Maybe you're surfing a job board. Or, perhaps a text notification from a job posting app buzzes your phone. Whatever the case, there's nothing like the shocking thrill when you start reading and realize your dream job is open. "Oh my gosh, that's the perfect job for me," you say to yourself. The job crush is instant. After a fleeting minute of ectasy, the fear of loss sets in. Your next thought becomes, "I must have that job and I need to apply ASAP."

Applying online without doing your homework first is a big mistake.

Studies show less than 3 percent of the people who apply to jobs online ever get a call for an interview. That's because the automation of job search has made it easy for anyone to apply to any job. The result? Companies now get hundreds, sometimes thousands of applicants for a single job posting. Sifting through all those candidates with speed means elminating people for the littlest things. For example, some ATS (applicant tracking systems) will elminate a candidate if they fail to fill in a single field on the application. They don't mention it's required though. Which means, the hour you spent filling out their form was a waste if you chose to skip providing a response. Given these dismal odds, the solution is to take a step back to study and understand the process you'll need to take to get hired.

It's actually easier than you think...

Today, the hiring process for most companies follows a relatively predicable process that goes like this:

Step 1: Post the job opening.

Step 2: Tell your current staff about the job and ask for referrals.

Step 3: Review applicants and choose 4-8 people to schedule phone screens with. NOTE: giving extra attention to anyone who was referred by an existing employee or recommended by a colleague outside the organization.

Step 4: Choose 3-5 people to come in and interview.

Step 5: Choose the best candidate and give an offer.

If you look closely at that process, I'm hoping you can see why doing research before applying is vital. Did you catch the step that could increase the odds you get called?

Your network is your net worth.

The chances you get a shot at your dream job dramatically improve when you're able to get someone to refer you to the hiring manager. That's why you should spend time researching who works there. Specifically, looking to see if anyone you know on LinkedIn knows someone who works there. You may even want to send an email out to all your closest friends and say, "My dream job is posted at XYZ. Does anybody know someone who works there?" By getting introduced to the hiring manager, HR, or even just an employee, you can help your resume rise to the top of the pile.

Don't know anyone who works there? Try this...

If you don't have a direct or indirect connection to the company, then try to create one. Find several people who work at the company on LinkedIn and send them a connection request. Be sure to personalize it with something that goes like this,

Dear __, we haven't met, but I came across your profile while researching XYZ Corp. Can we connect? I'd like to learn more about your experience as an employee and how you came to work for them. I admire the company and hope to work there someday, but realize I need more information in order to apply properly."

By asking about their experience, you show your respect for their accomplishment and acknowledge that getting hired there is not easy. This is a great first step in building a rapport with someone who works there. The hope is they might find you impressive and be willing to refer you to the hiring manager. Lots of companies offer employees referral bonuses these days for sending good quality candidates to the hiring manager. By going this route, you may be able to not only help yourself get hired, but help a future coworker get compensated for referring you. I tell my clients to try to reach out to at least five employees in hopes one of them responds. While many might choose not to respond, all it takes is one to help you establish a connection.

P.S. - Make sure your LinkedIn profile is in good shape before doing the above.

Before any stranger on LinkedIn agrees to accept your connection request, they're going to review your profile. Make sure yours is fully optimized and sending the right message. A wordy, subjective, self-important LinkedIn profile will work against you. I see way too many job seekers overselling themselves on LinkedIn in cringy-worthy fashion. It makes you look like you're trying too hard and appears desperate. It's best to make it factually accurate and easy to skim to ensure the chances they say "yes" to your request.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.