Why You Need to Be a Picky Job Seeker (And How to Do It), with Stephanie Mansueto

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Are you feeling demoralized by rejection in your job search? Has the “numbers game” made you feel like a loser? There is a better way to find your next position, and Find Your Dream Job guest Stephanie Mansueto says it’s by being picky. Stop applying for every job you’re qualified for and figure out which jobs you can be competitive for. What skills and experience do you have that take you to the next level of qualification? Stephanie also advises making a list of dream employers and using informational interviews to access the hidden job market. 

About Our Guest:

Stephanie Mansueto is a corporate recruiter and a  job-hunting coach

Resources in This Episode:

Let Stephanie help you figure out what’s standing between you and your next big career move by visiting her website at smcareercoach.com.

From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume . TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers.


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 401:

Why You Need to Be a Picky Job Seeker (And How to Do It), with Stephanie Mansueto

Airdate: May 31, 2023

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Go to a job board, and you may see dozens of openings that interest you.

Why not apply for them all?

Stop right there, says today’s guest.

You’re making your search harder than it needs to be.

Stephanie Mansueto is here to talk about why you need to be a picky job seeker and how to do it.

She’s a corporate recruiter and a job-hunting coach.

Stephanie helps people get leadership jobs in international development with global mission-driven companies.

And she joins us from San Diego, California.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Stephanie. Why isn’t it a good idea to apply everywhere?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a great idea to apply everywhere, but the reason that people do it is when you start a job search, you’re coming from a very optimistic place. You might be interested in changing industries or changing job functions. So, you have this vision of kind of casting a wide net.

And you also might see it as you ask yourself kind of two basic questions, am I interested in this job? And am I qualified for this job? So, when you have those two simple questions, you’ll find that you can apply to a lot of different jobs. But you would more appropriately want to ask are you competitively qualified for a job.

And then the other piece of it is LinkedIn, Indeed, a lot of these job sites make it really easy to apply. You just have to click an Apply button, and your profile will be automatically uploaded to an employer’s Applicant Tracking System. So, the time that you could potentially put into an application can be less than a minute. But when this starts adding up, and you start getting some of those auto-rejection emails or notifications, it can become really defeating and demoralizing. So, you then start to think about how can I do this better, rather than casting such a wide net.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Stephanie, some listeners might think, well, that’s a good thing. I can get a lot of applications out there, and, after all, it’s a numbers game, isn’t it? If I send out a hundred applications and it leads to one interview for the job I really want, aren’t I winning?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Not necessarily. If you’re putting out hundreds of applications or, say, you’re even putting in dozens of applications, you ultimately want to get callbacks. You want to get invites for interviews. That’s the point of job hunting is actually getting an interview, at least getting a screening. And so, if you’re putting yourself out there so much, eventually, you’re going to get burned out by not getting those interviews, and that’s where it becomes incredibly defeating, again, where you’re saying, I am qualified for these jobs. Why aren’t I getting these interviews?

Ultimately, you want to be able to get a job within a couple of months. But, what you’ll find is if you’re applying to all of these jobs, you’re gonna go longer and longer without one. And what you’re trying to really figure out is how are you competitive, because, also, if you’re applying to jobs in fields or sectors that have a high talent pool, or large talent pool, heavily saturated, you really have to think about how you’re going to be competitive because applying to tons of jobs and not getting an interview or not getting a job offer isn’t the ultimate goal.

You, ultimately, want to be able to get a job within a reasonable amount of time. So, you want to think about strategically what you’re going after beyond just the job application.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about how to be a picky job seeker because you have very specific tips about how to do this. But, before we move on to that, I, in preparing for the episode, I did some online research, and there’s conflicting advice out there that job seekers are seeing about the number of jobs you should apply for during a search.

For example, I came across a study from the Career Advisory Board at Debri University that studied and researched the qualities of successful job seekers, and I was surprised that they found that the most successful job seekers apply for between five and ten jobs, ultimately during a search.

