In the August 20, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to break down the barriers to get into companies that are not advertising jobs:

There are several companies I’d like to work for that don’t have any positions posted, but my skill sets should make me a very viable candidate for them. I don’t have any networking connections to these companies. A few years ago, I submitted resumes and cover letters to these same companies for future consideration, as suggested on their websites, but they never went anywhere.

Do you have any tips for breaking through the barrier to get into these companies?

Nick’s Reply

Yes: To get into these companies, you must identify, make, and cultivate contacts. You’ve already seen that resumes don’t work. No matter how viable your skills may make you, the chance you’ll be considered is small unless you are recommended by someone they trust. There is no easy path.

not-hiringWhen I read your question, here’s what I see. First, you tell me you know where you want to work, and you explain why these companies should hire you. Great! By picking your targets thoughtfully, you’re ahead of the game!

But then you quickly say that you can’t do what’s necessary to achieve it — that is, make connections. You’re saying you’re doomed without even trying!

You’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Thinking you have no networking connections is a common mistake — don’t feel bad. The employment system just programs people to think this way.

But, then you make things even worse. You suggest that employers should figure out for themselves why they need you by reading your cover letters and resume. They won’t. Employers absolutely stink at this.

This is why companies have HR departments that offer excuses galore why, in this talent glut — 26 million Americans looking for full time work — those clowns can’t fill 3.2 million vacant jobs. They have an 8:1 advantage. Eight job seekers available for every job!

What HR says to all these job seekers is, “You’re all under-educated or not educated in the right new skills! You are not the perfect candidate!”

My A!

HR is just lazy. HR wants Instant Workers Who Can Do The Job Now, when what they really need is Smart People Who Can Learn Quickly. People like you.

No offense intended, because I don’t know you. But, virtually everyone I talk with who is in your shoes has the same problem: They learn to be helpless. But don’t feel bad, because helplessness can be unlearned.

So please rewind to your second sentence. You have to make the contacts who will vouch for you and recommend you even if you’re not the perfect candidate — and even if a company isn’t presently hiring.

Check these articles to get an edge

To get new contacts to take you seriously, start with The Interview, Or The Job? Next, Outsmart The Employment System to avoid getting buried by the system. Finally, when you get in front of the right people, Tell ‘Em What They Need to Hear.

Some tips about how to get in the door — even before a job is posted

From How Can I Change Careers?
Learn to initiate insider contacts. (1) Make friends before you need them. Meet people before you need them. Start by talking shop — about the work you both do. (2) Seek advice, not help. No one wants to help you find a job. But if you ask for advice and insight about someone’s employer or work, they’ll talk to you. That leads to introductions to other insiders. (3) Give before getting. Developing insider contacts requires time, effort, follow-up. You may even have to have lunch or a beer with someone. Express your interest in their work first!

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)
(1) Don’t give references–launch them! Traditional references answer questions about you. Preemptive references call the employer first, and recommend you. (2) “I don’t know any insiders!” Bunk. You just don’t know them yet! Identify customers, vendors, consultants, lawyers, bankers, accountants who deal with the company. Call them. (See “Seek advice, not help” above.)

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search
(1) Hang out with people who do the work you want to do. That’s where hot tips about unadvertised jobs come from. (2) Learn how to say it: “I’m trying to meet the best marketers in my field. Is there someone in your company’s marketing department that you think I should talk with?”

This is how to break through the barriers. Keep in mind: If this were easy, everybody would be doing it. That means you have less competition.

How do you get in the door? What can job seekers do to earn your help to get into your company?

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  1. Nick:

    First, thanks for including my essay from a while back! :)

    Second, you wrote this:

    “You have to make the contacts who will vouch for you and recommend you even if you’re not the perfect candidate — and even if a company isn’t presently hiring.”


    Be known to them when they do have an opening. Stay in touch with key people. Put credits in your “networking bank account”.

