The No. 1 Way to Waste Time in a Job Search

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison shows how candidates can avoid getting ignored and land the jobs they want.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry. His latest book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job, is available now. 

Sitting in my email inbox was yet another one: an unsolicited resume from someone I don’t know.

He went on and on, describing his skills and experiences—everything he’s ever done. But nowhere did he mention why he was reaching out specifically to me (other than the assumption that I’m the CEO of a firm that places an executive in a role every 3 minutes). Nor did he specifically say what he would bring to our firm. In fact, he put it all on me to find a position that would be best suited for him.

Don’t get me wrong; I do want to help people. But in 35 years of professional life, including more than a decade as CEO of a public company, I have been continuously shocked by the naiveté of people who resort to the old standby: sending out their resumes blindly. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the No. 1 time-waster in any job search.

Here’s how to keep from getting ignored and land the job you want.

The new “let’s do lunch”: The unsolicited offer of “let me send you my resume” has become as cliché as “let’s do lunch.” When you say it, you know you’re never going to have lunch. The same goes for your offer to email your resume. Unless someone genuinely wants to hear from you, your resume isn’t going anywhere. Over the past several years, I’ve received thousands of unsolicited resumes. And guess what—they rarely go anywhere. That might strike you as harsh or even unfair, but here’s what I know about many other CEOs and senior executives: they’re not opening your resume. The solution? You need a warm introduction from someone in your network to a person at a company where you really want to work.

The “ice cream shop” strategy: Ironically, when we were younger, we intuitively knew how to get a “warm introduction.” When you were looking for a summer job back in high school, you’d go to the place you wanted to work—the ice cream shop, the car wash, the community swimming pool—and ask if they were hiring. If the manager or owner wasn’t busy, you’d get an “interview” on the spot. If your friends worked there, they’d put in a good word for you. In fact, you probably found out about the job from a friend, who provided a “warm introduction” to the manager for you. But the process we understood so well as teenagers—and that worked so well in those days—has begun to elude us. We forgot that the same fundamental rules apply: know where you want to go and then get a warm introduction.

Do your homework: More than any other step, this is what differentiates people who are going to get my help from those who fade away. When people connect with me through a contact and ask for help in getting a job, I tell them I’ll be glad to talk once they’ve done a simple assignment: research where they want to work—their target industry, the companies they admire, the roles they believe they're most suited for. Shockingly, in 9 out of 10 cases, they never do it. This isn’t rocket science, but it does take time. If you can’t or won’t invest that much effort in your career, then who will?

Lose the resume: The most recent email I received is a perfect example of what a resume can’t do: it can’t automatically get you a job. In this case, the resume listed experiences across a rather narrow industry, peppered with an insider’s jargon. Not once did this person highlight what he’d accomplished: expanding sales, increasing profitability, improving efficiency. To get someone’s attention you need to tell a story about your accomplishments and their impact (again, once you’ve had a warm introduction to someone). That’s why I tell people to “lose the resume.” Yes, you need to have one, but don’t expect it to be more than a calling card.

Blindly sending out your resume in hopes someone will respond is like putting a message in a bottle. It might give you a moment of satisfaction for having done something, but don’t expect it to wash ashore anytime soon.

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