Get personal. In addition to researching the company, use those sleuth skills to sniff out details about the hiring manager. We're not talking about stalking his house, but digging up tidbits through Google or LinkedIn. Look for interests you have in common, and use those interests as an icebreaker in your e-mail. "[Making that connection] ups your chances so significantly," says Schwager, director of the non-profit organization outside Washington, D.C. Being personable also increases your chances of getting hired, since every manager wants to work with employees they get along with (assuming, of course, you're qualified).
Send the e-mail to the hiring manager in addition to generic address. This, too, takes detective work. Once you figure out who the hiring manager is, find that person's e-mail address. If it's not readily available online, call the company switchboard (if there's a real person at the other end). Still at a loss? Find another employee's e-mail and try the same formula for the person you want to reach. For example, because this reporter's e-mail is email@example.com, to contact anyone at U.S. News, you'd try their first initial, then last name @usnews.com.
Pitch your fit, not your background. Yes, your experience is important to establish your qualifications. But like with a resume, your pitch shouldn't be a laundry list of accomplishments. Instead, tell the hiring manager how you'd fit into their company, how your skills would be valuable there, and how you'd help the company meet their goals.
Be specific. Don't just talk about your people skills; talk about your people skills as they pertain to whatever you'd be doing for that company. Job seekers often make the mistake of being vague about the type of work they want because they're afraid specificity will close doors. But in reality, it opens them. By explaining exactly how a company could use your skills, you're doing the legwork for them, making it as easy as possible for a hiring manager to imagine you working there. "If you actually solve a problem for them and actually tell them what that need is," says Jodi Glickman, a career coach and corporate trainer, "you have a much better chance, in my mind, of them saying, 'You know what? That's exactly what I need.'"
Say which position you want, even if you have to create it. Go a step beyond pitching yourself—and pitch yourself for a specific position. This can be a job that doesn't even exist yet at the company, so long as you're addressing the company's needs. If you do it well, they may find a spot for you.
Tailor your cover letter. Writing a cover letter that's specific to the job you're applying for is always important. But in this case, "it's even more important," says Leyack of ECOrecruiters. "Especially when you're doing a targeted search... Really address all the reasons why you want to work for them."
Be creative. Take this route only when it's a good fit for the company you're pitching, says Massey, the new MindBloom employee. While her creative cover letter was successful, she acknowledges she might not have included her subtle humor in a pitch to a more serious corporate firm.
Use your network. Don't forget to take advantage of your connections, just like you would with other job-search strategies. Once you've identified which company you want to target, determine whether you—or someone you know—know anyone who works there. LinkedIn especially is helpful in this pursuit. "It definitely helps if you're not coming out of the blue," says Hauser of The Management Center. "If you have a validator or somebody who knows the organization introduce you, that's more likely to lead to an interview than just a cold call." And if you can't find a connection? Create one by joining online or in-person associations that are popular with people who work at your target company.
Offer a business plan. Once you've done all that research, why not put together a one- or two-page plan for your target company with ideas for improving their service or product? Anderson, Massey's coach, says a well-done business plan, while time-consuming to create, is a worthwhile investment because it proves you'd be a solid hire.