Do Personalized Job Applications Really Work?

Recruiters and HR professionals cringe when they get that voicemail or email message from the job seeker:

“Hi, this is Jim, I just want to see if you received my application and if you had any updates in the next step in the job search process.”

Been there. Done that, right?

Any recruiter or HR professional can tell you they’ve received these calls and emails. One recruiter, however, did the same thing, over and over again. And it landed him his current job.

About a year and a half ago Adam McWethy relocated from the Twin Cities to the Phoenix area to be closer to family.

“As I started my job search I knew I was going to have to find a way to get past the ATS filters and quick scans of resumes that would see my Minneapolis address and quickly hit a button sending me into the abyss,” says McWethy. “My tactic was using LinkedIn to find the hiring manager or recruiter and sending them a personalized email.  My goal was to explain who I was, that I was relocating on my own and why I was great for the job. ”

McWethy estimates he sent roughly 100 of these emails in his six month search and got a total of about five responses. But in the end it was that persistence that landed him his new job as Human Resources Manager of Spear Education, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based innovative dental education company.

With a five percent response rate why would McWethy go through such a massive effort? Simply put, as a recruiter, this tactic had worked on him once too.

“As a corporate recruiter I have always seen a large part of my role as to trying to sniff out the intangibles that a resume can never tell you,” says McWethy. “No matter the role I am sourcing for I look for those hard working, creative problem solvers who seem to excel at everything they do.  This is especially true when recruiting for small companies that will never have the prestige and name recognition of the Fortune 500.  Our reality is that we will not get the volume of candidates of our larger counterparts and thus we must become quickly adept and finding talent that may be less obvious to everyone else.”

In other words, McWethy had to be open to change, open to new methods of finding talent. He likened it to the way Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and his Moneyball strategy of using sabermetrics to find undervalued baseball players, a method that helped propel statistical analysis into baseball, changing how players are valued forever.

“My role has always been to gather as much information as possible to discover the aptitude and attitude that leads to ultimate success,” says McWethy.

With that context in mind, McWethy said candidates that find a way to get in front of him will generally stand a better chance than those who do not.

“Simply because it demonstrates a certain amount of tenacity that they were able to figure out who I was and then if they are able to make a case for why I should hire them it speaks to their ability to communicate effectively,” he says.  “In the end isn’t every business is looking for persuasive and articulate problem solvers? This is especially important in small companies where more often than not employees end up wearing many hats and living in that job description catch all ‘other duties as assigned.’”

It doesn’t always work, says McWethy. Some messages, notes or calls come from candidates who are grossly unqualified. And he knows for every gem (another baseball term), there is likely the bust (yet another baseball term) who isn’t going to make it.

“If the position description says 10 years’ experience and they are just out of school, it doesn’t matter how much they call or write, there is no way a candidate will overcome the deficit,” says McWethy. “On the other hand if they are making a career change, relocating, or simply want to stick out, this is when they can make their case.”

It’s not just the fact that a candidate reaches out to HR, says McWethy. With LinkedIn, company web sites and social media, it can be easier than ever for savvy job seekers to find the name of the hiring manager. One can often call the company front desk and talk to the receptionist to get information. So it’s not like it’s a hidden secret no one can find. But, McWethy emphasizes, it’s how the candidate reaches out and not the if the candidate reaches out that can really provide the insight as how they will behave as an employee. This is what HR professionals and recruiters look for. In fact, many expect that job seekers will reach out to them when hiring. Job seekers have been trained to do just that. But most haven’t been trained the right way.

“Sending a generic LinkedIn request to connect is very different than a carefully worded email with their elevator pitch,” says McWethy. “The first shows some initiative but no real intention or purpose behind the communication, while the second shows they are not only resourceful enough to find me online, but they are a competent communicator who can concisely convey their personal value in writing.”

Here is what McWethy looks for when candidates reach out to him:

1. Was there purpose and intention to the communication?  This is the candidate’s moment to stand out. Were they able to make the most of it?

2. Was the amount of follow up appropriate?  “Calling or emailing every day is annoying and that lack of awareness is a big red flag,” says McWethy.  Look no further than the recent Comcast debacle to see how over eagerness can backfire.

3. How hard am I to find online?  “I give more credit to a candidate that can find my work email, which is not listed on any of my social media sites, than to find me on LinkedIn which is pretty easy,” says McWethy.

In the end job seeker communication is one more contextual clue that can help you make a an educated decision about a candidate.

“As with any other part of the process it is important to look at all the available information,” says McWethy. “The more you know the better your decision can be. It is not that sending an email or calling will get them the job, but all other things being equal the extra effort and resourcefulness will always give them an edge in my book.”

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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