In the October 1, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a stay-at-home mom is ready to re-start her career:

I know someone who plans to return to work in the fall. She has been a stay-at-home mom for several years. She is a college graduate with about two years of work experience. How do you recommend she begin her job search? She has a degree in history with a Spanish minor but is not interested in teaching.

Nick’s Reply

Your friend could just start looking for open jobs and then apply to hundreds if not thousands of them, like most people do.

Or, she could decide what work she really wants to do, then go after it with motivation and gusto. She could get a job through inside contacts, because that’s how most jobs are filled.

The following tips are summarized from my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, and in particular from the section titled, “The Library Vacation.” (The book is not just for job changers, but for anyone who wants to show an employer why you’re the profitable hire.)

wired insider for the jobFirst, she should avoid looking for a job. That’s right: Forget about jobs. Jobs come from identifying good companies, products and people. She should make choices about these before examining any jobs, and she should start by going to the local library’s magazines and periodicals section. She should scan business and specialty publications to find products, services and companies that motivate her. This can take a bit of time, but so does meeting your future spouse. Do it carefully and thoughtfully.

Second, she should pick a small handful of companies — no more than four or five that produce products or services she’s interested in — and research them, drilling down into each industry, company, product, technology and job function. These will be her target companies. Her objective is to learn enough to be able to talk about these intelligently.

So far, she’s looked at no job postings and has sent out no resumes. We’re skipping those steps altogether because they’re a waste of time.

Third, she should start scouring the Internet for the names of people connected to these companies. Databases like LinkedIn and publications online, from the Wall Street Journal to the local newspaper, make this pretty easy. Reading about these people and about what they have to say about their work, their companies and their industries is important.

Finally, she needs to start contacting them. No, I don’t mean inviting them to connect on LinkedIn; that’s a fool’s errand and another waste of time. She can actually meet the right people pretty easily if she invests the time. They’re people that can lead her to her future boss.

When talking to these new contacts, never ask for a job lead. (People hate that.) Instead, talk shop, because people love to talk about their work. Ask for advice and insight about their industry. Ask a smart question about the topic they discussed in an article or on a forum. Ask them what they are reading lately that influences their work. Ask them what they like about their industry and employer. Ask what advice they’d give you, if you wanted to work at their company. Make a friend.

This seemingly circuitous route to a job is how most business is done, whether people realize it or not. People love to complain that, “The other guy got the job (or the sale) because it was wired for him! He knows someone on the inside!”

But that’s not the point. The point is that the person on the inside knows the person looking for a job. The trust in that connection enables the insider to make a choice that minimizes risk and increases the chances of a positive outcome. This is how companies hire. Your friend needs to learn how this works, and do it herself. She needs to become the insider who gets the job.

How did we go from researching companies and products your friend is interested in to making friends with people she doesn’t know? We did it honestly. If she pursues products and companies she’s honestly motivated about, it will be easier to introduce herself and talk to the people connected to them. Her questions about work, business and opportunities will be easier and more genuine. Dialogue based on honest interest turns into advice and introductions to hiring managers. Insiders recommend people they know, even if they’ve met them recently. They like to recommend people who demonstrate an honest interest in the work and the business.

And that’s why the way to beat the “insider” who has a job “wired” is to become an insider yourself, honestly and with integrity.

There is nothing easy about this approach. But there’s nothing easy about sitting around waiting for people you don’t know to find your application on an online job board — or for sixth-degree links on LinkedIn to “connect” to you.

Learn more about how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition).

Do you have a story about surmounting the odds to get in the door? Is it easier to get a job you really want, than a random job you found online?

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  1. I will give another example of how this works. I attended a conference and met someone who was employed by the individual hosting the conference. I showed an interest. Two weeks later I was offered a job as an editor for a publishing house linked to the conference organiser.

    The point is, I didn’t ask for a job but by the interest I showed, and my presence in the right environment, I was remembered and offered a post that was not advertised or asked for. A tip would be to attend a conference if you can afford to, collect lots of contacts and keep in touch. If you are suited enough to those contacts, they will favor rather than reading unsolicited resumes.

  2. Three ideas I’d like to offer:

    First, a (or perhaps the) key statement when approaching someone is, “I don’t expect you to be hiring or to know of any openings, but I would appreciate getting your advice and guidance.”

    Second, this process will identify jobs and even, on the first visit, produce job offers. I strongly suggest you defer. For example, if you are visiting an office and the receptionist hands you a job application, politely hand it back and say something like, “Thank you, but I’m not here to apply for a job; this is a personal visit.” If the person you’re interviewing says there is a job there that would be perfect for you and she is sooo glad you are here, and asks you to fill out an application, you would be wise to say something like, “Thank you for mentioning this, and this looks like a great place to work, but my research is not finished yet. Would it be okay if we continued our discussion, and perhaps in a week or so I could check back to see if this position is still open?” The reason for not jumping on a job immediately is two-fold: one, you really do need to talk to numerous people before applying for a job; two, and probably more important, is to maintain your credibility – if you jump at this job, in about five minutes the offeror will be wondering how you snookered him into making the job known, your credibility will be gone (you did say you wanted advice and guidance)and any chance you had of getting into that organization will be pretty much gone. If it’s a real job and they’re interested in you, it will be there in a week or two.

    Third, at the end of your interview, ask if there are others you should be talking to, something like, “I’ve really appreciated hearing your insights. Could you recommend one or two others that I could talk to like this? I wouldn’t expect them to be hiring or to know of any openings, but I would definitely like to hear what they have to say.”

  3. @Chris: It’s called playing hard to get, and it works very well when the employer is looking for the best candidate, rather than the one who will quickly follow the routine and fall into step. Why don’t people realize that getting a job is really very similar to dating? It’s not about playing games, but it is about “courting” and testing the other person’s interest level. If they’re not willing to pursue you a bit, after you politely deflect an advance, then they’re not really interested. If they show some persistence in getting to know you, then you may have a worthy suitor. (BTW: Being asked to fill out a form is not really an advance. It’s like a request for sex on the first date.)

  4. When you say don’t look at job postings, I agree totally if those postings are on some job site. I don’t agree if the posts are on the company site. Those postings are frequently out of date, but they do offer some valuable information on what kinds of people the company is looking for which can help in research. They usually list an HR person, not the hiring manager, but your research might lead you to the actual hiring manager. They can also show you places where the company feels they have gaps. That could help in structuring the conversation.

  5. Another thing you may learn while doing your research and meeting people is which of your small list of companies are no longer worth your effort for one reason or the other.

    Some companies have no integrity in hiring, work through job shops and recruiters to “try before we buy”, have a good facade, but are a pit to work for, mix religion and work … or of a number of reasons you personally don’t want to become involved.