Indeed, Idealist, CareerBuilder. And how you’re probably using them all wrong.

Many PhDs interested in careers outside academia begin their alt-ac searches by heading straight to the big job-search sites. This is understandable, since these databases advertise themselves as one-stop shopping centers for 21st-century jobseekers. While these sites list thousands of great jobs, the sheer number of opportunities can be overwhelming for first-time jobseekers. Worse, many of those who do find gems rush to submit their resumes, not wanting to miss any promising opportunities. Ironically, this is the least productive course of action a jobseeker can take. Employers typically receive hundreds of applications for each job they advertise online, which means that applying to jobs listed on the big sites can be one of the lowest-yield ways to find work—unless you know what you’re doing. Here’s how to get the most out of the big job-search sites:

Step 1: Do a lot of research on your top picks. As you scroll through jobs, make a list of the organizations you’re most interested in—whether or not they’ve advertised positions that seem right for you. Then check out their websites. Learn about each organization’s mission, history, size, scale, market share, projected growth, and financials (if available) to determine if it’s potentially a good fit for you. Also, check out job openings on the corporate websites, since companies sometimes provide additional application information on their own sites that they don’t post on third-party websites. And don’t worry about missing opportunities, since even the fastest job searches take several weeks to complete.

Step 2: Ping your connections. Reach out to people you already know who’re connected to the organizations that interest you. Explain why you’re interested, and ask them about their experiences working with those organizations. This can be done by email or over a cup of coffee. Find connections through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, college and grad school alumni networks, and even the companies’ own websites. Look for current or former employees, contractors, partners, board members, consultants, and other stakeholders that you may know. You might be surprised at how many connections you already have to organizations you’ve never even heard of, especially if you’re keeping your job search local. Don’t skip this step. Talking with your connections about jobs you find online is what makes using the big career sites worthwhile.

Step 3: Make new connections. If you don’t have pre-existing connections to the organizations you’re interested in, make some. Reach out to current employees to explain your interest in their fields or companies and to set up informational interviews. Unless your new contacts mention specific job openings, hold off on talking about particulars until later. Instead, bring up any job openings in the thank-you or follow-up email that you send a day or two after each informational interview.

Step 4: Apply. But only after you’ve done your homework and worked your network. Show off this extra work in your cover letter by explaining how you’re a perfect mission or culture fit and how your skills and experience can help the company grow or maximize its impact. Be sure to namedrop your connections to the organization, too, which will help your application rise to the top of the pile. And finally, tell your connections before and after you submit. They might give you insider tips to make your application stand out, and they may even volunteer to flag, fast-track, or submit your application for you.