“I applied to SO MANY jobs online today! I am SO productive!”

Have you ever heard yourself say or think something similar? Congratulations, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this is a HUGE trap for those in transition.

One of the top mistakes I see job seekers make is convincing themselves that time behind the screen is time well spent. Millennials do it. Mid-career professionals do it. In fact, everyone from the entry level to CEO is guilty of this at some point.

And why not – it’s a safe place to be, at home with coffee in hand, clicking the “Apply” button in your pajamas. Meeting people in person requires effort and more time. “I can apply to 20 new jobs in the time it takes to have lunch with someone.” you tell yourself confidently.

But beneath the surface lies the real problem: Your first impression is average – and that puts you at a distinct disadvantage within the job market. Anyone can apply online for a job. Companies are not looking to hire just anyone – they’re looking to hire the best and brightest candidate that distinguishes themselves by a fantastic first impression.

Regardless of whether they’re employed or not, the best candidate gets up motivated to attack their goals each day. He/she doesn’t mind mingling with colleagues and networks alike – in person – discussing themselves, their work history, and how they can make their company thrive.

If it’s been a long time since you “hit the pavement and pressed the flesh” (met people and shook hands) and the thought of such intimidates you, this is a fear you must work to overcome. You can’t beat the competition in interviews, if the interview doesn’t come first. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable making great first impressions – and once you are, you are halfway to finding your next job.

I recently spoke with a C-Suite job seeker that had been unemployed for almost a year. When I asked him how he spent his days, he stated plainly that he mostly applies for jobs online. He thought his resume would speak for itself. He was wrong. Here’s why:

1) C-Suite jobs or Executive level jobs are usually not found online. They’re sourced privately first, because it’s likely someone already wants the role.

2) By the time they’re posted online, you’re both late to the game and not distinguishing yourself from the others that simply (you guessed it) applied online.

You have to show you’re the best candidate by first networking well. Here’s a few tips on how:

● Write down your first-degree connections (who you can easily meet in person) and plan immediate action.

● Call first, then use text or email appropriately (while also calling again if need be) to schedule a face-to-face meeting. Communicate as the best candidate would.

● Prepare for the meeting. “How would the best candidate prepare for this?” Do that. Use LinkedIn, social media, company websites, and news to know your contact and prospect company thoroughly.

● During the meeting, focus on the contact, not yourself. The best candidate will create positive energy by making a personal connection via friendly conversation. People love to talk about themselves and if you let them, they’ll like you. If they like you, they’ll help you. Ask them about their role, their department, their challenges. Think about how you can help. You’ll inevitably be able to relate via your success stories, which naturally point to your skillset. And when you don’t ask for help right away, your prospect begins to want to help you (without you forcing it awkwardly).

● When they inevitably ask, “What can I do to help?” The best candidates answer, “Well for starters, thank you for this meeting and for asking. I really enjoyed this conversation. I did see that you’re connected to Bob Smith at ABC Company. Would you mind if I reached out for an introduction and mentioned your name?” See what you did there? You asked for their blessing – not more work from them. You made it easy for them to help. Nine out of ten times they’ll be happy to.

● Waste no time in your follow up. The best candidates reach out to that person immediately and reference their referring friend. Heck, have that next step already prepared. Don’t just send a LinkedIn message or an email. Call them, as best candidates do. It may take a few tries (which demonstrates your amazing talent for professional follow up), but eventually, you’ll get on their calendar.

● Do this over and over and over again. Create awesome first impressions. Be the best candidate.

I promise you: Do this and your job search will change in a matter of weeks. Confidence will grow and your network will continue to expand. And as the best candidate, more opportunities will come your way.