But I also saw career coaches out there who encourage people to apply for five to ten jobs a day. Stephanie, before we get into your tips about how to be picky, do you have a recommendation for the number of jobs you should apply for during a typical search?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Yeah, I think it can depend on the level and the industry that you’re applying to. If you’re younger in your career, earlier in your career, I think you can apply to more jobs in an effort to really figure out what you’re good at, what you’re interested in. So, I can see that being a little bit of a higher number.

But the further you go in your career, you are going to want to be pickier. Employers are going to want to see you specialize in a certain area, and they’re gonna want to see that come through in your job application. So, I would say, you know, for younger professionals, maybe they’re applying to eight to ten jobs a week or every two weeks. But for more senior professionals, you might only be applying to five or six jobs per month.

And I think, ideally, I would recommend if you’re applying to, say, five or six jobs, you should be competitively qualified for four out of five of those jobs, with maybe one of them being a reach position. Because, again, you want to also be spending more time not just on the application but doing other activities or initiatives to basically get your foot in the door, such as networking.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that- the ways you suggest that picky job seekers distinguish themselves from their competitors. One of the first points you’ve made about this subject is that when you are a picky job seeker, and you touched on this a moment ago, it helps prevent burnout. Tell us more about this, Stephanie.

Stephanie Mansueto:

Yeah, because if you’re, now, it’s all depending on where you’re dedicating your time to your job search. You’ll have people that all they do is just submit applications from openly, publicly posted jobs, and that’s fine. That’s one way to do it, and if you have a highly specialized skill set, then you can do that and probably get a callback or an invite for an interview.

But, what really most people need to be doing is, in addition to submitting an application to a job posting, is doing that proactive networking, and that’s both with your personal network, with family and friends, and also with your professional network. So, former co-workers, current co-workers, or actually reaching out to new people at companies that you may have not engaged with before, to conduct info interviews, or to actually get your foot in the door after you’ve submitted an application.

But you want to be spending more time on less applications. So, say you’re submitting five applications a week; you also want to be spending time targeting people that are tied to that job, reaching out to them on LinkedIn, or finding people within your network that can connect you to people that are involved in that position or hiring of that position, and that takes a lot more time.

But it’s a much more quality approach to a job search rather than just cold applying to jobs and leaving it at that. Because there’s hundreds of applications coming in for every job, if not more, and so, you need to put in more of an extra effort to get your name in front of someone that has an influence within the position. So, even beyond just saying, reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, it’s attending conferences and networking with people even outside of when a job might be posted.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. I want to take a pause here, and when we come back, Stephanie, I want to talk more about the benefits of networking and how that helps you as a picky job seeker. So stay with us. When we return, Stephanie Mansueto will continue to share her advice on why you need to be a picky job seeker and how to do it.

Picky job seekers pay attention to resumes, too.

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Get specific ideas you can use to fix your resume yourself.

Or hire TopResume to do it for you.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Stephanie Mansueto.

She’s a corporate recruiter and a job-hunting coach.

Stephanie helps people get leadership jobs in international development with global mission-driven companies.

And she joins us from San Diego, California.

Stephanie, we were talking before the break about networking and how picky job seekers use networking to make connections and meet people at conferences or reach out to people and target companies.

What are the benefits of doing this? How does this help picky job seekers in their search?

Stephanie Mansueto:

When you’re networking, you’re able to make it a little bit more personalized than just through an application. So, if you’re setting up a fifteen or twenty-minute info interview with someone around a job you just applied to, you’re able to pitch yourself outside of just what you can put on your resume. And so, when someone gets to hear you or see you speak about why you want that job, why you’re qualified for it, they’re more likely to refer you.

And it only takes fifteen minutes. You don’t have to set up really long engagements with people when you’re networking. You can simply message them, or you can see them at a conference or an event and just take fifteen minutes of their time to talk about why you’re really interested. You also can do a little bit more of a targeted pitch when you’re talking about why you’re qualified for a job or why you’re interested in working for a company.

