Are you scanning job listings and scouring job boards? Don’t bother.
Given the hundreds and even thousands of resumes that inundate employers every time they post a job, chances are slim that trying to get a job that way will lead to success.
Instead, take steps to find a job “through the back door,” as many job-hunting experts put it. That entails time-consuming homework, but it’s likelier to lead to a paying job.
“Don’t look for a job opening. The sea of competition is enormous,” said Nick Corcodilos, host of AskTheHeadhunter.com and author of “Fearless Job Hunting.”
Employers face “a deluge” of resumes when they post jobs, said David Perry, managing partner of executive search firm Perry-Martel International in Ottawa, Canada (he works mainly with U.S. clients), and co-author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters.”
Where does that leave you? “If you’re unemployed, stop applying for jobs,” he said. “Start applying to companies. You want to be in a job pool of one, rather than 1,000 or 10,000. The way you do that is by targeting the companies.”
Don’t throw out those job ads
Still, before you log off your favorite online job board, consider this: Some 20% of your job hunt should entail studying job listings, said Lou Adler, chief executive of The Adler Group, a talent acquisition firm, and author of “The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.”
But not for the reason you might think. Rather than using those job listings to apply, look at them as a source of leads—a list of jobs for which you want to find a referral.
Think of it as, “‘How can I get referred to that job?’ rather than applying directly,” Adler said. “You’re using the back door to get in as opposed to the front door, where they’re not going to let you in.”
Adler said another 60% of your job-search strategy should be networking to find jobs in the hidden market, and the remaining 20% of your strategy is to make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are “easy to find and worth reading.”
Job hunting Step 1: Target companies
To dive into the hidden job market, your first step is to pick the companies for whom you want to work. Perry said job seekers should pick 10 companies; Corcodilos suggested “no more than four or five.”
“Ask yourself what product or service would you love to work on, what company would you like to work for. Target those companies,” Corcodilos said.
Job hunting Step 2: Talk to people
Next, seek out people—current and former workers, consultants, vendors—to find out more about each of your target companies. “Start talking to the peripheral people,” Corcodilos said. “You’ll get introduced to the managers eventually.”
This takes time, and it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, he said. “Go to the bar where they all hang out after work. Get to know people. People love to talk about their work.”
Don’t ask people about job openings at their company, and don’t immediately ask to be referred. Instead, talk with people about their work, what they do and well as challenges facing the industry.
“You’ve got to do a lot of homework up front. You need to be able to show that you understand what you’re talking about and that you’re asking substantive questions, not just ‘tell me about your industry,’” Corcodilos said. “Once you have a conversation like that, you get tagged as someone who’s interested in the work, interested in the business.”
Some possible questions ask:
- If I was thinking of working in a company like yours, what kind of advice would you give me?
- What are you reading these days that influences your work?
- What are the three biggest issues the industry is facing right now?
Face-to-face meetings are best, if possible, Corcodilos said.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t do it online,” he said. “In a professional forum, share some information, post links to useful articles, build a little bit of a relationship, and that can take you to the next step which is asking for advice.”
For his part, Perry said job seekers should first contact people who have recently quit a company, because ex-employees may be likelier to speak freely in response to questions about a particular company. Ask ex-employees about the potential boss, the department and the company, he said.
Both Perry and Corcodilos recommend picking up the phone and calling people directly. Give your name and phone number, Perry said, then say something to the effect of: “I’m doing some research on XYZ Company and I noticed you used to be the manager of housewares. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of quick questions?”
Most people won’t mind, he said. “If they ask you why, you say, ‘Well, I’m considering looking at the company to work with them and I thought that rather than beat my head against the wall only to find out that I don’t want to work there, I’d talk to someone like you about the pluses and minuses. Does that make sense?’ And people go, ‘Yeah, that’s smart.’”
Job hunting Step 3: Write resume, cover letter
Once you’ve gleaned information about a company, it becomes easier to target your resume appropriately, Perry said.
“You’ve only got to do a one-pager: three or five accomplishments that have something to do with the problems that employer that you’re targeting has,” Perry said. “Focus on your accomplishments.”
Meanwhile, your cover letter focuses on the company’s needs and how you will solve them, he said. Then simply ask, “Can we have a coffee to discuss this?”
“You’re not asking for an interview,” Perry said. “You’re asking for a coffee. You’re there to discuss a business issue. Anyone over 40, 45, understands what it’s like to have a business conversation, to share some ideas of what’s worked for you.”
Quantifying your accomplishments is essential. While it’s not easy, it is doable for all types of jobs, Perry said.
Take, for example, a bank teller who, at her last job, automated a task that saved the bank branch two hours a day. Say the worker doing that task is paid about $20 an hour (including benefits). That’s $40 in daily savings. Say the bank is open about 250 days a year—that’s $10,000 a year she saved the bank. Then multiply those savings across the number of bank branches.
“There are only three things that matter to a CEO or hiring manager or senior executive: Can you make me money? Can you save me money? Can you increase my efficiency?” Perry said. “If you start to think in those terms and communicate your value in those terms, it makes it much easier for executives to say, ‘I want that person.’”
Job hunting:Smart step for older workers
Worried about gray hair? Don’t be. “A lot of older workers [will] hide their dates on their resume, color their hair,” Corcodilos said. “That’s not very smart.”
Older workers actually have an advantage. “They understand the context a little better. They have more to say, more insight. If they relax and stop being nervous about the gray hair, they can stimulate an interesting conversation,” he said.
“Be able to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate hands-down how you’re going to contribute profit to the bottom line,” Corcodilos said. “That’s what they really want…It requires a lot of work, but it’s a lot more fun than trolling the job boards and sending out resumes and waiting.”
Figuring out what solutions you can offer to a company’s problems takes time and energy. That’s why it’s crucial to target the right companies.
Said Corcodilos: “You need to be able to walk in and say, ‘Hey, let me show you how I’m going to make your business more successful.’”