What's the best way for job seekers to land a new job in this dismal market? Target specific employers and network your way into them, career experts say. It's sound job search advice. Unfortunately, most job seekers go about this the wrong way (or they don't do it at all), says Vicki Brackett, a career coach and president and CEO of Make It Happen Consulting.
Job seekers make many mistakes in their job searches, including over-relying on networking with people who can't offer much help in this job market, such as recruiters and HR managers, says Brackett. But their biggest misstep is conducting their job search backwards, she says. In other words, they start by updating their résumé, which they then send out to their network, hoping those people will pass it on.
Such a scattershot approach to networking and to the job search doesn't work when thousands of unemployed professionals are using the same approach and job opportunities are so limited, says Brackett.
Instead, she advises job seekers to think of themselves as a product and market themselves like an agency.
"If we were going to sell an energy drink, we wouldn't create the energy drink and then go to stores hoping they'll buy it," she says, adding that's the cart-before-the-horse approach job seekers take with their résumés. "We'd first do research. We'd find out who would drink the energy drink, what they're looking for in an energy drink, how it would help them, how we'd get it to market, and what the packaging looks like. Once we understand that, we perfect the beverage and go to market."
So in a job search, adds Brackett, job seekers should first identify the industries and the companies where they'd fit. If they identify any movement in a company—whether it's the stock price going up or down, talk of merger or acquisition activity, an executive resignation or a new executive hire—that signals a potential opportunity, she says.
The job seeker's next step: learn everything you can about the industry and your target employer(s). You need to know the industry's and the company's pain points and business goals so that you can communicate exactly how you're going to solve the company's problem. Employers want to hear your strategies for making the company money, saving money and minimizing risk, says Brackett.
Read on for the most important part of the story, about learning to speak the prospective employer's language and NOT targeting the hiring manager. "Executives need to speak a new language in their résumés, cover letters, marketing letters and bios," she says. "They have to speak to how they're going to move a company in a recession, how they've cut costs and increased market share. Employers want to know specifically what you're going to do for them. Your successes from 10 years ago when everyone was making money is not what the company is going to need."
Once a job seeker has developed a list of target companies and customized his marketing materials for each one, he can start sending out his résumé, but he still shouldn't send it to just anyone, warns Brackett.
Many career coaches recommend that a job seeker sends his résumé directly to the hiring manager. Many job seekers try to find anyone in their networks or in their friends' networks at the target company to whom they can send their résumé. Brackett suggests a different approach.
She tells job seekers to send their marketing materials not to the hiring manager but to the individual who is one level above the hiring manager. For example, if the hiring manager is the CIO, the person one level above may be the CFO or the CEO. Brackett also advises job seekers to send their résumés and cover letters to people who are peers of the hiring manager or one level above the hiring manager in other departments. If some or all of them then show the job seeker's résumé to the hiring manager, the job seeker has a much better chance of getting in, she says.
Brackett doesn't mean to say that job seekers should stop contacting recruiters, HR managers, hiring managers and network contacts altogether. She just thinks a more concerted, organized approach is more effective in this economy. She also wants job seekers to ask themselves whether traditional job search strategies are working.
"If not," she says, "do something else."
Follow Meridith Levinson on Twitter at meridith.