So, the more you can personalize something in your job search, which is what networking does and allows you to do, the more likely someone’s going to refer you for the job. And that’s how a lot of people are getting jobs, are through referrals, and you don’t necessarily have to know someone for a long time or have worked with them in the past. You can have a really productive and fruitful conversation within fifteen minutes, enough for someone to want to refer you to the hiring manager or to the recruiter.

So, that personalized touch of networking makes all of the difference, and it’s going to really amp up your job search and make it more high-touch, which is what you want to do.

Mac Prichard:

Why do the referrals that you can get through networking, why do they matter to employers, Stephanie? Why do they make a difference?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Employers trust their staff, especially if someone’s been there for a while or they’re highly influential at the company, even if they just joined. You’re going to trust a referral more than a cold application because you trust the employee that knows the company, they know the mission, they know the culture, and so you trust that the referral that they’re providing is going to be a quality one.

And it also reduces the amount of time that an employer has to spend on actually going through applications and going through a whole recruitment process. Any employer would say they would love to only have to recruit for a position for two weeks versus a month to two months, and referrals allow them to do it much quicker and with better quality.

Mac Prichard:

Another trait that you say distinguishes picky job seekers is that they know how to decode job postings. What do you mean by this, decoding job postings? And how does it help you in a search?

Stephanie Mansueto:

I wish I could say that employers are always incredible at putting together quality job descriptions, but that’s not always the case. Some job descriptions can be vague. Some job descriptions may inadvertently omit information that would be really helpful to job seekers in knowing whether or not they should apply. So there is an art to actually looking at a job description beyond just the qualifications that they put in there, related to what makes you competitive.

For example, if you’re applying to a corporate social responsibility manager position for a global company that works in the biotech field, and you see the job description, and it says the requirements that they want you to have, like European Union regulation, ESG requirement experience, but they don’t mention anything about the countries that you’re gonna be operating in. But when you go and do research on a company, and you see, well, they’re actually trying to grow their work in sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the job description, you can see, well, if you have experience in that region, that would make you more competitive.

But in a job description, it doesn’t list these types of details. It can be hard to determine whether or not you’re gonna be competitive. So it does require doing additional research about a company or a job or a department or a team outside of what may or may not just be listed in the job description. So, it’s important to go beyond what you’re seeing in a job posting.

Mac Prichard:

Once you do that research and you’ve decoded the job posting, Stephanie, how do you show the employer that you’ve done that work and in a way that’s gonna help you get an interview and eventually get the job?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Yeah, so you always, I mean, the basics are, and I know this has been really drilled into people’s heads over the years is, customizing your resume and your cover letter to have the relevant keywords. So, if you’re seeing certain keywords in the job posting and they’re spelling out acronyms, or they’re using a different industry-specific jargon, you want to make sure you’re using those same exact words in your resume or your cover letter.

But beyond that, if you’re networking, when you’re reaching out to someone, you would say, so in that same example for a CSR manager where they’re growing in sub-Saharan Africa, if you’re reaching out to the hiring manager or someone that you think is tied to the position, you would want to say, I’ve got five years building CSR programs in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I know I can help you out with where you’re looking to grow.

So it’s making a bit of a targeted pitch, not just in your resume or your cover letter related to things outside of the job posting. But it’s also in your networking, too.

Mac Prichard:

Another point you make about picky job seekers and what distinguishes them from other applicants is that they have more success navigating the hidden job market. Stephanie, what’s the hidden job market? And why do picky job seekers have more success there?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Because they realize that jobs are not always gonna be posted right away. There’s a lot of percolating that companies will do on developing something based on a budget or a pipeline, and so picky job seekers will do a lot of that networking knowing that, hey, I’ve got these ten companies I’m interested in, only five of them may have jobs that are posted publicly, but I need to start networking with these other five to see what they’ve got coming up.

And so someone that’s really good at networking, or that’s really picky, will take those top companies, find people at them, have conversations with them, and ask them, what do you have coming up? And they’ll get more details around what initiatives the employer’s got going on and then be able to make a pitch for where their experience can help them.

