01/13/2014 12:06 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Need A Job? Learn To Play The Hiring Game

In my lifetime, I've seen my share of resumes.

Sure, like other hiring managers, I employed my own personal strategies to filter the tsunami of applications that flooded my inbox after each posting. I'd divide them into stacks of "yes," "no," and "maybe" to decide who to follow up with -- and those were just the ones that made it though the applicant system. Through the years, applications became more creative and visual but still my eyes would glaze over after an hour. I always worried about the one I'd too easily dismissed because how can one page adequately illustrate a gem of hire? It can't.

If you are sending in a resume to a database, with no previous relationship with the hiring manager, you are already at a distinct disadvantage. A 2013 white paper by staffing strategy firm, CareerXRoads showed that 42 per cent of hires are current employees and a candidate with a referral is 3 to 4 times more likely to be hired. The rest are simply out of luck.

Still, there is a touch of serendipity in finding a fabulous employer, or employee. It's like finding the right person to marry. Unfortunately, you are often not given enough time or information to gauge whether or not you want to engage in such a long-term commitment. Resumes may get you a date (a first interview) but even three or four isn't enough to discover whether or not the relationship is sustainable. Certainly, like marriage, you can always get a divorce, i.e. quit or get fired, but by that time both parties have lost time, money and productivity.

Some innovative employers offer trials, to see how that relationship pans out. It's a tactic that Bonnie Foley-Wong, founder of Pique Ventures in Vancouver calls "experiential due diligence."

"Experiential due diligence is giving yourself (both employers and candidates) the opportunity to work with someone before making a firm commitment. This means working on shorter-term projects together or starting with a contract before entering into an employment agreement," said Ms. Foley-Wong.

Through this trial -- let's call it temporarily shacking up -- employer and employee can learn how each party manages conflict and if there is a mutual desire to continuing working together long term. This relationship provides an additional benefit by allowing employers to hire based on potential, not rely on someone who has already done the same job elsewhere, widening the pool of available talent.

So what happens when you're sure he's the one (i.e. you were meant for the job) but you can't get in the door?

Tushar Pandit, vice president of human resources for Seeker Solutions, Inc. in Victoria, B.C., advises candidates to increase their visibility by cultivating their brand, a process that includes being active on social media outlets, blogging and even public speaking.

"It is the same concept as being an artist who has to be able to show his or her portfolio at any given moment when asked. Every professional has to understand that he or she is in competition daily with 300 to 400 people and it is critical for them to constantly be upgrading their skills and being relevant.... being complacent will make a person non-recognizable," said Mr. Pandit.

While active social media presence seems like an obvious tactic, it can also backfire.

Pamela Paterson, author of Get the Job: Optimize Your Resume for the Online Job Search, recalls working with one job seeker whose hobby included beer making. Unfortunately all the search results of his name merely demonstrated his fondness for beer rather than his professional expertise.

"Recruiters don't like to take chances with candidates they don't know. No matter how good their resume is, if they have a poor online reputation, they may be rejected from the hiring process -- without even knowing the real reason," she warned.

It's not only one's social media presence than can disqualify you. When applying for a job online, your resume style may work against you. Fancy layout and designs on resumes, such as tables, text boxes, uncommon fonts and graphics, may not be read properly by applicant tracking systems impacting how their information is presented, filtered, and ranked.

"I always advise my clients that some online job systems are more robust than others, so it may not be a concern, but why introduce risk into the hiring process, especially if you really want the job?" asked Ms. Paterson.

Still your resume is just a first step in the early vetting process and job seekers need to vigilantly guard about against multiple stumbling blocks that keep them from their professional match.

"The first step to standing out is not being eliminated," warned Ms. Paterson. "It's never just about the resume -- never."


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