By David Adelman
Landing a job isn’t easy. With unemployment stubbornly high and constant competition from overqualified candidates, overseas labor and overzealous robots, getting hired is getting harder.
I recently watched several friends go through the job hunt, and one thing became clear: The traditional method of applying for posted jobs won’t cut it anymore. Times are changing, and that means that job seekers must adapt as well. Now more than ever, it’s your network — not just your resume — that matters. Up to 80 percent of all jobs are “hidden.” They aren’t advertised, and those that are often get filled by candidates with an inside track.
Notice the word “work” in “network.” Your contacts won’t just hand you jobs. There’s effort involved. If you don’t ask, you’ll never receive. Put yourself out there and you’ll be shocked at how open your contacts are to lending a hand.
With this in mind, I recently set out on my own job search. I didn’t apply for a single posted job, and yet was able to get a few offers including the position I accepted at Snagajob, a leading HR tech company. This process works especially well if you are looking for roles at startups and smaller companies, since they rely heavily on referrals from current employees. But these seven steps can be applied to any job search:
- Figure out what you’re looking for. Before embarking, plan. Think about the industry, company size, role, salary, culture and other priorities. Write down the things that matter most to you. Decide in advance whether to cast a wide net or to go laser-focused on one role. Most experts will tell you that focusing is a more effective approach, but be careful about closing doors too early.
- Discover the goldmine that is LinkedIn. Start by searching for people in the city or cities you’re considering. This will show you a broad range of contacts, not just your immediate circle. Wharton Professor Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, discusses how we often overlook the value of not only “strong ties,” but also “weak ties” and “dormant ties” — the people we’re no longer close with, but who can still be surprisingly helpful. As you scroll through the contacts, ask yourself two questions: “Might she know of interesting positions?” and “Would she agree to meet with me soon?” If you answered ‘yes’ to both, add her to the spreadsheet.
- Embrace the almighty power of the spreadsheet. It’s the easiest tool to track your contacts. Start with two tabs. The first, Contacts, can have columns including Name, Status of Meeting, and Key Takeaways. When an interesting company comes up in conversation, add it to the Companies tab, which should include Company Name, URL, Employees You Know, and other relevant data.
- Reach out and meet your contacts. Send each contact a personalized email. The email should be short and specific: you’re looking for a new job, and you’d love to get their advice over coffee, lunch, a beer, or a fried chicken donut sandwich — whatever works best. Even if you prefer texting or Facebook messaging as a mode of communication, there’s no substitute for human interaction when looking for a job. If you’re an extrovert, this can actually be fun. Introverts can often find this process somewhat less exciting than watching C-SPAN reruns. But remember, it’s for a good cause: your career. Once the meeting is confirmed, spend some time researching the relevant companies that this person may know about (including their own).
- Ask the right questions. At the meeting, after a few minutes of chit-chat, tell your friend what you’re looking for and why. Then ask questions. Ask about their experience in a particular role, company, or industry, openings at their firm or others they know of, general career advice, or all of the above. Some of my best meetings were ones where the person didn’t suggest a single job, but gave me insights and asked deep questions about my longer-term career outlook. Before the meeting ends, do three things: First, ask if your contact can offer you the names of two or three other people they think you would benefit from contacting. Second, save a few minutes to ask how you can help them. Giving is not a one-way street. Third, when the bill comes, pick up the tab.
- Show that you’re prepared. In job interviews, mention who you’ve spoken with and the specific things they said about the company (especially the positive things). Candidates who do their homework have a huge leg up, so don’t be afraid to play up your effort and your intimate knowledge of the company. Showcase a giver mindset in your interviews. Rather than just touting your credentials, ask “What’s your biggest problem? I want to solve it.”
- Stay thankful and organized. Write an email (or even better, rediscover the lost art of a hand-written letter) thanking your friend and mentioning the specific job ideas or introductions she offered, and keep her posted as your process continues. Update the spreadsheet at the end of every day, otherwise you’ll lose track of the opportunities.
Following this approach will at a minimum give you new perspective on a variety of roles and companies, and will likely uncover positions you wouldn’t otherwise have heard about. (As a case in point, I discovered 20 tech companies in Washington that I didn’t know existed.) Used in conjunction with the traditional approach, you’ll be on your way to finding your next dream job. And once you do, take the friend who introduced you to that company out for a nice meal to celebrate. The world needs more givers.
If the process works for you, email me. I’m curious to hear your stories. Happy hunting!
David Adelman is the Head of Business Development and Growth Strategy at Snagajob, America’s largest marketplace connecting hourly job seekers and employers; prior to this role, he founded two video startups.You can connect with David on Twitter
This article originally appeared on Forbes, and was republished with the author’s permission.