[See our list of the 50 Best Careers.]
1. Develop a short list of target employers. It's always easier to begin by identifying just a few organizations and then taking steps to find people who are affiliated with those places. How can you pick the right companies? Make a list of your most important qualities in a workplace. Factor in everything from the company's location to its reputation. Use data from sources such as Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, WetFeet, Vault, and Hoovers.com to evaluate the organizations. Narrow down your list to no more than five companies to start; don't worry if these organizations have job openings posted or not.
2. Refine your list by identifying if you know anyone who works in these organizations. Move forward with a combination of online and in-person strategies. If you haven't already built a LinkedIn network, create a profile and then begin to search for people who work in the companies that you've selected. Use the "Advanced" search tab on LinkedIn's toolbar to narrow down people who are connected to your top organizations. Remember, even people who don't currently work at the company may still be able to help.
Leverage the people you know best. Use Facebook! Post a message asking your friends if anyone knows someone who works at one of your target companies. Consider signing up for BeKnown or BranchOut, two applications that could help you create a professional network among your Facebook friends. Tap into Glassdoor.com's new tool, Inside Connections, to leverage your Facebook friend network and uncover whom you might know at various companies.
Don't forget to ask people you see at family, social, community, and business events or parties about the companies that interest you, and request introductions to people who work there. (Do not make every discussion entirely about your job hunt; try to be subtle and introduce the topic in the course of conversation.)
3. Set up informational meetings (also known as informational interviews). When you approach people, emphasize that you're interested in learning more about them and their businesses, and explain that you do not expect a job as a result. Ask people about their backgrounds, inquire about problems they face at work, and try to learn what kind of people succeed at their organizations. Feldman suggests, "Factor their advice into your research findings. Refine your target list of organizations. This is a critical step—success hinges on targeting the right employers that match your requirements and where you can also meet their needs." And don't forget to always ask for another contact, so you will be able to continue your networking meetings.
4. Once you further narrow your target list, research the people who may have authority to hire someone like you. Rely on the people you've been meeting and use social media tools to help. Do a search on LinkedIn for the job title and company name of the person who could hire you. Feldman notes, "Reference librarians can access databases with some of this information. Monitor blogs, industry publications, annual reports, press releases, and other announcements; trade publications, conference presenters, exhibitors, and attendees, and check professional association memberships and alumni listings to find the information you need."
5. Use all the data at your disposal to become extremely knowledgeable about your target organizations. Act as if you were a consultant; identify any problems or pain points, learn as much as you can about them, and begin to identify solutions. Feldman says, "Research and learn about the company or industry, focusing on current trends, local, and global challenges, key players, and other relevant information. Become familiar with the landscape so you can talk knowledgeably about the target employer's industry sector. Demonstrate your niche expertise, especially about current events, key players, trending publications, and expert authorities."
6. Review your job search materials. This includes your resume, cover letter, online profiles, and your social resume—your professional website. Make sure you specifically address the company's needs in these documents. Feldman says, "Document your unique capability to solve company challenges and demonstrate your ability to increase profits, reduce costs, or improve processes." Include company or industry jargon and buzzwords, and be sure to outline accomplishments to prove you are a strong, qualified candidate.
7. Contact a company insider. Think of appointments at this stage of your search as high-level informational meetings. Feldman says, "Offer to help them first before asking them to assist you or mentioning your interest in finding a new job."
8. Say thank you and follow up frequently. You never know when hiring opportunities will arise. By following these steps, you should be able to make strong allies along the way who will think of you when they hear of jobs. According to Feldman, your network is like your own private recruiter team who can deliver job lead referrals they think will interest you. She suggests, "Be patient. Be persistent. Be active. Be visible and credible. Keep abreast of what is going on in the field by researching, reading, and commenting on blogs, attending industry meetings, offering to present about topics, and volunteering at events." When you make a solid first impression and keep yourself top-of-mind by keeping in touch with contacts, you will be able to reap the rewards of building a network.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.