIT, but still a great place). I accepted and haven’t been happier.

  7. Erica B

    so, just to be clear, if I apply at a place I really shouldn’t follow-up with them, right? If hiring people find “persistence” in follow-ups annoying and frustrating then are you still expected to follow-up to an interview with thank- you notes/emails? (I’d just like to note that I have been at my current job for nearly 9 years, and am not currently looking for new work, but I like to be aware of what the norm is- just in case)
    Is it like not getting a thank-you note for a wedding or shower present in that the person who is expecting one and then doesn’t gets offended?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s a bit different. This post is about following up after applying, not after an interview. Once you’ve had an interview, you have much more leeway in following up to get an updated timeline, etc. (And yes, you should still send post-interview follow-up notes.)

  8. Elizabeth West

    I followed up on an interview recently where I hadn’t heard back. Yesterday while I was in the doctor’s office getting something painful done (ugh!) she left a message, which I didn’t get until after five. I left her a message just so she would know I wasn’t blowing her off. Hers was like “Please call,” nothing one way or the other. I got all hopeful and called her back today. It was a rejection. POO.

    >:( You could have just emailed me, lady.

  9. melle

    It’s such a relief whenever people say it’s okay to just sit back, relax and let the paper do the work.

    It reminds me of those awkward teen years where my parents kept telling me to call the employers every day! Go down to the store and ask about the status! Call this random stranger who works there and ask to arrange a pre-interview interview!

    Aggg! And it’s always for some low level minimum wage job too, which just makes all of this desperation so ridiculous doesn’t it? Ha!

    Of course, this advice came from someone who was often unemployed. I ignored it.

    1. Katie

      Ha! This reminds me of my dad when I was applying for work at 16. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one rolling my eyes.

    2. L.A.

      I have a feeling a few amount of parents are still telling their kids this. I work retail so I get a lot of phone calls about the status of their application. Calling once, that’s fine. We fall behind on contacting people for interviews and offering positions all the time because the company likes to keep us on our toes with “OMG this must be done RIGHT NOW!” emails. But only call once. We remember those who call constantly… but not in a good way.

      Also, if you are calling to follow-up on their application, know the nature of the business you are trying to get into and try to time your call during a slow day. Don’t call the day before Thanksgiving. Even if we weren’t super swamped with customers that seemed to come out of nowhere, our to-do list was a mile long to prep for the busiest day of the year (Black Friday).

  10. Blinx

    I’m lucky that there are a few industry-specific (graphics) job boards where hiring managers will frequently post an ad with their email address, requesting resumes. The same ad will be on Monster/CareerBuilder, but without the email address. I’d much rather send a direct email than go through a job board or even company site application system. I can also look them up on LinkedIn. But that’s it. It don’t pester them later on, although it is tempting.

  11. Chaucer

    For me, “too much” effort comes from when I feel that the sheer frustration either wants to make me yell or bang my head against a wall. In that case, I go do something I enjoy, be it working out, playing a video game, reading a book or listening to music. As Alison noted in the comments section of another article, job searching while angry is rarely a good idea :)

  12. Anonymous

    “Tenacity” in the job application process is never a good thing. Forget pushiness, it’s simply irritating and it makes the candidate look like they have no idea how a business is run. I know that it can be frustrating not to receive a quick response, but companies do take time to review CVs and interview candidates.

    As one commenter said: “If you’re the one they want, they’ll call you. If they don’t call you, work on your résumé and cover letter.”

  13. Reader Who Asked

    Alison,

    Thank you for your response and advice on my question. A lot of interesting comments here too.

    I’ve read your book and do focus on making sure that the cover letter / resume speak for themselves as the primary determinants of suitability. It has been working well on getting interviews quickly.

    It seems this is one of those issues that depends on context and personal preferences. Like you said in your book, hiring managers have different preferences, and you can drive yourself nuts trying to think of a hard and fast rule that applies universally.

    I think there are realities to respect, like the fact that the other side may have 1000 people all trying to get attention in various ways. If they’ve said no, obviously, it doesn’t show a lot of respect to keep leaning on people if the fit to qualifications isn’t there in the first place. Bombarding them like propoganda leaflets from a plane isn’t going to make anyone say “Wow, what a go-getter, I want to work with them.”

    At the same time it seems there are also cases where sustained efforts make a difference. There’s been a lot of discussion here on sales, but another vector/niche is in technology startups. This story isn’t me, but was buzzing around Twitter and I am certain many of the points in it would have qualified as excessive to many. But this kind of hustle / tenacity is valued amongst technology startups where iterating past setbacks is a key determinant in results. I’m not suggesting one case makes a rule, or that common sense on respecting others doesn’t apply, just that it seems like one of those things that depend on the context.

    http://blog.vidyard.com/the-ultimate-hack-how-our-newest-growth-hacke

    Something I guess to think about re: guest posts on exceptions. But no one ever lost a job or opportunity from being considerate / respectful.

  14. Al

    It’s funny really. I followed up once because the posting was getting 30+ days old still no information. It took one company 3 months to hire for a entry level job and they had over 40 recruiters and 10 hiring managers.

    Also managers aren’t your friends don’t let a company ever say “Oh we care about our employees” WRONG

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