And even in that conversation, it might not end with great, we’d love to have further conversation and create a job for you. But what will happen is once they’ve got the budget, or once they’ve got consensus on, we’re moving forward with this position in, say, that next six months, you’ll be on the top of their mind because they’ll remember having a conversation or multiple conversations with you and how your experience is relevant to that. And then, you then become referred, and also, even if the job comes up, you can be one of the first applicants, and that’s what you want, ultimately, to be considered right away or within that first couple of weeks a job is posted.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned having a list of target companies; why do picky job seekers put together lists like this? And how does it help them in their search?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Because as you’re going through your career, you should start to develop a bit of a personality and have goals around the types of employers that you want to work for, beyond just the job description or beyond just compensation.

There’s going to be things like culture, work-life balance, the type of day-to-day work that you like to do, the kind of boss that you like to work with. So, once you start figuring all of those things out, your list of who you want to work for is going to become shorter, and so it becomes really important to prioritize your time, networking, and building relationships with people at those companies.

Because it’s not just gonna be, you see a job posting, you apply, and then you get in. Sometimes it does work like that for people, but if you’re really putting time into a smaller number of top-priority companies, you’ll just get much better results out of it, and you’ll be able to network your way in.

Mac Prichard:

Finally, Stephanie, you say that picky job seekers pay attention to how they feel about an employer and a job, and you touched on this in your answer a moment ago. How does paying attention to your feelings help you in your job search?

Stephanie Mansueto:

This one’s really interesting because a lot of people, depending on your mindset when you’re going about a job search, especially if you’ve been laid off or you really need to get that next paycheck coming in, you can sometimes approach a job search through a scarcity mindset or a fear-based mindset, and that can actually prevent you from seeing red flags. Especially as you’re going about doing info interviews, you’re maybe talking to former or current employees and getting more information about a company.

And even if they’ve been on your dream list for years, as you’re getting information and you’re finding that, well, actually, hey, for example, their DEI initiatives are not in alignment with how I feel about diversity at a company, or I don’t feel like I would fit in here, the culture’s just not a good fit.

You want to pay attention to what you’re hearing, what you’re seeing, what you’re reading about a company because you might really see that it’s not a good fit for you, and you don’t want to, you know, because it’s just been your dream job for so long, ignore red flags and turn them into green flags, and just apply. Because if you get in with a company that’s not a good fit for you, what you’ll end up doing is just leaving in six months to a year, and then you have to go through the whole job search again, and that’s not what you want to do.

So, you always want to pay attention to how you’re feeling. If your gut is telling you this isn’t a good fit, then you should be prepared and willing to walk away from that company. And also, you might find other companies as you’re going through these info interviews that you never even thought of that would be a really good fit for you, that turn out to be a good fit. So pay attention to the good feelings, too, that might surprise you.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Stephanie. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Stephanie Mansueto:

Well, I’m offering job-hunting coaching services for senior professionals, particularly in the international development sector. So, I encourage people to connect with me on LinkedIn, and I have a job hunt scorecard on my website at smcareercoach.com, where you can actually fill out the card, see how you’re doing with your job search, and pinpoint any pain areas that you might need help with, and you can set up a free consult, and I’ll actually do an analysis of your resume and a recent job you’ve applied to, to see where you can actually improve your job search.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. We’ll be sure to include the links to your website and your LinkedIn page in the show notes and the Mac’s List website article, and our newsletter. And, as always, if people do reach out to you on LinkedIn, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Stephanie, given all of the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why you need to be a picky job seeker and how to do it?

Stephanie Mansueto:

I want people to find a job faster that they’re really happy and excited to have. So I think, think about if you can take away one thing, think about every time you look at a job, are you competitive for it? Not just are you qualified for it, and are you interested in it. But, are you competitive for this job? And then proceed into actually considering the job further.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Heather McBride.

She’s a resume writer and a human resources consultant. Heather has helped hundreds of people across the globe secure the job of their dreams.

You apply for jobs. But you hear nothing back from employers.

The problem could be your resume. And fixing it can be surprisingly easy.

Join us next Wednesday when Heather McBride and I talk about why you need a targeted resume to get an interview.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.