Proactive Job Search Strategies

A traditional job search is reactive – responding to posted or available positions. While you always want to continue to search for opportunities through traditional sources like online job boards (indeed.com, careerbuilder.com, simplyhired.com, etc.), and newspaper and trade publications, you must also work to tap into the unadvertised job market and enlist others to share information and keep you apprised of potential openings in their organizations.

In a classic job search, you check the listings, send your resume, and wait…and wait…and wait. What should be hunting seems more like fishing as you sit, waiting for an employer to bite. That may have worked in the last millennium, but it is not very effective in today’s employment market.  

Some experts say that 70 percent of people ended up in their current position thanks to networking. Others say it’s more like 80 percent or even 85 percent. No matter who is right, that leaves just 15 – 30 percent of positions being filled solely through job postings. As a job seeker, you should only spend a proportionate amount of your efforts using this job search method. Using job postings as your primary means of sourcing employment opportunities is minimally effective and limiting.

Many positions are never advertised, or not widely advertised. Worse yet, candidates may be identified early in the recruitment process before the opportunity becomes available to a broader audience, causing you to apply for a position that is not really available. This is especially true at the entry level, where employers have less difficulty sourcing qualified candidates. If you are relying primarily on posted positions, you’re likely missing out on a lot of opportunities and expending a lot of effort for limited results. A smart job seeker uses strategies to tap into unadvertised opportunities, and to find positions early in the process when the candidate pool is smaller and competition is less.

To reach the unadvertised job market, you must take a proactive approach. A great way to learn of new and unadvertised positions is through professional and social contacts. Never underestimate the importance of networking in your job search. Join professional associations and online discussion groups. Make everyone you know aware that you are job hunting, and of what you are looking for. Ask for introductions and suggestions. Have a goal, career path, or specific job titles in mind. If you don’t know what that is, do some research. You may be surprised how somebody knows somebody who has an opening or potential need in their organization.

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for the proactive job seeker. Many companies (and recruiters) are on there. The site provides a great way to connect to possible opportunities. By following an organization, you can learn more about the company itself, its history, structure, position titles, and key happenings. You can also gain valuable insight into the organizations needs and requirements, its culture, and its operations.   Watch for information about expansions, new contracts, or business happenings that might indicate a need for additional staff. Find people (or first level contacts who can might introduce you to people) within these targeted organizations, who can provide you more insight, recommendation, or perhaps internal referrals to advance your employment candidacy.

Consider placement through temporary staffing agencies and “gig work” as a means on earning income while exposing yourself to new people, environments, and experiences. While these interim positions may not provide you permanent employment at your desired level, they can offer a great opportunity to learn about a company from the inside.

Smart job hunting takes persistence, perseverance, and courage. Be bold, take action, and keep at it. Don’t wait for and opening or an opportunity to present itself — try to find it first! Be aware of what’s happening in your industry and keep an eye out for the listed positions, but don’t make that the core of your efforts. Develop strategies to conduct an effective proactive job search, and land the position you desire.

For more career tips and tools like these, visit the UMUC Career Services CareerQuest portal, your one-stop-shop for all things career. To contact UMUC’s Office of Career Services, please call 240-684-2720 or email careerservices@umuc.edu.

Ann Martin is a career advising specialist with UMUC Career Services. She learned about her current position at a professional development event while a graduate student completing her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.