Dear Shannon

Dear Shannon: Breaking into the secret jobs market

Navigating the jobs market can feel like trying to join a secret club.
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Navigating the jobs market can feel like trying to join a secret club.

Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wannabe professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to [email protected].

Dear Shannon,

I’ve been unemployed for the last six months since moving to a new city. I have held senior sustainability roles at major fast-moving consumer goods (FCMG) firms and have a great track record, but I’m seeing very few appropriate jobs advertised.

When they do come up, I’m confident that I meet all the essential and most of the desired criteria, but out of four applications, I’ve only been called for one interview and I didn’t get it. I checked out the new hire when he started and it turned out he’d come from an affiliated organization. 

I feel like jobs boards are just not telling the whole story and that in a lot of cases, jobs are already gone before they’re advertised. Do you have any advice?

Thank you,

Diana

Diana,

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for job seekers who spend their Sunday afternoons trawling the jobs boards and fine-tuning their CVs, but just as media has gone social, so too has recruitment. Easier, cheaper and faster than traditional hiring processes, networking is now the No. 1 way new positions are filled. And while it’s hard to get reliable figures, I hear time and time again from my corporate clients that these vacancies aren’t even necessarily being advertised. I call this the "secret jobs market," and it has huge implications for your job search.

There are a number of reasons: Internal connections, online recommendations and a personal brand can tell employers much of what they want to know about a prospective employee long before a resume lands in their inbox. Given that hiring managers are under such pressure to find the best candidates and reduce the risk to the company of a subpar hire, it should be no surprise that they’re making use of less formal, more social channels.

The rules, revisited

The new secret jobs market means new rules for job seekers. My key takeaway? The 80/20 Rule, whereby 80 percent of your time should be spent on networking: 60 percent on real-life relationship building through conferences, events, coffees and cocktails; and 20 percent on online branding such as Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and websites. The remaining 20 percent should be spent on job postings.Spend 60 percent of your job hunt on networking.

Many people cringe at the thought of networking  it can feel uncomfortable and contrived — but it’s up to you to get the word out and sell yourself. In fact, it’s crucial. Building and reaching out to your network doesn’t have to be scary and sales-y. Think of it more as a professional friendship. To demystify the process, I’ve set out my top five tips for navigating the Secret Jobs Market.

Build your personal brand

Your personal brand is what sets you apart as a candidate. Don’t have one? I hate to break it to you, but whatever comes up on the first page of a Google search for your name, general location and broad career interests is your personal brand. Either you take control of it, or fate does. 

Enhance your social media accounts with friendly photos, regular posts and keyword-heavy bios, and consider starting a blog to boost your profile. 

Put relationships first

With more than 50 percent of jobs landed due to personal connections or referrals, it is crucial to leverage your network of contacts for your professional development. Shift your priorities away from CV perfection and towards human beings: take every opportunity to build professional friendships and enhance existing ones, make an effort to catch up with former colleagues and seek out a mentor who can help you grow.

Give to get

Networking should be a two-way street. When you reach out, always be sure to send your audience something that’s of interest to them or their business — competitor insight, sector white paper, article, news of a conference or legislation. You could even refer them to a lead that could help with new customers, funding or top talent. Or, simply offer a favor in exchange for their help. My Southern mother always taught me, "Never show up empty handed!" That way, when you need a personal recommendation or an internal referral, you’re more likely to get a positive response.

Do the hard work for them

If you are going to reach out to people you know for introductions, you need to make it as pain-free and as easy for them as possible. Start by identifying who you want them to introduce you to from their network — don’t put the onus on them to dig up names from their internal database of contacts. Then you need to write the script. Make it easy for your contact to literally cut and paste a blurb they can use to introduce you. My favorite approach is a one-page job proposal.

Send a bio, not a resume

Instead of sending a resume, try attaching a less-formal, 2,000-character bio. This should tell a strong story about why you have credibility in the market so that you look like a reputable contributor, not a desperate job seeker. Remember that you also can point them to your LinkedIn profile, which in essence is a public resume anyway. Frame it like an elevator pitch: concise; clear; confident; and skills-focused.

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