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The ONE Thing Job Seekers Can Control

 Y'all I'm going to drop some very loving truth bombs right now. Prepare yourself.

No one - NO ONE - is responsible for your job search but YOU - the job seeker. Not recruiters. Not hiring managers. Not HR. Not your momma. ONLY you. While any number of these people can help you as you navigate your search, the actions you take are ultimately yours and yours alone. 

Of course the obvious push back to this (and rightly so) is that job search is so f*cking confusing. Apply to everything. Don't apply to anything. Network. Show your value. Have 47 versions of your resume. Don't make a resume at all. Stand out. Stand in. Stand over there. Stand on your head.


There is exactly ONE THING in this entire process start to finish that is 100% in YOUR control. That is the information you choose to provide to a company/hiring manager/recruiter. It is usually in the form of a resume, possibly a cover letter, and almost certainly information in an online application. Before we talk about that, let's start by getting clear on some of the fundamentals. The usual caveats apply here - your personal mileage my vary. Your friend's neighbor's cousin's ex-boyfriend once dated a girl who's sister had a COMPLETELY different experience. Cool. You're free to chase whatever thought leader feel good nonsense you like. If you're open to some tough truths that may give you a fresh perspective, read on!

Job Descriptions

MOST job descriptions are written by business leaders. A lot of the formatting or required fields are created and approved by HR, Marketing, and Legal - but typically the meat of the JD is created or at least influenced by the managers, who know what it is they want to hire for. We hear a LOT of complaining about "entry-level" job descriptions requiring 5+ years of experience. Guess what? Those roles are not entry level. I am not sure why they are classified as such - they're not. This article from Indeed describes "entry-level" as follows - 

  • “Degree not required” entry-level jobs: These types of entry-level jobs do not require a college degree and may not require any previous experience. Examples of jobs in this segment include data entry, technicians, retail and sales positions and administrative positions.
  • True entry-level jobs: True entry-level jobs are those that you can typically get upon graduation from college. These positions require applicants to have an undergraduate degree and possibly internship experience. Examples of true entry-level jobs can be found in the career fields of marketing, healthcare, law and finance.
  • “Professional experience required” entry-level jobs: This type of entry-level position requires applicants to have at least one to three years of full-time, professional experience in the field. Employers are looking to fill these types of roles with professionals that require minimal training and guidance during on-boarding. These entry-level jobs are commonly found in the areas of business, science and technology.

Now most of us would agree that that requiring ANY experience makes a role by definition *not* entry level, but there you have it. Fortunately, depending on the organization - "experience" MAY include research projects, internships, or certain academic experiences. This is also a good time to point out that a number of large companies, particularly in tech, have a very specific model for hiring new grads. There are literally entire groups of recruiters dedicated to Campus Hiring - college students and fresh grads often find themselves frustrated by trying to apply to industry roles (aka NOT true "entry level") with companies who's recruiters aren't even allowed to talk to them. More on that in an upcoming AMA video. 

Of course mistakes are still made. Lots of fun is poked at ridiculous postings like the one asking for 12 years of experience in a 6 year old technology. It's embarrassing, funny, and thankfully RARE. 

Speaking of Job Descriptions....

Basic Qualifications

For companies in the US subject to OFCCP requirements, Basic Qualifications (BQs) are NOT negotiable. EEO rules require these companies to create minimum qualifications that can be measurable and easily identified on a resume. Frequently Asked Questions found here provide a pretty decent breakdown of what a BQ actually IS, along with some other info. A lot of job seekers make the mistake of assuming this only applies to federal contractors - while this is technically correct, any company doing business to the tune of 10K or more annually is a Federal Contractor. Looking at you, most big tech companies. And banks. Basically anyone who does business with the government. This could be selling cloud services, advertising, equipment... the list is probably a lot longer than you think. Bottom line, companies have a responsibility to make BQs as minimal and fair as possible, but job seekers ALSO have a responsibility to make sure their application speaks to their fit for those qualifications.

If you're "close" - it may make sense to apply anyway. Smart recruiters will look at these "near miss" applicants and try to map them up to more junior roles or short list them for future hiring needs. They may also use them as a reason to go back to the hiring manager and say "LOOK AT ALL THE NEAR MISSES WE HAVE" - and come away with a newly redefined role that you're now a perfect fit for.

Companies (and their hiring managers / recruiters) have a RESPONSIBILITY to be as clear, succinct, and reasonable as possible in their job postings. I understand this is not always the case. As job seekers, we can't control that. We can only work with the information we have, and respond accordingly. Which means...


Ah... NOW we're at the part that you can control, full stop. We've found a job that's right for us. We meet the qualifications, and we're ready to apply! If you're worried about the dreaded ATS, watch this video. Even though we've told you time and again about humans reviewing your resume, it's important to note what those humans are looking for. Generally speaking, they want to see "proof" that you can do the job. Context is important - just matching keywords rarely gets you past a quick view. Your resume is usually the first thing a prospective hiring manager or recruiter will read from you. It's also the one thing that is completely within your control. 

YOU get to control what is in your resume. You decide the format, the context, the keywords. While there is a lot of guidance out there, including some worth every penny resume writers, it's still YOUR resume, and you get to decide what to put on it. There's literally no one policing this. So why wouldn't you choose to optimize it for the people you want to read it?

I've shared the story before about the job seeker I was attempting to help who wanted a job as a forklift driver. He couldn't understand why he wasn't getting calls, as he had significant experience in this field. When he showed me the resume he was using to apply, there was not a single mention of forklifts. None any of the certifications he had. NOTHING that would indicate he'd ever set foot in a warehouse. There was NO changing his mind that online applications and the assholes behind them weren't at fault. What he failed to accept was that his resume, the information he was providing, was completely on him. He couldn't control what companies were posting. He couldn't tell them which ATS to use, or how to structure interviews. The information he was putting in front of them? That was all him. And he refused to see the errors he was making. 

As a job seeker, you can't guarantee job descriptions will be well written. You can't be sure the recruiters on the other end of the ATS knows what they're looking for. You can't even really predict the format of an interview and can only do your best to influence the outcome. You CAN control the information you're putting forward as an introduction. Instead of bitching that a company is focusing on required skills, maybe just take a minute to make sure you're talking about your expertise in said skills? We hear this a lot in industry changers - for example, a job seeker noted they use "EPC" in their industry, whereas in tech the terminology would be "engineering supply chain". Now we can agree that any recruiter or hiring manager worth their ATS log in could recognize interchangeable terms like this, why leave it to chance? The more you mirror the language in the JD (aka what the managers are looking for), the less you have to worry about silly "keyword" matching. 

YOU decide what companies you want to apply to.
YOU decide which roles you fit the qualifications for.
YOU decide what information to put forward in the application, networking email, and resume.

For more insight, check out my All About Resumes Playlist - and take charge of the one thing you are fully in control of.


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