Image: Job fair
Bebeto Matthews  /  AP
Hundreds of graduating students and alumni from the City University of New York check interview materials as they prepare to attend the CUNY Big Apple Job Fair in New York. Amid a sluggish economy, job candidates need think creatively, career counsleors say.
By Eve Tahmincioglu contributor
updated 3/3/2008 9:06:59 AM ET 2008-03-03T14:06:59

Landing an interview is becoming as rare these days as a night without a presidential debate.

Take Mike Mayer, a former marketing manager who lives in Cleveland. He’s sent out hundreds of resumes but it’s been six months since anyone has called him to set up an interview. “I’m looking for a sales or marketing job, and I have extensive international experience, but maybe that’s working against me,” he surmises.

And A.J., an accounts receivable associate for a property management company, is finding his efforts to leave his firm and embark on a new career in human resources have hit a job search dead-end. In the past three months of sending resumes out, he says, “I have not received a single call.”

Welcome to the growing resume abyss. More and more job seekers are finding they’re lost in it, unable to even get a call back from a prospective employer acknowledging they exist despite their credentials or experience.

“It used to be that job seekers were able to take a shot gun approach and hit something,” says Kurt Weyerhauser, a recruiting expert with search firm Kensington Stone. But in this economy, he adds, “you have to get beyond the resume.”

There’s a host of reasons for the problem, aside from just not being right for the job: a souring economy that’s gotten companies to cut back or suspend hiring; resume overload by recruiters who are inundated by electronic resumes; and a growing desire on the part of hiring managers to hire who they know, or at least hire someone who’s recommended by someone they know.

“If you go back a year ago people were talking about the war for talent, you don’t hear that anymore,” says Steve Gross, global leader for consulting firm Mercer. The company recently surveyed 126 U.S. employers and four that 33 percent of them were considering a hiring freeze or cutting back on staff because of the economy. That translates, he says, into a slowdown of the hiring process in general.

While you can’t disregard the importance of a well-crafted resume that’s targeted to the individuals jobs, unfortunately, it’s probably not a sharp enough spear for today’s job-hunt.

Seriously folks, you could be the perfect candidate for a job and never get beyond an electronic “thank you” reply for sending your resume.

Dan Enthoven, vice president of marketing of job search firm Trovix, conducted a study where he sent out fictitious resumes to companies that he knew were desperate to hire software engineers in Silicon Valley. The resumes included all the right credentials and background needed for each specific job posted on company sites, including degrees from none other than top engineering schools such as Stanford and MIT, just to make the candidates even more appealing.

Out of 35 of these perfect resumes sent only seven received emails saying, “we’d like to talk to you,” says Enthoven. “That was shocking.”

If the perfect candidates out there only have a one in five chance to get called back, it’s not good news for someone that may not be a perfect match or someone trying to break into a new career.

What’s happened to the hiring world, Enthoven surmises, is recruiters just assume there is no one good to be found among the avalanche of resumes they receive with every job posting.

I know, this sounds unfair, but I suppose we’re dealing with human nature here. No one really believes you can find a needle in the haystack, and who has time to search for a needle anyway.

So what we get is a so-called “trust” economy, says Weyerhauser.

“We give an advantage to those candidates who are being referred by people we already know and respect,” he explains.  “For instance, a candidate who is referred by a well-regarded current employee, is much more likely to be invited to an interview than a candidate we know nothing about who blindly sent in a resume.”

The hard part is getting an employee to recommend you. One way to do this is throw a party.

I’m not kidding. Weyerhauser figures you probably know someone right now who knows someone at a company you might be right for.

Invite 30 people and have them invite some people, and before you know it you’ll have a sea of connections. Ask your guests, do they know anybody? Provide them with some food and libations of course, so it doesn’t totally you seem like you’re trolling only for a job, and have fun for goodness sake. Nothing’s worse than a cranky job seeker. You need positive vibes to kick your networking into overdrive.

Now, just asking a friend if they know someone at a particular company or industry may not always be enough. Check out your friends LinkedIn or Facebook connections, for example, and see for yourself it there might be a networking fit. Typically, Weyerhauser notes, people don’t realize how their connections might work for your job search. Take the initiative here.

Another strategy is to make yourself well known in an industry by writing an article for trade publications or authoring a blog.

Weyerhauser offered a great example of guy who wrote a well-read marketing blog, and when he called a company he was interested in working for the manager that answered the phone knew exactly who he was because he was an avid reader of his blog. He ended up getting a plum job at the firm, he adds.

Calling a company, or stopping by to introduce yourself is always a great idea. Don’t make yourself a pest, but try to connect with the hiring manager so your resume doesn’t get lost on the desk of someone in human resources.

At the very least, go to LinkedIn, or one of the other networking sites out there, and try to find managers or employees, or even former staffers, at a particular company you’re interested in and send them an email.

And let’s not totally disregard resumes and cover letters.

Abhay Padgaonkar, a management consultant, says sending out 200 resumes at once is what he calls the “spray and pray” approach. So, he advises, job seekers focus, focus, focus their resumes.

“It's one thing to think that you are right for the job, it's entirely another to be able to understand the requirements of the job and have your resume and qualifications demonstrate unequivocally that you are, in fact, right for the job,” he adds.

Look at each job individually, he says, look at what’s required and read between the lines.

For example, have you done negotiations before? If so, explain what you did and how successful you were in your resume and in the cover letter.

And, Padgaonkar stresses that you have to sing your own praises. “Many times we are blind to our own accomplishments so get someone to help you point those out,” he says.

“Hiring managers spend less than minute looking at a resume, if you don’t stand out, you end up in circular file,” he concludes.

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