Is there a secret to getting in at desirable places like the University of Washington, Amazon and Microsoft? Turns out, there are several.

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Moazzam Ahmed has been looking for a job in technical program management since April. He’s had interviews at Google and Nordstrom, and a phone-screen with Amazon. The only place he can’t crack is Microsoft, a company he’s worked at before.

It’s not for lack of trying. Ahmed, 45, applies for positions on the company’s website, and then contacts the relevant recruiter via LinkedIn Premium, a paid service that lets users message people outside of their network. He then takes the job ID and sends it over to a few friends at Microsoft, and asks for a referral.

“Then you get the e-mail: ‘We got the referral, we’ll look at the résumé,’ ” he says. “A week later, it’s ‘Sorry, doesn’t look like it’s a fit.’”

Ahmed, who lives in Redmond, has seven years of experience in technical program management, and an additional 14 years as a programmer. Currently, he keeps busy working on an app he developed to manage school arrivals and dismissal. There are tons of jobs available in his field, he says, and he’s good about customizing his cover letter and tweaking his résumé for each position. Yet, the job he seeks remains elusive.

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Despite low unemployment rates, Seattle-area job seekers are still having a tough time landing interviews, even at large organizations with lots of openings. Is there a secret to getting in at desirable places like the University of Washington, Amazon and Microsoft?

Ahmed has the right idea.

“The single best way in the door at most large companies is via an employee referral,” says recruiting and résumé expert Kristen Fife, who is based in Seattle.

Another way in is to have a contact who is a recruiter or hiring manager in the general industry, and who has connections at your target company, adds Fife. Use LinkedIn to find a mutual connection with someone you do know, and ask for an introduction.

Most companies have an official process, including Microsoft. Even if you have a great contact at your target company, you’ll almost certainly still need to fill out an application. Due to federal laws around fair hiring practices, almost all large companies require applicants to apply online for positions. “This enables companies to show that they have a consistent hiring process in case they’re audited,” Fife says.

Employers are also required to define what a “qualified” candidate looks like.

“Qualifications are the minimum skills, experience and education that an applicant must have to be considered, and they’re not negotiable,” Fife says. “If you don’t have the skills listed in the job description, you’re not qualified.”

Also, be sure that your application materials are complete. If the opening calls for a cover letter and résumé, send a cover letter and résumé, says Curtis Colvin, director of recruiting for University of Washington Medicine and Harborview Medical Center.

Following the application instructions is crucial, adds Colvin, who currently has about 600 positions to fill. “There’s a reason why we’re requesting what we’re requesting.”

If you don’t tailor your application materials to the organization and position, you’re not likely to get a response. “Hitting ‘submit’ does not warrant a phone call,” Colvin says, adding that he’s alarmed at the number of letters he sees addressed to the wrong company.

Aside from reflecting poorly on the applicant, a mass form letter also does nothing to connect the dots from a résumé to the job opening. “I would love to be able to fill 600 positions tomorrow, but when we’re looking at the volume of applications that we do, the applicant has to help us understand how they are a fit for that position,” he says.

Ahmed’s efforts may be paying off: He’s still looking, but has an upcoming interview that looks promising.