About 85 million Americans work as white-collar professionals in the private sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Most of these jobs come with good, even outstanding salaries and generous benefits. Which is why competition for one of these gigs is intense.
Deloitte LLP, a global professional services firm frequently on the Best Companies To Work At lists, is no exception. The company, which employs roughly 50,000 professional services workers, most of them accounting, auditing or tax professionals, says it receives about 500,000 applications a year. And only about 3.5 percent -- 17,000 -- are hired.
So how exactly does one make it into the ranks of that 3.5 percent? Jen Steinmann, picture above, is Deloitte's chief talent officer and oversees hiring. In an interview with AOL Jobs, Steinmann spoke frankly about what it takes to make it through the hiring process onto Deloitte's staff.
And yes, she said connections can help -- a lot.
Q: Are you getting lots of applications from totally unqualified people, or do many of them seem to be in the right ballpark?
A: We get a lot of people who are truly qualified, on paper. At a minimum, a majority of applicants have the right experience. That's why everything [in the application process] matters; someone will form an opinion of the job applicant during every single interaction.
Q: Lots of job hunters are frustrated by the online application process. How large a role do computers play in weeding out resumes?
A: A human being will look at all the resumes that come our way. A computer may help with keyword searches to sort through resumes, but we have people looking at resumes. Deloitte is a company that specializes in professional services, so that's how we operate. We can tell when someone has put in a standard form and are canvassing a lot of companies. Yet if that applicant has the right metrics, all the things we want to see, we'll talk to them. But we will make a note of what we glean.
Q: Is a cover letter necessary? What do you want to see on it?
A: Cover letters should be short and hone in on who you are and who you are addressing. It's better to have a name if you can get it. And try to answer the question: What in your experience makes you qualified for that particular role? It's about storytelling, and the cover letter shines the spotlight while the resume tells the broader story.
A: Generally, a typo is a [deal-breaker.] It's a small thing, but it's evidence of how seriously you are taking this. Everything matters [in the job application process]. Any applicant will have anywhere between three and 10 interviews before they're hired. We pay attention to how you present yourself, from eye contact to your handshake. So another big mistake we see is what people do to follow up after an interview, such as forgetting to write a follow-up thank-you note. It's about how you present yourself.
People should have fun with [the whole application process]. Show enthusiasm. How do you differentiate yourself? The question is, "Why would someone want to engage with me?"
Q: What about references?
A: Once we've determined we'd like to make someone an offer, we'll check references. It's relatively late in the process, and that depends on the company. For people coming out of college, that might mean [calling] young employees who went to school with the applicant. Or we'll ask the greeters from the on-campus recruiting what they thought.
Q: How much do connections help?
A: We take referrals from our people very seriously. For our experienced hires (people who don't come from campus channels), approximately 45 percent come through the referral process. That also means a lot of people do not come from referrals.
Q: Which job openings get the most applications? Which get the least?
A: We don't have the challenge [of a job with too few applicants]. In a world that's getting more and more technology-driven, there are a set of roles that are in higher demand, and therefore there's more competition. For instance, anything related to the field of analytics right now is very hot and emerging, whether it's on the business or technology side.
Q: How do you know when it's too late to apply for a job posted online?
A: It depends on the company pulling things down. But if you're really interested, go for it, because may have an idea for another position you may be interested in. It's always worth it.
Q: Job applicants are often told they are overqualified for the job. This is obviously frustrating. Is there anything you should do in such a situation?
A: From a Deloitte perspective, we hired based on how well an employee's qualifications meet our needs. Employers will typically hire the person with the most recent applicable experience. But if you're qualified and get that feedback at a company, ask the question, "What would make me more qualified or a good fit?" Don't be pushy, but sometimes "overqualified" could be a codeword [for anything the company might not want to say]. Treat even a let-down as part of the process. Never just take "no" as a full "no."
Looking for a job at Deloitte? Click here to get started.
Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now
More From AOL Jobs