4 Ways to Tap Into the Hidden Job Market

How to turn yourself into an insider and snag a position before it’s posted.

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The Web is usually the first place people go to find a job, and many fill their days blasting resumes in response to online job postings. That's a classic mistake, says Donald Asher, author of Cracking the Hidden Job Market: How to Find Opportunity in Any Economy, which will be released in December. In this job market, "people have to do something different to find a job," says Asher. "If they're simply applying to posted openings, there will always be someone who's a little more center-of-the-bulls-eye."

Frustrating as it may be, about half of all new jobs are filled before they ever make it to the online posting stage, says Asher, who is also a public speaker and has written 12 books on careers and higher education. And in a bad economy, even more jobs go to those who know someone on the inside or approached the company at the right time. For those job openings that are advertised online, hiring managers may get hundreds—if not thousands—of applicants. But if you're working the "hidden" job market, Asher estimates that you're more likely competing with six to 10 other applicants.

[See 9 Insider Secrets to Getting Hired.]

Tapping into this hidden job market—and effectively turning yourself into an insider—takes some creativity and plenty of initiative. Here are a few strategies Asher recommends:

Make a connection. Instead of waiting for a job to be posted, initiate contact with a hiring manager at a company you want to work for and create a dialogue. If you don't know anyone at the company—or know anyone who knows anyone—scan the website for employee E-mail addresses, Asher says, but try to avoid the human resources department. Ask these employees to refer you to the correct department head. "Ask a specific question, and get precise," he says. For example, if you're looking for a job in overseas sales or accounting, ask who you should speak with about that subject. "Find the person who makes decisions and talk to them—they'll know that they have hiring needs months before they post [a job opening]," Asher says. When you finally do make contact with a decision maker, ask for advice and ideas. "If you ask for advice, you'll get a job faster than if you ask for a job," he says. This could lead to information that, for example, you need more training or education to get a position in the field or that this particular company is growing and may be hiring soon. But for this strategy to work, Asher adds, you must be sincere.

[See Great Interview But No Offer: Why You Didn't Get the Job.]

Cast a giant net. Someone who can vouch for you is a powerful tool in snagging a job before it's posted. But even if you don't personally know someone who works for the company, you can still get a referral, Asher says. "Go to LinkedIn and find someone who went to your school, who maybe you've never met, and ask them to drop your resume," he says. The site can also direct you to friends of friends who work for a particular company. Another option is to contact a member of your professional association who works for the company, using the association's directory. "You don't have to be buddies. You don't actually have to have ever met. That's why you go to association meetings," says Asher.

Tap your network strategically. Once you dust off your network, proceed carefully. "Don't make your first query about how you're [looking for a job]," says Asher. "Say, 'I saw that the Giants won last night, and it made me think of you. I hope you're doing well out on the West Coast." After that, don't hide the fact that you're on the job hunt. "What makes people unhappy is when you call them up and say you want a position at their company. Let them know you're not leaning on them," he says. "You should be calling them regardless of whether you want a job at their company. You want to go for the information—information leads to jobs," he says. That could be anything from industry gossip to leads on companies that are growing. Sometimes, your contact will tell you to apply for a job online. "Say, 'Absolutely, but who can I talk to to learn more about the opportunity?' ... [apply], but keep pursuing other avenues of access," Asher says.