  2. Also be aware that those networking credits have an expiration date. I had some good contacts at a prospective suitor for some time now, but they over time left or retired and sure, they made a good intro to new contacts who did not know me from Adam the new contacts have little interest did’nt realy take hold. The friend of a friend carrys little weight. How do you work around this?

  3. @Eddie: Sorry, there’s no easy answer to that one. But for the future, check this short tip:

  4. Hey, Nick –

    Eddie’s question is an interesting one.

    In the article you linked to, you say people should keep in touch. In a sitation like his specifically, what would you recommend?

    (FYI – I think I do a good job of keeping in touch – with an email newsletter and a hard-copy letter plus I often send articles of interest to folks and always feel happy to pick up the phone. So I feel like I’m doing a good job of keeping communications open. But – you know what’s odd – is how few people ever reach out back … so it’s easy to feel like maybe one is, I don’t know, trying to keep something alive that maybe realy isn’t? Especially with the retired/moved on to another job. Would love to see your thoughts about the practicalites/reasonable expectations … perhaps in a future ATH!)

  5. P.S. Sorry about the typos … new laptop, bigger buttons keyboard!

  6. Nick, thanks for another excellent column.

    @Dave: that’s a good point. I’ve done my best to stay in touch with people I met through my last job, and have re-connected to a few from previous jobs. Sometimes I’ve done the contacting (amazing how much easier it is to find someone now with the internet) and sometimes former colleagues have contacted me, seeking to reconnect. I’m on LI, but not all of my contacts use social networking, and that’s fine…I have their email addresses and phone numbers. It is hard because people get busy and go on with their own lives. Just like in high school, when folks vowed to stay in touch, and years later many have not. It isn’t necessarily personal, just that life may have gotten in the way. Last month one of my former students reached out to me via LI; I had no problem re-connecting with him. I’ve reached out to former students as well.

    The moral of the post is to build your network (and be willing to be part of someone else’s network) and to stay in touch. Your relationship might not have been that deep, and that’s okay…you don’t have to email or call every week or every month…but periodically stay in touch. Send a friendly email when you DON’T need a reference; it will make asking for one when you do easier. And offer to do the same–be a reference for someone (if you can).
    @Eddie: I agree; years and years ago, pre-internet days, it was much easier to lose track of former colleagues once they’d retired, moved on to other jobs, returned to school, changed careers. And yes, many do have expiration dates: but that is all the more reason to nuture your contacts just like you’d nuture your friendships–stay in touch, email to ask how they’re doing, how their families are (if you got to know them well enough). Help them remember you.

    • It’s the imperative “Stay in touch” that’s my barrier. By the time I’ve stayed in touch with my family, my work, cohorts… I find I don’t want to devote additional time. I agree that Rotary is a great way to cover a lot of bases FAST! and recommend it to everyone. All you have to do is show up at a meeting near you (they’re everywhere) and they’ll buy you a free cup-of-coffee. It’s great fun and great service. Thanks.

  7. @Dave Hunt:

    So glad to know that you’re around and well.

    Your essay has been a keynote for my psychic survival. It’s so hard to explain employee emergence to hiring managers when all they want are superheroes and rock stars to perform the minute that they walk into the door, giving us poor mortals nary a chance to demonstrate the quiet superpowers we have developed that are essential for their business survival.

    When I was a hiring manager, I learned that “rising stars” were the first to disappoint and abandon me at my hour of greatest need, and that the “borderline” employees that I let in the door out of desperation (most readers may not have experienced the “near zero” unemployment brought on by the dot-com boom of the late 1990’s) went on to not only to remain fighting by my side for over a decade, but developed all the capabilities needed to create a world-class operation.

    This was largely because of a short-lived phenomenon I call “employee headroom”, which allowed me to keep workers around long enough to “emerge” into true talent.

    Anyway, thank you so much for the excellent essay that I keep in my “White Papers” file.