When a company conducts a candidate search, the results look like this:
or sometimes this:
There is usually only one candidate that gets serious consideration and wins the job easily. Sometimes there are two who are very close and dominate the rest of the field, and the company dives deeper with each of them to break the tie. This means that if you have been turned down for a job opportunity, you weren’t even close to winning it. You weren’t the close 2nd, because if you were they would have told you that. This might feel devastating if you have been job hunting for a long time because it means you have failed badly on many occasions. But take heart in the fact that you have most likely won a great job in the past, and when you did you were that candidate that they didn’t even think twice about hiring.
The top candidate(s) in the field exhibit relative dominance. They are taken seriously from the very beginning by the hiring manager and put on a fast track to receive an offer and get started. If for some reason the dominant candidate falls through, the hiring manager is not going to call you or anyone else in the pack of mediocre candidates – he is going to start the recruiting process over and find another dominator.
There is a reason dominant candidates exist: they disrupt the recruiting process. While the rest of the pack is following the rules of etiquette, dominators are busy winning the job. Here is how to do it:
- Focus on strategy, not tactics: Reading the top ten tips to impress your interviewer or formatting your cover letter aren’t going to work. Dressing & grooming well, showing up exactly on time, shaking hands firmly and making eye contact are just expected of you, they are not going to win the job. In fact, a dominant candidate can walk in with spinach in her teeth and skirt on backwards and still walk away the winner. Dominant candidates have strong narratives that are valuable to the position. They have plenty of stories to prove their narrative because they built a legacy of value in previous positions. They are focused on only a few opportunities, optimizing each interaction with the hiring manager.
- Sense obstacles and overcome them: Normal candidates often choose to believe they are still in the hunt when they haven’t heard back in a week or more and haven’t been given a firm date for follow up. The absence of a “no” to them means they’re still alive. Dominators know that this is the time to take action because they have been relegated to the mediocre pack for some reason and waiting for a “no” isn’t going to help. They think hard, find potential causes and engage the hiring manager to save their candidacy.
- Network meaningfully: Chances are that the dominant candidate has already met the hiring manager prior to the interview. The most dominant ones previously worked with the hiring manager with great success. At the very least, there have been previous interactions that were meaningful and valuable to the hiring manager. No candidate from the recruiter list can catch up here no matter how well dressed they are or how great their resume looks. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the hiring manager, you have to ignore the “do not contact hiring manager directly” warning on the job listing and figure out how to meet him.
You will never lose a job opportunity when you have relative dominance, so start behaving like a dominator. It is a lot of work and is uncomfortable at first, but if you have the guts to to mix it up you will be on your way to rock stardom and disruptive innovation in a new role.