A guy I know recently spent a couple of months performing a rather intense job search without turning up a single job interview. Then a friend reached out and sent an E-mail on his behalf. An hour later, he had an interview lined up--for later in the day. At the end of the interview, he was offered a position that had never been advertised. All in all, about six hours from E-mail to offer.
That, I figure, is the power of the "hidden job market" that some job experts reference.
The fact is that even in a recession, layoffs require restructuring (or the reverse) and new positions are created. Companies still fire people who need to be replaced. There is churn in the market. But there's so much supply in the labor pool that companies often do not need to advertise their openings.
Here are some tips for tackling those openings:
Don't make assumptions about people: You never know who will be most helpful in your job search. It may indeed be the person you least suspect would volunteer to place a call, or the person you least suspect would have any useful connections. That means you should be open and articulate about your job search with everyone you come across.
Be at the ready: If someone hooks you up with a job interview, or wants to put you in touch with a hiring manager they know, you should make the process as smooth as possible for them. Make sure your resume is ready to be dashed off as an attachment, and prepare your clips or links or whatever else is necessary. Make sure you're comfortable drafting a cover letter. Have a respectable/professional E-mail address they can respond to. Know what your explanations are for your work history, your goals for the future, etc.
Know your transferable or generic skills: Someone may be able to set you up with an interview at a company that is in an entirely different industry than you were in before. You should know what skills would transfer--and you should be able to make a case for the utility of those skills in most industries. Maybe you're a good manager, a great strategist, a super organizer, a rallyer, a precise communicator. If you don't know, talk to the people you've worked with, or others who know you well, and ask them about your strengths.
Go back in time: It's easy to forget about all the connections you've made over the years, even if you're in your twenties. What about all your parents' friends growing up? What about your old boss from your high school job and the people he knows? These people are worth reaching out to, so long as you know what you're looking for.