Most people, either by writing their resume themselves or by hiring a pro, can look good on paper.  That’s great for the job seeker, but it makes things a lot tougher on the recruiter.  Now, instead of tossing these peoples’ resumes straight into the trash, you’ve pretty much got to give each one a quick phone call, if only to avoid a potential discrimination lawsuit.

Don’t get me wrong:  almost all defense contracts require the company to maintain a certain level of staffing on their projects, or else they face penalties and chargebacks from the government.  Meaning, there’s a lot of pressure on recruiters to HIRE YOU.  With that said, here’s a couple of questions that I use when faced with a stack of resumes from eligible candidates.  These ones usually help me filter out the serious applicants from the wannabes, without wasting too much of my time.

1)       How did you hear about this position?

This is usually the first question out of my mouth.  If your answer is “The internet” or “”, you’re wrong.  Sure, our recruiters post all the job openings there.  I know how that process works, and I don’t need an applicant to tell me about it.  I’m looking for a personal reference.  I give priority to referrals from an active employee, who probably wouldn’t recommend you for the position unless they wanted to work with you.  Anyone who can maintain a solid network of professional contacts is most likely a team player who’ll work well in challenging environments.

But what if you don’t already have a personal referral?  If you have time, get one.  Reach out to someone at a particular company, and offer to buy them lunch if they give you the inside scoop.  Or if that doesn’t work, as a last resort you can always refer yourself.  Say something like, “I’ve been reading about your company’s work in {whatever third world country} and was fascinated.  The position seemed like a really good fit for my interests and skillset.”

Which brings us to the second question…

2)      What do you know about our company?  -or- What do you know about this project?

This is the biggest problem with the “shotgun” approach the distributing your resume.  Right now, there’s so many qualified candidates applying for contract positions, your resume has a hard enough time being seen without you blowing your own chances by overreaching.  Stow the shotgun, and try the “sniper” approach.  Start by applying for no more than ten positions you would accept, and no more than one job at each company.  Keep a spreadsheet on your computer with an entry for each company, the date you applied, and note each contact that you receive.

While you’re sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, spend a couple of minutes doing research.  Every big company has a website, but I have yet to hear an applicant mention to me that they’ve taken the time to look at ours. That’s the first place you should go, if only to sneak a peek at the company’s culture and steal a few buzzwords you can slip into your interview.  Also, take some time to learn about the contract itself, whether it’s CIVPOL, WPPS, or CNTPO.  The Federal Business Opportunities website has detailed listings of all USG contracts, including listings of locations, timeframes, and major duties.  If you can articulate how your skills will fit into these contracts, you’ll find your resume moving from the “has pulse” pile to the “serious contender” stack.