Are you job-hunting like it’s 1999?

A few weeks ago I blew a young colleague’s mind when I said that I’ve been unemployed for about six months total since I started working as a journalist. Given the working world in which she operates, where people her age jump from one six-month contract to another, that’s an unheard-of feat.

While I have looked for work with greater and lesser intensity in those years — eyes always open but able, from a position of employment, to pick and choose among the opportunities that presented themselves — I’ve never mounted a full-on job search. In the past six weeks or so I’ve found that some things have changed considerably since the last time I was unemployed and looking for work, but in other ways, well,  plus c’est la meme chose.

I grew up in Nova Scotia, the notorious home of pork-barrel politics, where voting the wrong way could mean your job. They always said it’s not what you do, it’s who you know. I used to think of that as Nova Scotia’s shame, but it turns out that’s just how the world works, it’s just called by different names  in other places. In this networked, hooked-up, LinkedIn world, it’s even more about who you know than it ever was.

And that’s because of the hidden job market. Think of the job market as an iceberg: jobs that appear in classified ads and on job boards are the pointy bits above the water, but about 75 per cent of the available jobs are lurking beneath the waves. And some of them haven’t even been created yet — they’re waiting for someone savvy to come along and “discover” them, suggests Pam Lassiter, an author and consultant who thinks it’s a little masochistic to reply to job ads.

Others say reply to the ads, but know that everyone else in the world is replying to them too.  Better to use this  time to tap your network, put the call out on Facebook, to your relatives and friends, former fellow students, former colleagues, your kid’s soccer coach — no matter how random the acquaintance — not asking for jobs, but asking if anybody knows about something that might be out there. Because life is random and so is dissemination of information — you’d be surprised who knows someone who knows someone. My grandmother, who hardly left her rocking chair in my lifetime, had contacts from all around the world because my travelling aunt introduced her to people and my grandmother stayed in contact with them, storing away their news like nuts for the winter. My grandmother had mad networking skills.

Cold-calling is also vital in the hidden job market — best to do so with a referral (see above re: tapping networks), but even without one, sometimes you’ll never know if there’s an opportunity unless you ask. You need to get in touch with your inner pushy self, shoulder open a door and announce your presence. That’s easier, for me at least, in the age of email — I get to say my piece uninterrupted. At the same time, you often don’t know whether anyone’s actually read your electronic introduction unless you follow up with a phone call.

I think the best advice about conducting Job Search 2.0 can be summed up in one word: focus. Focus first on yourself — who you are, what you want, what you can do, and what you can offer an employer. Then focus on the kind of employer that you want. And then focus on prospective employers, fit them into your box, if you can, instead of twisting yourself around to fit in someone else’s. And then, once you’ve decided who you’d like to work for, contact them, let them know that you’re not just cold-calling a name on your list but that you’ve targeted them, you’ve chosen them. And then let them know why they’d be foolish not to hire you. It may not work, they may not have any openings, but you’d have made an impression — a good one — and that’s its own kind of currency in the job market.

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