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The Land of Opportunity Fallacy

“The Land of Opportunity” Fallacy

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ~Maya Angelou

Up to 90% of job seekers in the US got their last position through their network (depending on your source). Let’s say that’s an exaggeration and go with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that says 70% of all jobs are found through networking. Still, it’s pretty high.

I’ve been blithely quoting these statistics for years to everyone asking for job seeking advice before I give them my best networking tips. When I told this to a mid-career native Italian who’s looking for a job in the US (as a US permanent resident), he was shocked. He’s worked all over the world and has gotten all of his previous positions based on merit … without knowing anyone. So, basically, the US—the proverbial Land of Opportunity—is really The Land of Nepotism.

The Exceptions That Prove the Rule

When I started writing resumes in 2000, that stat used to be higher—at 97%—but I looked it up for this post, and it’s been declining every year. So, 70% is progress. More people are getting jobs based on their skills and abilities. I’ve heard anecdotes that support this in just about every industry, but I mostly see it in IT and Sales. Also, it’s common for a lot of entry-level positions. This makes sense since:

  • IT is a relatively new field and it’s largely skill-based.
  • The Sales Industry is all about the numbers.
  • Stakes are low for employers of entry-level jobs. (Some entry-level employers are just looking for warm bodies…to turn them into cold ones.)

But it’s a risk to go with an unknown—un-recommended—candidate. Think of an equivalent scenario. Would you rather find a date online or go out with a friend of a friend who you’ve already met and like? I’m not advocating this system, I’m just saying it’s human nature to want to help people you know and protect yourself by going with a known entity.

It’s Not What You Know but Who You Know

As depressing as this may be to job seekers who hate networking, if this is the reality then do your best to play the game. To start, update your resume and LinkedIn profile (or have me do it) then send a quick personal message to all of your contacts who might be able to help. Something like:

I wanted to let you know I’m interested in securing a new position in [industry name or job title] in the [current location or desired location] area. If you know of anyone who has a need for someone like me, I’d appreciate it if you’d pass my information along. [Insert LinkedIn link or attach resume]

Throw in a few personalized bits and this is usually enough to get the wheels turning. LinkedIn is great for this kind of networking because clicking a link is easier than downloading a resume. It asks less of your friends. But be sure to have your resume available in case someone offers to help you.

You can also do the same sort of thing with Facebook:

If you know about an open XX position in the XX area, I’m looking. [Insert LinkedIn link]

This is a second-tier networking approach though. With a mass posting, you risk inspiring apathy. It’s like the bystander effect. People think: Oh, someone else will help.

A Great Resume Helps Everyone

Even if you’re a shoe-in because you know the owner or your friend is in charge of hiring, you’ve got to look as good as possible on paper. How?

  • Highlight your accomplishments. (No one cares what your responsibilities were. They want to know how you made a difference.)
  • Tailor your resume for the specific position to make yourself look as qualified as possible. (Not too many people are comfortable with pure nepotism. Earn that recommendation.)
  • If you’re unsure of how to do this, get your resume written professionally. (It’s not that expensive. And it’s an investment that lasts a lifetime.)

Then at least you can say that it wasn’t entirely who you knew. And, you never know, you may be one of the minority who helps the US earn back the Land of Opportunity title.

About the Author

Julie Luongo is a Personal Branding Specialist and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) who has helped over 15,000 job seekers in all industries at all career levels get better jobs, shift careers, and put themselves above the competition since 2000.