Use the Side Door To Enter This Tough Job Market

Since the hidden job market represents up to 90% of positions that are never posted, you can use these strategies to get yourself into organizations and to become recognizable as a valuable hire.
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With the new realities of this job economy you can't rely on posted positions to land career opportunities. Innovation, creativity and strategic thinking are the most sought after competencies by employers, so use these skills to get into organizations where the front door is clearly locked. A side door entry is possible and will distinguish you as a resilient career builder that found an alternative route.

Some employers don't want to post openings because they will be flooded with applicants, many of whom are just fishing for any opportunity. Hiring managers have gone back to the basics of hiring who they know and who they trust based on network referrals. You need to be seen and heard on the inside of organizations in order to get noticed and to be taken seriously.

Since the hidden job market represents up to 90% of positions that are never posted, you can use these strategies to get yourself into organizations and to become recognizable as a valuable hire.

  • The Informational Interview is a tried and true technique that works for students and professionals alike. By requesting information from a person in an organization, preferably someone with whom you have some common ground, you are non-threatening. Nothing is worse than outright asking your contact for a job. But people love to talk about themselves and by using the informational interview you will have an opportunity to learn about the person, the organization, and to describe your strengths and potential value-add when the conversation eventually shifts towards you.

Treat it as a real interview -- be well prepared and at your professional best. The key is getting inside the organization so you can be seen and heard by people in the know and to assess the culture and company mission to see if it's a good fit for you. If an opportunity does become available, you will be someone already in the pipeline. If you made a good impression, your resume will rise to the top of the pile.

  • With a job shadow opportunity you can walk proudly into an organization because you have been invited inside to see the inner workings and experience the firm culture in-person. This can be a follow-up step to the informational interview. A job shadow experience will get you exposure to different people in the organization and illustrate that you are a savvy career seeker. Be careful not to exploit the generosity of your contact since they still have work to do on your given shadow day. Don't offer your professional opinion unless asked and be sensitive about over staying your welcome. Less is more when invited to observe -- take the lead of the professional who responded to your request and respect their schedule.
  • Volunteer your way into the company. This is a great way to research career fields you have no experience with. If you are pursuing a career transition, or simply have not landed your dream position, being an unpaid professional can allow you see things from the inside to help you find the right match. Volunteering has been a standard practice for students and now with the returnship model for non-students, volunteering is a career development strategy for all.
  • The trendy new returnship is for seasoned professionals and provides a way for you to test-drive an organization to determine if it's a good fit. Do set realistic time limits and clear expectations with your new volunteer employer so you are not exploited while giving away your time and talents. If they have not heard about the returnship concept, offer it as new career development tool being used by the likes of the Sara Lee Corporation and Goldman Sachs.

  • Is your LinkedIn profile representing you to your best advantage? Headhunters and recruiters troll social media sites for talent and LinkedIn is one of the leading sites where you can put your professional best out there for the world to see. Join groups, participate in discussions, solicit recommendations, and consider upgrading to the business level (19.95/month) to expand your network and access leads on candidate searches. This is a virtual door into an organization and can also make introductions for informational interviews, job shadow opportunities, and good old fashioned network building in-person.
  • Create your own buzz by writing a blog or online articles in your respective industry. Being recognized as a specialist in your field in print (or online) will establish you as someone with credibility. You will ramp up your recruiting potential and hiring managers may even find you based on your written work. It's equally important to scrub your social media sites and online presence to make sure your image is 100% professional and ready for prospective employer consumption. What's on the web about you is fair game, whether you authored it or not.
  • It's easy to get down about the job search when opportunities are rarely, if ever posted. But you can take this opportunity to enter organizations through an alternative door and distinguish yourself amongst the masses as one who is industrious and willing to go beyond the job boards to find opportunities.

    The job search is still a full-time endeavor and whether you are an entry-level hire, a seasoned professional or a career changer, meeting people face-to-face is always the best way to make a lasting positive impression. You need an opportunity to tell your personal strengths story and explain your value-add proposition. So if the front door is locked -- find a side door and use your creativity and strategic thinking to get inside and show your professional best.

    Check out the first segment of my new video series with valuable career & professional development advice.

    Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name ( She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

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