Tapping the Hidden IT Job Market

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Career opportunities are everywhere. Large organizations are continually looking for qualified people to fill vacant positions and help meet workload demands. Right now, there are multiple positions just waiting for you to come in and fill them.

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right. Here’s another guy professing to know all about the millions of jobs that are supposed to be available. But I’ve looked, and there isn’t anything out there!”

That might seem to be true—for the published market, which refers to newspaper classified ads, job-posting Web sites and even television and radio commercials that you occasionally see or hear advertising open positions. However, for every published job opening, there are, on average, another three potential opportunities that exist in the unpublished, hidden market.

The hidden market consists of those job opportunities that are never shown on typical job-posting Web sites or other listings. Companies rely on their own employees to help find the right people for these jobs, or they are given to friends or associates of the hiring manager. They include positions that range from entry- to executive-level. They are sometimes filled by word-of-mouth alone, trusting that somebody in the organization knows somebody who would be perfect for the job. You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” right?

I’m going to revamp that statement a bit and say, “It’s who you know and what you know.” Every month, Certification Magazine provides you with multiple resources to increase the “what you know” part of that statement with insights, tips and resources to increase your knowledge through certification, education and experience. My goal here is to provide techniques to increase the “who you know”—enabling you to be more effective in finding the right career opportunity.

Before we get into the details, I want to stress one important fact: Finding a job is hard work. In reality, there is no silver bullet or perfect way to quickly and easily find the right opportunity. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to get a quick offer for a great position, but other times it takes a lot of time and effort. However, it can be done successfully. These techniques and methods are not new. They will most likely be things you have heard about and maybe even have tried before. However, I am going to present them in a systematic, straightforward manner that anyone can successfully apply.

The Opportunity
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job opportunities continue to increase. In only one month—February 2005—employment in the United States increased by 491,000 jobs in nonfarm and private industries. The good news is that all of the sectors within these industries require IT services. There are definitely jobs available.

In my experience, many jobs listed in the published market have already been filled—the employers just needed to complete the proper procedures and paperwork. That shouldn’t limit your opportunities. There are plenty of jobs available through the unpublished market.

Common Searching Methods
There are many ways to look for and find job opportunities in both the published and unpublished markets. If you are on an active career campaign, you should take the appropriate amount of time to look in both areas.

The common methods of looking in published markets include printed and online classifieds, such as your local newspaper, career Web sites (such as Monster.com and Dice.com), specific company Web sites (available openings are commonly listed) and industry and sector publications, such as Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Directory or Moody’s Manuals, which provide information on specific firms and companies. You should be able to find these resources at your local public library.

There are mainly two methods to find the opportunities in the unpublished markets. The first is through your friends and family. Who do they know that has opportunities available? This may be limited, but it is a great place to start. The second method is networking—plain, old-fashioned, highly effective networking. All of us have done some networking in the past, but hardly any of us have done it consistently and effectively. That is the key—to network in a consistent, systematic way that gets results. Networking effectively will help you find those jobs in the hidden market.

The Key to Success
Networking is critical to a truly effective job search. Why? Remember, it’s who you know that counts. Networking increases your contacts and references. It introduces you to those decision-makers who can really provide you with the job you want.

If you are looking for a change, networking also provides contacts in other industries. For example, maybe you have spent the past 10 years in the IT department of a large financial firm, but you have heard there are growing opportunities in the health care sector. Chances are, after working in the financial industry for a while, you do not have contacts in health care. Networking helps you find those contacts.

Finally, networking places you in charge. You are proactively putting yourself in front of people who can make a difference, who will enhance your chance of success and who can actually make the decision to hire you. As you build your resource network, you will increase your chances of talking to exactly the right person at the right time.

Networking Techniques
So what’s the best way to network? In “Conquering the IT Job Market” (Certification Magazine, February 2002), I wrote, “Knowing where to look can be more of an art than a science.” Since then, I’ve learned that looking in the right places can be very systematic and planned. Although networking seems to come more naturally to some people than others, there are still specific methods you can follow to find those hidden jobs.

The key to networking is talking to the right decision-makers—those people who can actually hire you. In most cases, believe it or not, it is not the HR department. HR professionals generally act as a filter and pass on to the actual decision-maker those candidates they think are qualified. Effective networking should place you directly in front of those decision-makers, before you get filtered out.

In “2005 Hiring and Salary Outlook” (Certification Magazine, February 2005), Katherine Spencer Lee wrote, “The most marketable individuals often find themselves in the driver’s seat, able to evaluate several job offers. As a result, firms that recently required multiple interviews are accelerating their hiring processes today to compete for the best candidates.” This means that it’s even more critical to get yourself in front of those decision-makers quickly and early. Don’t rely on the standard process of submitting resumes, waiting for HR to call you back and hoping for an interview.

The technique of effective networking includes four major steps:

1. Find Contacts
Before you can show anyone what you can do in a job, you need to find the right person to talk to. Make a list of everyone you know. Don’t worry if you don’t think they have any decision-making power or know anyone who does. The key is to find connections between who you know and the decision-makers you want to talk to.

When you have a good list, start contacting them. The goal here is not to ask them for a job, but to get some time with them in an interview—not a job interview, but an informational interview. Here is an approach I use: “I appreciate a moment of your time. I am on an active career campaign, looking for a position supporting a global IT infrastructure for a Fortune 500 company (or whatever your goal is). I am not asking you for a job or if you know of any, but would like to get your feedback and advice on my qualifications and efforts, as you have experience and knowledge

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