Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I have sent resumes to various companies that advertised job openings either in a publication or online. I felt I was qualified for the positions, but didn't receive even a courtesy interview. Is it common practice for prospective employers to post openings they plan to fill internally, but advertise anyway because some labor law forces them to do so? Someone I know who works in human resources said companies routinely advertise jobs they plan to fill with people already on staff. They do it to have a fallback option in case the chosen employee doesn't want the job. It seems almost unfair or illegal to present a job opportunity where no fair competition exists. -- Phantom Jobs
DEAR PHANTOM: To answer your question I turned to Kate Wendleton, president of The Five O'Clock Club, a Manhattan-based career-management and outplacement firm.
Relying on ads is probably one of the least-effective ways to find a job, for the reason you cited. Most jobs are created with a person in mind, Wendleton said. But to make the selection process seem fair or as a matter of company policy, employers might post an opening and even interview a few outsiders, while they have someone already in mind for the job.
"This is not illegal," said Wendleton, the author of numerous career books, including one she co-wrote, entitled "WorkSmarts: Be a Winner on the Job" (Five O'Clock Books, 2012).
Relying on ads is also an ineffective strategy because just three percent of all jobs are filled through ads, Wendleton said, and in this challenging job market, a lot of people are vying for those few jobs.
"Don't be surprised if you answer 30, 50, 100 or more ads and get no meetings," she said. "Many job hunters sit at their computers for hours on end, hitting that 'send' button and wondering why no one is responding to them. Everyone else is doing the same thing."
Given the formidable inside track, you need to think like an insider, Wendleton says.
"You do that by targeting the organizations you're interested in and by contacting the person in charge of your area -- whether or not they have an opening," she said.
The best way to make that entree is with a cover letter that makes you stand out.
"It's a rare job hunter who even includes a cover letter in response to an Internet ad," Wendleton said. "Yet the cover letter is the piece that can most significantly increase the chances you'll be called in."
Here's the Five O'Clock Club's formula for a successful cover letter:
Paragraph one: Mention the position for which you are applying, as well as where you saw the ad and the date it appeared, Wendleton says.
Paragraph two: Provide a summary of your qualifications, such as, "I have 10 years of international marketing experience in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries," she says.
Paragraph three: Use the group's two-column approach when mailing or emailing in your response. The first column is labeled, "You are looking for ..." or "Your requirements ... ," under which you list everything they've mentioned in the ad. In column two, you show how you satisfy those requirements. "I have this to offer" or "My experience ..." You match up what you have to offer to what they're looking for.
Paragraph four: List any other information about yourself you think might interest the company.
One other point to bear in mind: Hold off on salary.
"Many ads include the words, 'Please tell us your salary requirements,' " Wendleton said. "Yet savvy job hunters decline to mention salary because it increases the chances they'll be excluded."
For more job-hunting tips, go to www.fiveoclockclub.com and search for "How to Get a Job," or go to http://bit.ly/Y0nCqm for tips from the New York State Labor Department.