Searching the Hidden Job Market for Opportunities

If you want to gain access to job opportunities that aren't publicly advertised, you need to develop contacts at your target companies.

Whether you are entering the job market by choice or whether you have been forced to look for work, be prepared for an intense, volatile journey this year. If you think that a few confidential calls to eager headhunters and several smartly placed online résumés will overbook your calendar with job interviews, you're going to be disappointed. Employers are extremely cautious and selective, and recruiting proceeds at an unusually slow pace.

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Job hunting has literally become a contact sport. That is, you need contacts—lots of them—to expedite the process of landing your next job. In particular, you need connections inside the companies you're targeting. Why? Because employee referrals are becoming a proportionately bigger source of new hires, according to recruiting consultancy CareerXroads. Employers are keen on employee referrals because they generally come from trusted internal sources and because they serve to pre-vet candidates. Consequently, between 70 percent and 80 percent of new hires join their new employers through a personal connection or a networking referral.

Given the number of new hires who are recommended by internal employees, job seekers should look to cultivate relationships with employees at the companies they're targeting in their searches. Such internal connections can help job seekers discover open positions before they're advertised (the so-called hidden job market). They also serve as prospective employees' internal "moles," monitoring the recruiting process and keeping job seekers apprised of the status of their candidacy. Having an internal connection offers a distinct advantage to job seekers competing in a world of mass résumé submissions for each available opening.

So how do you find these connections? Start with your own network. Does anyone in your network work for your target company? Did anyone used to work for that company? If your network doesn't turn up a connection, ask your friends if they know anyone who's worked for the company you're interested in. Sites like LinkedIn can also help you find connections to target employers.

When you've found someone who works at your target company, emphasize your desire to exchange information rather than explicitly ask about job opportunities when you first approach your new connection. When the time is right, explain to him why you're interested in the company and the value you could bring as an employee. If your contact doesn't know of any openings in his department, ask him for referrals to other decision makers inside the company, perhaps at other business units. The more leads you generate, the more likely one of them will turn into a job offer. And always offer something in return. Generosity pays.

Your objective is to connect directly with hiring decision makers at your target companies through personal referrals and to secure multiple leads to unadvertised opportunities. When internal connections lead you to meetings with hiring managers where you can demonstrate your expertise and enthusiasm, you'll be several steps ahead of the competition and well on your way to a smoother, swifter landing into your next role.

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz, a nationally recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic and customized senior-level executive job search campaigns. For more information, contact Debra atwww.JobWhiz.com.

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