Why The Best Jobs Are Never Advertised And How To Find Them

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An estimated 70% of jobs are not advertised. That’s a lot of hidden roles you might be missing out on. Phil Bolton explains how to hunt them down.

Most experts agree that only 30% of all new jobs are ever advertised. That means that the majority of opportunities never make it to the job boards. And typically, the more senior the position, the less likely the job is to be advertised. So, how do all these jobs come about and what does this mean for you?

The answer to the first question is networking.

Networking is one of the most misunderstood and maligned words in the English language. Think of networking and the image of a dreadful reception full of strangers eating oversized canapés springs to mind, followed by hiding in the bathroom.

However, in your job search, networking should actually mean a focused process to find the next opportunity. It involves using and expanding your circle of connections to spread the word about what your ambitions and aspirations.

There’s an old saying in my family that success is about knocking on enough doors until the right one opens. Putting together a networking plan for a job search will help you knock on the most doors possible and help you identify which ones to prioritise.

There are three basic steps to creating a robust networking plan:

  1. Map out and expand your network;
  2. Create and deliver your message; and
  3. Follow up and conduct informational interviews.

Here's an explanation of each step.

Step 1: Map out and expand your network

Define your existing network

Your network includes almost everyone you’ve ever met for more than a fleeting transaction (your barista at Starbucks may be part of your network if you’re on first name terms). We are certainly talking about family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, ex-colleagues, clients, ex-clients, your children’s friends parents, members of any clubs or organisations you've joined and people in your online social networks. Start out by taking time to figure out who is really in your network and don’t tell yourself, “I really don’t have a network”. Everyone apart from a complete hermit knows other people. Put together a list or spreadsheet of people in your network.

Get contact information for your network

Ideally, you'll need their email address and telephone number. Practically speaking, in the 21st century, an email address is usually sufficient. A great way to do this is through an online networking site such as LinkedIn. You could also use your email address book to go through this process. Pull together the contact information in one or two places so your network is easy to contact.

Classify your network

Think of an archery board for this; who are your closest and most trusted allies who are most likely to help you? Who makes the outer bullseye – the next level of closeness.? Try to segment your network into four or five levels of closeness (typically, the further removed from the centre, the more people will fall into that category). Once you run your search, we’ll start from the middle and work out.

So far, so painless! You should now have a well-documented and segmented network. Now go back and challenge yourself to make sure you’re not missing anyone obvious or any groups of people who may be able to help. At this point, don’t worry about the number of people you have, as the power will come in your network’s network and who they know.

Step 2: Create and deliver your message

After clearly mapping and prioritising your network, the next step is to create a powerful and concise message to deliver to your network about what you want. The job search can be seen as a giant treasure hunt. Unless you know what the treasure looks like and can describe it to others, it becomes a whole lot harder to win the hunt.

Get clear

Creating a clear message for your network means crafting a specific concise statement of exactly what kind of work you are looking for. Typically this should be no more than two paragraphs of two or three sentences each, or if spoken should be deliverable in less than 60 seconds. Within this you need to articulate:

  • What type of work you are looking for (marketing, sales, communications, project management, consulting, accounting, finance etc.)
  • What sectors you would like to work in (banking and finance, manufacturing, non-profit, government, hi-tech, retail, fashion etc.)
  • Ideally one or two example job positions (senior project manager, chief communications officer, vice-president of marketing)
  • Other important factors (size of company, company culture, flexibility, salary needs etc.)
  • Identify any organisations you have already identified that you’d like to work at (for example you might be interested in working in high-street fashion and identify Top Shop, Gap, H&M, Zara and Bennetton as your dream employers)

In order to create this statement and make it snappy you’ll need to spend a little time working on each area to make sure you are clear yourself on what you’re looking for. Think about each area and see what feels authentic or like a good fit for you. Crafting this short statement actually requires a fair amount of thinking time to make sure you’re really clear on what you are looking for.

One vital aspect of this process is to ensure that the description is specific enough. Imagine that you receive two messages from your friends as follows:

  1. I’m looking for a new job. Frankly I’m desperate and I’ll take anything that comes along. Can you help?
  2. I’m looking for the next challenge in my career. I want to use my marketing, communication and marketing skills to help a hi-tech company grow and reach new markets. I’d ideally be looking for a job in the marketing department, perhaps as a senior marketing manager or marketing director. I’m hoping you might be able to help me find opportunities or introductions to anyone you think could help in finding a role at a large and respected tech company. Some of my ideal targets include HP, Cisco, IBM, Intel and Apple. Please could you email me with any opportunities or connections you might be able to make.”

With message 1 your have no idea what your friend is looking for or how to help them. With the second message, if you happened to have an ex-colleague who works at Apple you might make an introduction.

Once you’ve got your message, share it with a few of your closest allies to make sure that it is clear, delivers your message effectively and has a clear call to action. After their comments, it is ready to go.

Reach out, and follow up

The next step is to send your message out to the world. Start with the people in the your first network circle and send it by email, call them or best of all get coffee. Make sure you keep track of who you’ve contacted and when, so you can follow up if you don’t hear anything. People are often busy and don’t get round to responding straight away, so don’t take this personally. You can send the message out to your next level of connections and so on.

