Why you need to do less to get hired

By Neil Patrick

We have a problem. The odd thing is we not only know about it, we’re celebrating it.

Last week a friend called me up and mentioned he was really busy at work. He’s not alone. Just about everyone I know who has a ‘proper’ job says the same thing. They almost seem to wear it as a badge of honour.

Shortly before the call, I had been out walking along the riverbank. I do this daily. It’s time to reflect and marshal my thoughts. It is always a more productive time than if I were to stay at my desk.

But I have to force myself to do this. I love my work and the default is always to think, ‘Another hour at my desk and I can tick off another task on my to do list’.

A great post on this topic by Greg McKeown dropped into my Linkedin stream at about the same time. It was called, “The Number 1 Reason You’re Too Busy”. You can read his post here.

Whilst I agree with Greg’s points, it occurred to me that the condition he describes for people at work, is magnified even more in the lives of those who are seeking work. And it’s doing them a lot of damage.

Here’s the gist:

Digital communications are filling all our lives with noise

When we are job hunting, it’s easy to subscribe to job boards. We can follow recruiters on Twitter. We can spend hours every day just on Linkedin. It makes us feel better for a start. We are really busy hunting! And that makes us console ourselves that we are doing all we humanly can to find the next job.

Job hunters send out their resume to every possible position they think might be suitable

I’ve lost count of how many times job seekers have reported that they have sent out their resume hundreds of times – every week! I’ve not achieved anything like that number in my whole life!

The cult of more is served well by its biggest disciple – digital media. Digital media makes it too easy to think we can leverage our job seeking activity. But all it is really doing is accelerating the competition for jobs, making it ever harder for recruiters and hiring organisations to find the right people in the deluge of poorly targeted internet derived applications.

Many positions now attract around 200 applications

Which means the basic odds of getting hired are 0.5%. Getting hired isn't a lottery. The successful candidates win because they are better prepared and more impressive at every stage of the process. And that’s not down to luck. It’s down to detailed preparation and attention to every last detail of the requirements the hiring company wants to satisfy.

You are never going to achieve this by luck. You may achieve it by investing many hours in researching the organisation, polishing your resume so that it precisely matches every requirement and practicing and preparing for the interview over and over again.

No-one can do that for hundreds or even dozens of jobs. But you can do it for a carefully selected handful.

The myth of being busy

If you still think that it’s better to be busy., Greg makes an interesting point. He describes our obsession with busy as nothing less than a bubble:

Why are we so irrational in our behavior? We’re in the midst of a bubble; one so vast that to be alive today in the developed world is to be affected, or infected, by it. It’s the bubble of bubbles: it not only mirrors the previous bubbles (whether of the Tulip, Silicon Valley or Real Estate variety), it undergirds them all. I call it “The More Bubble.”

The nature of bubbles is that some asset is absurdly overvalued until — eventually — the bubble bursts, and we’re left scratching our heads wondering why we were so irrationally exuberant in the first place. The asset we’re overvaluing now is the notion of doing it all, having it all, achieving it all; what Jim Collins calls “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

This bubble is being enabled by an unholy alliance between three powerful trends: smart phones, social media, and extreme consumerism. The result is not just information overload, but opinion overload. We are more aware than at any time in history of what everyone else is doing and, therefore, what we “should” be doing. In the process, we have been sold a bill of goods: that success means being supermen and superwomen who can get it all done. Of course, we back-door-brag about being busy: it’s code for being successful and important.

And that’s the key. We kid ourselves that being busy equates to the greatest possible effort we can invest and therefore our chances of success in our endeavours are as great as we can make them.

Big mistake.

I’m not saying that if we put our feet up, success will automatically flow to us via some mystical karmic force as yet unrecognized by science.

What I’m saying is that focus and the prioritization of the important things over the urgent things is what makes for success in any endeavor.

But it’s not just a question of prioritization. We all need to be ruthless in eliminating the things we spend time on which are sucking the time away from the important value adding things.

Fortunately this isn’t as difficult to practice as it might seem.

Here are the things job seekers can do right now to avoid being sucked into the black hole of busyness:

1. Get the foundations of your search correct

This means having absolute clarity about the type of role you are seeking. It goes hand in hand with a ruthless evaluation of what your personal competencies and aspirations are. Eliminate everything from your search which isn’t a great fit. Do not be tempted into thinking any job is better than no job.

I know that’s hard to say when the bills are piling up, but the hard truth is that unless there is a perfect match between you and the role, you are wasting your time going after it. And in the unlikely event you do get hired, sooner or later you or your employer are going to regret the decision and seek to dissolve the ‘marriage’.

2. Rest well to excel

K. Anders Ericsson found in “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” that a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers was the number of hours they spent practicing.

What few people realize is that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. Top performing violinists slept more than less accomplished violinists: averaging 8.6 hours of sleep every 24 hours.

3. Don’t add more – discipline yourself to swap

For every new activity you add to your rota, take out one which is a time-sucking waste of your time. Individually they might seem small…but cumulatively, they can devour hours of your time every day.

Unsubscribe from email lists which are filling your mailbox with jobs you are not interested in or suitable for.

Take down your resume from job boards which only get you calls from the wrong people.

Leave the Linkedin groups which are not providing you with real value and suitable new connections.

4. Invest more in your most important relationships

Don’t accept every social media invitation that comes your way. It’s counter-intuitive to say no to good opportunities, but if we don’t do it then we won’t have the space to figure out what we really want to invest our time in.

Invest more in the relationships which are potentially most valuable to you. Just as you only need one job, you only need one conversation to change your future. But when that conversation arises, you need to be delivering your A game, not squeezing it in between a dozen other tasks you have scheduled at the same time.

Less will become the new more

I cannot put things any better than Greg has done in his post, so I’ll leave you with his conclusions:

A hundred years from now, when people look back at this period, they will marvel at the stupidity of it all: the stress, the motion sickness, and the self-neglect we put ourselves through.

So we have two choices. We can be among the last people caught up in the “more bubble” when it bursts, or we can see the madness for what it is and join the growing community of Essentialists and get more of what matters in our one precious life.

Greg McKeown is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His "why" is inspiring people to design their lives and careers in order discover their highest point of contribution.


  1. Neil,

    I think I’m ahead of the curve on this one, though at times I still feel like I should be doing more.

    Now that my children are grown and out of the house, my life is rather relaxed. I put effort every day into prioritization and getting enough sleep.

    When people brag that they work 60 or even 80 hours a week, I wonder exactly what they’re counting. I suspect that they add in all the time they are at their computer, whether scrolling through Facebook or browsing through LinkedIn groups they don’t actually contribute to.


  2. I think you are ahead of the curve too Diana!

    I recall my corporate days when I estimate that at least 60% of my time each day was spent on activities such as reading and replying to emails, sitting in endless meetings and the production of stakeholder reports...

    Important for sure...but time efficient...not so sure! ;-)

  3. Just started to read that book by Greg McKeown and it's really well timed. I liked the Peter Drucker quote he includes early on;
    “In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

    1. Great excerpt Terry! I think it also ties in completely with Rifkin and the characteristics of the 3rd industrial revolution. ie. top down command and control models we've all be groomed to operate within evolving to more democratic structures.