I've been part of many conversations about who gets the job and why. Having just hired 8 adjunct faculty for our July start, I have some perspective on this subject.
A caveat: my school doesn't use the kind of computer software that screens applications based on key words. I get every application--and for this hiring season, I've actually looked at all of them.
But for two positions, I didn't really need applications, although I had them. I wrote to people who had been in touch with me. One had applied for a job I thought I would have last year, but then didn't. She stayed in touch, writing to me every other month or so, just to see if I thought I might have other openings. She wasn't annoying--she wrote just frequently enough to keep her name fresh in my mind, but not so often that I worried about her mental health.
Similarly, another candidate has been keeping in touch with me, and so when I needed a faculty member at the very last minute, I had his materials on file.
It's also a matter of luck and timing, of course. I had specific classes that were already full of students--and happily, the people who had been staying in touch had those same openings in their schedules. In the words of Jane Kenyon, it could have been otherwise.
As we were finishing the hiring process, one of the candidates thanked me for advice I had given him when he first moved down. He had written to me, by e-mail, and I wrote back to say that while I didn't have any positions, that he should consider other schools, and then I suggested some possibilities.
He said, "You told me to cast my net wide. I just loved how you said that."
I have no memory of that interchange, although I don't doubt that it happened. It's what I would want someone to do for me, and so if I get an e-mail written to me directly, I will respond. And if I get follow-up e-mails through the years, I will keep them in a file marked "Potential New Hires."
And perhaps, years later, an adjunct job will come from that interchange.