Do you think submitting apps online is a deadend and job applicants should always aim for referrals/reach out to recruiters first or is it company-dependent?
I love this question! The simple answer is that it is both company-dependent and role-dependent. Talent teams will always prioritize referrals and outbound candidates. It makes too much statistical sense to do otherwise. On top of this, hiring managers and recruiters aren’t good at picking resumes in general and many excellent candidates have poor resumes. Different companies have talent teams that are more or less diligent with inbound volume.
Some companies get so much inbound (candidates who apply directly to job posts via a company’s website) that there is tremendous backlog and the applications just time out. If a particular role is of particular importance, (for example, a senior security engineer), then inbound resumes get a ton of scrutiny. Entry level positions often have far more inbound than the recruiters or hiring managers can reasonably go thru.
That being said, submitting apps online is not a total waste of time. Inbound candidates have a few tricks they can pull off. First, think like a recruiter. For a high volume inbound role, they may have some hundreds of applications and resumes to screen and dozens more pouring in weekly or even daily. How do you get your resume to stand out?
Start off by assuming you are bad at making resumes. Most people are.
Be very upfront about your skills and your relative skill level. Think of this like a fantasy RPG: “Python 9⁄10, Ruby 6⁄10, MySQL 7⁄10, Postgres 5⁄10, JS 2⁄10, Java was 8⁄10 but currently rusty and would need to brush up.”
The number one thing I need to know as a technical hiring manager is your relative skill set. With the above, I have a sense of how you’d fit on a Go-project (some learning curve), or a data engineering project (prob ok), or Rails project (expect you to hit the ground running). There is so much more value to the scored skills above than a simple list: “Python, Ruby, Java, JS, MySQL, Postgres.“
If you worked on specific projects say so and say which technology you used and your specific role: “Photo sharing Mobile app, team of 3, Swift, Core Data, GraphQL. I primarily worked on image processing algorithms.“
Use design and color (this sounds cheesy but it works). Tremendously good resumes or unique ones or terrible ones are fodder for recruiter gossip: “Look at this piece of work!” Get feedback from other engineers and ideally other recruiters. If you get a call with a company, ask them what about your profile or resume stood out. Emphasize whatever that is in a future iteration of your profile/resume.
Sometimes being persistent works. As in apply to the same job in the same company every other month.
If your actual resume is weak, and companies are looking for different skill sets or more experience, then develop more skills. Launch a mobile app or play around with Django on your local machine. Products you’ve developed, and developed a market for look amazing on a resume.
Apply to jobs you may be overqualified or underqualified for (but are still in your preferred industry).
Lastly, you can use cold submission as an opportunity to refine your resume, AB testing style. Have a flashy resume? Submit it to a few places and submit your plain version to a few places. See which gets more responses. Iterate.
Job hunting can be difficult. I wish you and everyone doing so the very best.