I was appalled by Thomas Friedman’s column of May 28, “How to Get a Job.” The title indicated that the column was aimed at job-seekers and would provide advice about job-finding, but the content that followed was quite misguided. It might as well have been called, “How Not to Get a Job.”
In fairness, Friedman made one valid point: He quoted a Harvard education expert, Tony Wagner, who says, “The world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares ‘is what you can do with what you know’.” Employers are losing respect for a degree as an indicator of value and instead want to know only “Can you add value?”
The root problem with the rest of Friedman’s analysis is the unspoken assumption that all jobs are found through advertisements. Of course, in the present economy, posted jobs tend to attract floods of applicants, so the hordes of job-seekers who respond to these postings have a tough time demonstrating to employers what value they can add, and employers have a similarly tough time identifying the applicants who can add the most value. Therefore, Friedman goes into a lengthy discussion of a start-up company that claims it can devise tests to identify the most promising employees in the avalanche of resumes.
But consider that, according to some research, fewer than 15 percent of job-seekers find work through job postings. (This research was done when the economy was in better shape; I suspect the odds are worse now.) The most successful way to find jobs is to tap into the hidden job market—to identify the jobs that open and get filled without being advertised. Every job opening goes through several steps between the time when it first becomes apparent that a new hire is needed and the time when the job gets advertised. By making yourself and your skills known at any instant between those two times, you can get the job.
The procedures for connecting with the hidden job market are thoroughly spelled out in books such as What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles and Getting the Job You Really Want by J. Michael Farr. Briefly, it means networking. Specifically, the strategy consists of reaching out to two kinds of contacts: warm contacts, the people who already know you; and cold contacts, the people who don’t know you yet. With both types of people, it helps to focus on contacts who have good connections to the kinds of employers that hire people like you. However, unexpected connections can occur, so you should also give special consideration to anybody who knows a lot of people.
The immediate goal is not a job but an interview. In fact, the interview process is a lot easier on all parties concerned when it’s not part of a formal hiring process, so when you cold-call and ask for an interview, it’s to your advantage to say you are not looking for a job with the employer but simply want information about the kind of work the employer does. In fact, the employer may never hire you but will then be part of your network and may be able to direct you toward or refer you to another employer who is expecting to hire. So redefine what counts as an interview and don’t think it has to be for a posted job opening.
Another advantage of face-to-face encounters in the networking process is that they allow you opportunities to make a thorough case—much better than a resume could—for what value you can bring to an employer. You may make your case through any combination of what you say, the professional appearance you show, the interpersonal skills you demonstrate, and a portfolio of key accomplishments that demonstrates your skills.
This job-seeking method is not just theoretically effective; it has a proven record of success. My former boss, the late J. Michael Farr, built his publishing company on the workbook that he wrote for classes that taught this technique. A minuscule fraction of job-seekers will benefit from the high-tech, gee-whiz methods used by the start-up company that Friedman describes, but for most of us there's no substitute for networking through phone calls and face-to-face contacts.