Most of us assume – foolishly – that we should magically understand and excel at the convoluted process of acquiring a job. That logic, as all too many of us find out firsthand and quickly, is flawed.

How can we perform well at something that we weren’t taught and rarely get to practice? Why would we excel at a skill set (writing a great cover letter and resume, killing it at one or more interviews), whose evaluation is simply “yes” or “no”, with no built-in mechanism for feedback to make us better?

Think about it: You got the job so you think, logically, that you did well at the process. You didn’t get the job, which means you didn’t do something or many things in the process right. But which one or ones? The interview, the follow-up, the eye contact, the way you walked, what you wore? The list goes on and on, and no one’s going to tell you because no one can really know for sure.

A subjective, lottery-like process

At its best, a small portion of the hiring process is subjective. At its worse – when the company follows no formal process, doesn’t ask the same questions of all candidates, doesn’t use a rubric to evaluate job seekers and leaves it up to feel – the process is basically a lottery.

These flaws riddle a process that’s critical to every person’s career and life.

Most people flounder their way through it, making costly mistakes and miscalculations without even knowing it.

I have coached thousands of people on getting a job – from thinking about their candidacy, and how to write a killer cover letter and resume to how to take control of the interviewing process in powerful ways that position you as a viable, if not THE candidate.

Technology hasn’t helped

This process has changed greatly in the last few years. Job seekers send their resumes to any and every job they find online, creating hiring fatigue among employers before the first candidate is interviewed. To overcome this deluge, many companies rely on technology to take the first cut at the dizzying number of resumes they collect. In a good many cases, the things they are screening for aren’t what they really want, if they even know, in the person they hire. Screening calls, and phone and Skype interviews, further complicate the technical process of getting a job.

Equally befuddling to many applicants is how employers have shifted their hiring focus. Smart employers are looking at the soft skills, those interpersonal skills we use to accomplish work with other people, as much, if not more, than people’s technical expertise. They want a strong combination, and applicants have to articulate these soft skills at every phase of the process to win the position.

An employer-applicant disconnect

Yet employers rarely ask questions geared toward teasing out these critical skills, and when they do, applicants aren’t well versed in how to answer.

The result is the equivalent of two ships passing in the night. Employers think they know what they want, but don’t really know how to ask what they need to so they can get it.

Applicants don’t know what the employer really wants, because it isn’t clearly articulated in the job announcement or in the other steps of the hiring process. And applicants are reluctant to break free of the old-school approaches to resumes, cover letter and interviewing that their parents and others advise them to cling to.

Connecting your past to employer’s future

Learning or remembering these critical skills when you are in the midst of a high-stakes competition for that job of your dreams is nearly impossible, as is self-reflection at how you did at each step. You have too much weighing on you to be analytical at the time it could help you most.

One of the hardest things for people to figure out when applying for job is how to effectively connect their past experience to an employer’s current or future needs. People often discount or undervalue their past experience. But when properly told, these stories from our past can explain not just your soft skills portfolio, but how you look at the world.

For instance, when applying for several teaching positions, I spoke about what I learned when I was a camp counselor in my teens and early 20s. Not only did I share an ongoing passion for teaching, but I also conveyed how I view the educational process and where I fostered my commitment to people’s ongoing growth and development. Great anecdotes can shoot you candidacy to the top of the list.

Before you find yourself in a job hunt, start developing your ability to share short, crisp, insightful anecdotes about your prior experiences. Mastering this skill will pay off handsomely when you are seeking a job and it might put you ahead of the other applicants who didn’t practice this art.

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