5 Little-Known Secrets About Job Searching

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By Alison Green

You might think you're an experienced job seeker who understands how hiring processes work. But behind the scenes, hiring often works differently than job seekers assume it does. Here are five hiring secrets you probably don't know that can give you an advantage over your competition.

1. Application deadlines often don't mean anything. Job seekers often take application deadlines as gospel, but they're frequently interpreting them incorrectly. Many job posting sites require employers to list a deadline when submitting a job opening. That means employers are forced to pick a date even if it doesn't reflect how they're actually managing the search.

So candidates might see a deadline listed and figure they have until then to submit an application, when in reality, the employer might be interviewing candidates on a rolling basis and make a hire before that deadline has rolled around. Or perhaps the employer hasn't yet made a hire, but it might be far along in the process with other candidates and using much stricter criteria to add anyone else to the mix.

2. You can fudge your answers to some of those automated application requirements. The people who set up online application systems sometimes don't think about the requirements they program into them, and how they'll kick out people whose applications they might actually like to see. For example, you might encounter an application system that asks if you have a bachelor's degree in economics and gives you the option to answer "yes" or "no." Let's say you don't have a bachelor's in economics, but you do have a master's in economics. If you answer the system's question honestly, you might be automatically rejected, even though your master's should get you through this screening requirement. (And if you were being screened by a human, it almost certainly would.)

Rather than answering every question literally, thereby getting yourself automatically rejected, it's often smarter to answer the questions in the spirit in which they seem intended. It's OK to answer in the way you think best gets your qualifications across. Then just make sure that you include clear, concise explanations of anything necessary in the notes section and make sure that your résumé is accurate.

3. Employers call references who aren't on your official reference list. Employers know the names on your reference list were likely selected because they're the people most likely to say glowing things about you. Because of that, smart employers won't stick to the list you provide; they'll ask to be put in touch with additional managers from your past or just contact them on their own. And employers don't need your permission to call people who aren't on your reference list, so you might not know they're doing this. And speaking of references ...

4. Policies about not providing references are frequently broken. Some employers have policies of not giving references beyond confirming your dates of employment and your title. That might lead you to think you don't need to worry about that manager who hated you giving you a bad reference, or to worry that the boss who loved you won't be able to tell anyone that.

In reality, however, these corporate policies are broken all the time. Human resources offices are generally sticklers about adhering to the rules themselves, but individual managers are often willing to give detailed references no matter what their company policy is. That's especially true when a manager thinks you're a great worker and wants to help you get your next job.

5. No one will be outraged if you apply for a job you're not perfectly qualified for. Conscientious job seekers often worry about whether they have precisely the right qualifications to apply for a particular opening, but they might be worrying about this too much. If you have most, but not all, of the qualifications an employer is looking for, it's often worth applying anyway. Many times, job qualifications are more like wish lists, and the employer will end up hiring someone who doesn't perfectly match the job posting.

If you're worried you're wasting the employers' time or that they'll roll their eyes at your application, know that loads of unqualified people apply for most openings. There are almost certainly people in the candidate pool for the job you're considering who are less qualified than you are!

Besides, the worst that can happen is that they'll reject you. But you might end up with an interview.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.