How many times have you heard someone (or yourself) say, “I don’t understand it. I must have sent out 100 resumes in the last few weeks, and no one has responded.”

The problem in that sentence is the “100.” Sending out tens or hundreds of resumes or applications means you sent out the same boilerplate information to all those people, maybe fancying it up with a mail merge so the cover letter reads “Dear Mr. Thomas” rather than “To Whom It May Concern.”

That’s a recipe for failure – mainly because a boilerplate resume and cover letter aren’t going to convince your audience to hire you. But also because it gives you a false sense of accomplishment – “I did all this work sending all that stuff out!” – and it takes away time from productive job searching.So what is a productive job search? The first principle is laser focus. Once you find those 10 or 20 or 50 job possibilities that you might have sent out generic information to, STOP. Take a breath. Don’t fire up the word processor.

Your task at this point is to research those jobs. Starting with the job listing (or whatever information you have at first), really evaluate each and compare it to your skills and experience. Can you imagine stepping into that job, and impressing the hell out of your boss? Don’t worry about whether you can tick off every qualification box they’ve mentioned. Look beyond that and think hard: Can I bring something to this job that no one else can?

If the answer is no, it’s probably better to move on to the next without spending more time on it. If you’re not sure that you’ll fit in – and not only fit in, but excel – how are you going to convince the employer of that?

If you’re not sure (and job listings can be frustratingly vague), it’s time for some research. We’ll get into that in more detail in the future, but for now, just try to figure out how you can really get a sense of what they are looking for. Research the company online. If you can, try to speak to the hiring manager for the job.

It’s only once you’re convinced that you can kick ass in a job that you should take the effort to apply. And what exactly is that effort? We’ll get into that in another post.

In the meantime, just realize that mass-applying for jobs is a bad idea. It wastes your time, it wastes the employers’ time, and it doesn’t bring you any closer to getting hired.