Shotgunning vs Sniping job applications

spoiler: just do both

Shotgunning job applications

is making a general cover/resume → and sending it to as many companies as you can

With this approach, you are looking for 60, 1% chances at an initial interview

In my experience

I have never known someone that this worked for but I have heard of a lot of people trying it. Something about the mindlessness of it makes it appealing when you haven't job searched a lot. I think that is part of the reason it doesn't work, everyone is looking for a hack, something that takes a low amount of effort while still reaping great results. The problem with looking for a hack is that it leaves you no space for differentiation.

Sniping job applications

is finding a company to apply to → and making a specific cover/resume for them

With this approach, you are looking for 3, 20% chances at an initial interview

In my experience

It's pure. It feels right. But it can come across as desperate. It's kinda like finding good SEO keywords and then trying to make content to match them. Your voice sounds inauthentic.

Here is what I have tried

  • I tried shotgunning in 2017 with a really bad percentage I don’t want to think about
  • I tried sniping in 2020 with a 9%(4/43) interview rate
  • I tried a combination in 2020 with a 26%(11/43) interview rate

What worked the best

was making a generic yet polarizing base cover/resume → finding a couple of companies that need someone like me → and tailoring the intro of my cover to catch their attention

Step 1. Be generic yet polarizing

I found in dating that being different is important. Not all girls are looking for Chad, and when I changed my strategy to "being Josh" rather than "playing Chad" I quickly found a girl that was into Josh. In your job search, you only need one company to say yes. So be different. Show your colors. Because you want to differentiate. It’s better to be #1 in a small market than to be #3 in a large market. #3 doesn’t get hired.

Step 2. Find companies that will like who you are

They write a job ad and a blog for a reason. To catch your attention and pull you in. They are sending signals and they want to interview people that care enough to listen. Here is another dating analogy. If she uses exclamation points, match her energy and use them as well. This is not manipulation; it's not allowing the little things to create friction so that you can see if you sync on the important things. If they have a spunky job ad you should have a spunky cover. Do they have a bland job ad? Don't apply. Why would you want to work for the embodiment of an over-baked russet potato?

Step 3. Tailor something to catch their attention

I limited the customization to my cover letter intro. It’s not the only place to customize, but it was the route I chose. Customizing gives you the edge if they actually read your cover letter because it further matches their signals without sounding desperate.

Note: Some companies expect a cover and then don’t read it. This only further makes the cover where you should differentiate because you should try to avoid such companies.

If you have enough relevant experience, then you can interchange good content based on where you want to apply. In my case, I made frontend and fullstack versions of my resume. Don’t spread yourself thin here. Less is more. Good content that doesn’t directly apply is better than bland content that does.

Final note

Most people put together bland applications, which is what you are trying to avoid. As a result, however, some companies have given up and use weak metrics like resume scanners to categorize people. This in turn has resulted in resume keyword optimization. Have some empathy for the companies, but don't bother wasting your time optimizing keywords. Get creative and hook them in.

We, as an engineering job searching group, only perpetuate the cycle of random hacks when we give in to things like resume keyword optimization.

So be human, avoid the hacks, and creatively differentiate yourself.

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Many of my recent posts have been about job searching. I have a small series that I am putting together with all the things I wish I had known last fall. Stay tuned :)

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