Watching pre-1990s movies, you will often see managers finding or making jobs for their friends and new acquaintances. The older the movie, the truer the statement. Most new hires still are brought in by someone they know, but in today's economy, finding a friend who can hire you is becoming more difficult, and so finding a job revolves around applying to job postings. Those postings are often unclear, loaded with nitpicked qualifications, and lack any contact information; their only instructions being on how to send your resume into a deep, dark electronic black hole. How can anyone find a job, when the person (or computer) you have to apply to is the company gatekeeper, whose self-appointed duty is to keep you out?
Job postings of today are not the job postings of yesteryear. Up until about 20 years ago, a job was posted by a manager, with that manager as the contact. The manager would collect and review applications and take calls from applicants, meet some of them, and then decide whom he liked best. The chances of finding someone who met every qualification was low, so the manager would, using his knowledge of the job, decide what qualifications were important versus what skills could be learned on the job, and then pick the person with the best combination, perhaps even favoring attitude over skills. In many of those old movies, having a college degree was not even a consideration for many white-collar jobs; attitude and basic reading, writing, and math were all that mattered. Interestingly, most of today's white-collar jobs are about the same, or even easier, than those same jobs of yesteryear that required only a high school diploma.
So what changed? From reading the human resources magazines, starting sometime in the early 1990s, HR began promoting itself as a company's "hiring partner." As HR took on more hiring responsibilities, it became abundantly clear that HR, without any knowledge of the job, was unable to deal with applicant questions, and finding applicants who matched all of the qualifications was almost impossible, so HR took on the duty of gatekeeper. This role is reflected in that only about 3% of all new hires obtain their positions through HR. Today's job postings are written by HR, using requirements provided by the manager. They lack contact information because HR doesn't want to be bothered. Resumes are collected and filtered (often by computer) for keyword matches. HR is dependent on degrees and certificates to tell it which applicants can do the job. That HR regularly complains that it can't find qualified people, in a job market flooded with qualified people, says it all: HR is a hiring failure. Until company officers figure that out, job-seekers will just have to deal with it, or will they?
Going around HR sounds like a great idea, but it can be very frustrating. Job fairs sound good, but everyone who has been to any recent job fair has all had the same experience: the only people interested in seeing your resume are the headhunters and resume-polishers. Every company booth is manned by HR, who all tell you to search for jobs and apply online. They may as well be saying "goodbye." Trying to contact managers directly has also become difficult, because HR saw that weakness years ago, and altered the company rule books to prevent it. Go into almost any large retail chain and prepare to be amazed; the managers have no power or ability to hire you on the spot. Talk to any manager about a job, and they send you to the website. Talk to a VP you know at a large company, and be sent to the website. Try to contact a division manager, and prepare for a game of phone tennis.
There is one avenue that HR failed to close: sales. If you think you might have a way to improve a product or improve some marketing, talk to a sales person, and move the conversation toward employment. Their job is to sell products, and better products make better sales. They are also more willing to bend the rules. Sales is the bane of HR; it is the only business-oriented division of a company that still has power, assuming, of course, that the sales representatives have not been outsourced to some faraway country, doing nothing more than reading a script and entering orders into a computer terminal. Those aren't sales people, but sentient robots with college degrees.
Since going around HR isn't much of an option, the next-best choice for landing that job is to game the system. Reading human resources magazines is a good way to find out what HR wants, and what they want is rather simple: glitzy, exciting, accomplished, and articulate. Being articulate is rather simple. If your resume looks like you texted it to a friend, rewrite it, and properly. Be brief and to the point, not boring. Add some graphic borders, but don't go overboard. Sound excited about the job, even if you aren't sure of what it is.
Sounding accomplished is the part where things get unnerving. You basically have to throw modesty to the wind and BS about yourself. Human resources does keyword matching, so you need to predict what words they are looking for (the posting is a clue) and include them in your resume and cover letter (if they take a cover letter). In your past positions, don't just state what your responsibilities were, but state your accomplishments, in simple terms of how they helped your company. If you feel you didn't have accomplishments, you are being too modest. When it comes to skills, if you sort of know how to do it, then say you do. If you think you could pick it up fast, then say you know it. You might think that BSing HR is bad, and you might be right, but HR doesn't know, and won't; HR cares only about presentation, minimum qualifications, and key words. Oh, and a nice and considerate personality helps too.
It should now be clear that the business world is full of plodding dinosaurs with abysmal hiring practices. The ultimate solution to finding a job might just be to get together with your out-of-work friends and start new businesses to do it right, and pound the nails into the coffins of the companies that didn't hire you -- because they do it wrong.