Typically with this type of approach, the response rate is somewhere between 15% and 30% although this drops off as you get out to your looser connections. Following up can help to raise the rate. Of the responses, you might find that a handful of your connections are really helpful and make good connections to people in the right organisations. Yet, these connections are often the critical ones that lead to opportunity. Remember with this treasure hunt, all it takes is one great connection and you may find your dream job.

Step 3: Follow up and conduct informational interviews

So you’ve carefully collated all the people in your network and sent a message to the world. Suddenly, you find an introduction to someone working at your dream employer in your inbox. What now?

Following up such an email is both an art and a science. Typically, you'll have multiple objectives for this part of the process:

  • To expand your network and meet another potential advocate in your job search, ideally in person or at least on the telelphone
  • To share your background and experience
  • To plant the seed of the idea your special blend of passion and skills might fit into their organisation
  • To identify any specific opportunities that might be available now in this organisation
  • To learn more about the field and/or organisation you're interested in
  • To identify next steps – whether that is to follow up on an opportunity, get more introductions, or have anothert conversation

The "follow-up" email

After getting an introduction, you should nformational interview. Typically, these are initiated by an email, which should be consise. For example:

Dear Sophie,

It is a pleasure to meet you through Christine’s introduction.

As Christine mentioned, I have a background in consulting with a focus on communication projects for hi-tech companies. I’m seeking my next challenge and am gathering more information on the exciting opportunities that exist for driving growth in the hi-tech world. Christine told me a little about your experience and I’d love to hear more about your role at [insert company] and also your thoughts on the future of the hi-tech sector.

I'm conscious you must be busy. However ,would you open to meeting for a quick coffee for no more than 45 minutes, just to get the ball rolling? I will be in town next Friday and could meet you at your offices at 9am. If that's inconvenient, please let me know what times work best for you. Thanks in advance for your kindness and time.

With my best regards, 

[Your name]

After sending this email, you may have to wait a while for a response. However, it's fine to follow up by email or phone if you haven’t heard anything within a week.

The interview itself

What makes a great informational interview? Does the idea of selling yourself fill you with dread? Here are some basic guidelines to help simplify the process and take the pressure off you to “perform”.

  • The day before the interview, send an email to confirm the meeting. Set out an agenda to outline what you’d like to cover. Two or three bullet points are more than enough.
  • Dress smartly and appropriately
  • Leave enough to get to the interview calmly and punctually
  • Always buy the coffee if appropriate
  • Remember that the interview is focussed on the interviewee sharing their knowledge and experience of their role and the industry they work in. You should be asking questions and listening rather than talking. A good rule of thumb is that, overall, 30% of the time you should be talking and the other 70% should be the interviewee.
  • Prepare some high-quality opening questions in advance. What do you really want to know? A good structure is to start with some very specific questions about the person and slowly expand the range of questioning. Ask about their experience in the field, then their current role and what that entails. Then ask about their group, then their company and finally the marketplace in general. By doing it this way, you’ll remember to ask questions and listen rather than talking.
  • Once you're discussing the marketplace and wider environment, this is a topic about which you can have a valid opinion. It's a chance to transition from asking and listening to a more conversational dynamic and where you can share your opinions. It's the tipping point in the conversation.
  • Often, when this transition takes place, you’ll find your interviewee will ask you to tell them a bit about yourself. Make sure that you have a concise answer well prepared – who you are, your background and experience, your core skills and what you’re looking to do. Ideally, try to have some stories about some of your core strengths and skills ready in case you’re asked about them.
  • Keep an eye on the time during the interview – respect the interviewee’s time and make sure you don’t keep them beyond the agreed time limit without asking their permission.
  • Finish the interview by talking about follow-up steps. Again, this is a chance to reiterate what you are trying to do (for example, find our more about the field or company). A good follow-up is to ask if there are other people you could meet from the person’s network to continue your learning. Suggesting sending your resume and then touching base in a few weeks is a good fall-back if you get stuck.

The thank you afterwards

  • Remember to say thank you, send a follow up email and ideally a hand-written note afterwards
  • Remember to thank your introducer by email and tell them that the meeting took place

These guidelines will give you a great chance of conducting a brilliant informational interview and really capturing someone’s attention. This model is not about doing a full on advertising pitch, but actually listening to your interviewee and letting them do most of the talking. First, this will reduce the pressure on you during the conversation. Second, most people’s favourite subject is talking about themselves.

Now you have a full plan to go out and start finding those 70% of jobs that never make it to the job boards. You’ll need to be patient and, remember, it’ll go better if you try to enjoy yourself. Good luck and happy hunting!

Where could you go to find new people who work in the career areas you are considering? How could you build relationships with them? Leave a comment below.

Phil is a professional coach with an international client base. After graduating from Cambridge, Phil worked with Deloitte & Touche, for over 10 years, in the US, UK and India. Phil has made his own career transition and believes that everyone has the potential to create their Less Ordinary Career. 

Find out more about Phil's coaching, visit his website, or email Phil directly at phil@lessordinaryliving.com.