I Applied For 74 Jobs — & Then I Landed My Dream Gig

Recently, I was listening to an interview with an actress who was talking about the audition process. I found myself nodding as she described the cycle of rejection that comes along with getting a role. Not that I’ve ever made a go of it as a professional actress (my acting career came to an early close after being rejected from a college production of The Vagina Monologues). But I sympathized because the audition process reminded me of applying for jobs, something with which I’m intimately familiar.

Until last October, I was more or less continually looking for a job for two and a half years. I was trying to transition from a non-profit background into editorial work, and while I wasn’t unemployed for most of that time, I wasn’t in anything permanent, either. Since finally landing a full-time job, I've struggled to give advice to people in similar positions. The process is such a weird mix of unknowns (timing, personality, company culture, quality and size of the applicant pool), and I had control over very little of it. In some ways, it comes down to luck.

My philosophy is similar to that of the actress I heard being interviewed: All I can do is be the best candidate I can possibly be, because the rest is beyond my control.

And while the online application pool may feel like an abyss, there are ways to optimize your job search to maximize your opportunities to get lucky. It worked for me; I managed to land a job I found online, at a company where I didn't know a single person. Sure, there are no guarantees, and I may be the exception. But I don't regret the hard work I put in. While I don’t get to give an acceptance speech about it, let this little article be my Oscars moment: It was worth it. It can be worth it for you, too.

Now, before the orchestra drowns me out, here are my 10 tips (with some advice from professionals) to hack the online job search.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Looking at job listings alone can be a full-time job. To save yourself time, set up alerts for job titles and companies where you want to work. Indeed pulls from a wide range of job sites and makes it easy to set up an alert. “Alerts are important to keep you from endlessly searching, but they also shouldn’t limit your options,” Bryan Chaney, Indeed’s director of Employer Brand, says.

And instead of just entering your one dream job, consider including keywords that could describe similar jobs you might not think of. You won’t be able to apply to every job you get an email alert about, but it will help cut down on your search time.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You can argue it’s not fair, but 71% of HR professionals say the best candidates come through referrals. So don’t keep your job search a secret: You want to tell everyone you know you’re searching. If you’re unemployed and can be vocal about your job hunt, consider posting a callout on Facebook so your friends know you’re looking. I did this, and it yielded a few job prospects from friends and one interview.

Obviously, if you’re currently employed, this is a little tricky. Send an email (either individually or bcc-ed if you want to do a mass mailing) letting your network know you’re on the market and to keep you in mind for any opportunities they might hear about. No one can help you if they don’t know you’re looking!
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Once you’ve alerted your friends to your search, the internet can be a way to connect with strangers, too. LinkedIn can be a great resource for finding people to ask for informational interviews. You can search for common connections, alumni from your college, or just people at companies you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid to send a cold email requesting a quick phone or in-person informational interview. You might not get a response, but you’ll never find the people who will respond and take the time to chat if you don’t try. That said, we don’t recommend you just randomly connect with strangers on LinkedIn. Make these connections carefully, so you can actually get something out of the relationship.

Closed or private Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags are also becoming resources for job searches. If you don’t know about the ones in your field, you can try searching Facebook or asking people in informational interviews. Social media can be a great place to find job listings; just be aware that not everything you post there may stay private, even if the group is.

And don’t forget to take your networking offline. Attend industry events and conferences. Take a continuing education class. It can be nerve-wracking to start up a conversation with a stranger, but finding a new job you love can sometimes involve taking big risks.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
It’s pretty much inevitable these days that, if your application makes it past the first round of screening, someone’s going to Google you. If you have public social media profiles, keep them active. They don’t have to be totally professional and dry. Feel free to show off some of your personality, as long as it falls within the parameters of good internet behavior. As I later found out in my interview at Refinery29, my Twitter feed amused one of the interviewers; I had already started to win him over, and we hadn’t even met.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Not all companies use automated résumé screeners, called Applicant Tracking Systems, for job applicants, but many do. Kathryn Minshew, CEO of career advice site The Muse, recommends focusing your résumé on keywords that an ATS might screen for. Fancy formats may look nice, but Minshew also cautions that they can trip up ATS — a simple font and layout will allow your accomplishments to speak for themselves.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Your résumé should always, always, always be one page, especially if you’re at the beginning of your career. But that doesn’t mean all that great stuff you can’t squeeze in can’t live somewhere else. Your LinkedIn profile can be a great place to highlight more of your accomplishments and actually show them off. LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher recommends including videos or images that can add color to the stuff you’d highlight on your paper résumé. And be sure to include a professional-looking picture — LinkedIn found you’re 14 times more likely to be viewed if you have one.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Sure, you’re happy in your current job, but the internet can be a great way to do easy research on companies you might be interested in down the road. Keep an eye on industry publications and follow companies you like on social media. Minshew explains that “staying attuned to their digital presence and company developments makes you a more attractive candidate when the time is right for you to apply.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Yes, writing cover letters may feel like an exercise in futility. But, unless specified, don’t skip them. It can be tempting to shoot off a generic one, especially if your search is limited to one role, but a one-size-fits-all cover letter lets hiring managers know you’re not that invested in their company and the role they need to fill.

When I was applying for jobs, I built one really polished cover letter that I could adapt (and adapt quickly) as I applied. The body of my letter remained fairly consistent, but I made sure to include specific notes on why I was passionate about that particular company and job — in both the opening and closing paragraphs. Just make 100% sure you’re not accidentally leaving references to past job openings in the letter (something I did once…oops). And don’t make it too long. Quality over quantity is key.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If you’ve had an in-person interview, you should always send a thank-you note through the mail to your main interviewer. But after you do that, send a quick email to everyone you spoke with thanking them for taking the time to talk. This can also be a great time to touch on something you may not have mentioned in the interview. If you only have the email of the person who set up the interview, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out the company’s email formula, whether its first initial plus last name, or firstname.lastname@company.com. You don’t have to make each email completely unique to each person you spoke to; just add one or two specific sentences. You’ll get bonus points for mentioning something you discussed during the interview. Again, quality over quantity.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
For most of us, the job search is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping everything organized can streamline the process and make it a bit more manageable. I kept a Google Doc of every job I had applied for, complete with the date I applied and whether or not I had followed up. Additionally, I kept notes on people I had spoken with, including informational interviews. That way, if, six months later, another job opened up at that company, I could reference my past conversations.

And since I knew I was in for a slog, I set up goals for myself: After I applied to 10 jobs, I could get a manicure. Maybe beauty-based bribing doesn’t work for everyone, but keeping track of what I had done and when helped me feel like I was moving forward and not just treading water.