Picture this: You’re on a cross-country trip and your battery light goes on—when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Well, that pretty much sums up last weekend for me. I was broken down (on a Sunday) and towing services weren’t picking up. My roadside assistance was zero help, and try as they might, Good Samaritan motorists couldn’t jump my RV.
Talk about exhausted options!
Even if you’ve never been stranded while driving, you know what it’s like to wonder what you can possibly do next. (Yes, I’m talking about the job hunt.) You’ve looked at every opening on every board, reached out to everyone in your network, and had no luck creating opportunities for yourself.
But just like I couldn’t give up and live on the side of the road in Nebraska forever, you can’t afford to stay in that soul-crushing position or remain unemployed (or underemployed), either.
I had to get creative—and that’ll make all the difference for you, too. So, before you throw up your hands and yell, “That’s it!” try the following workarounds:
1. Tweak Your Target
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of clarity and vision with each step of the search. It’s solid advice—until it narrows your options to the point where you’re not moving forward.
Ditch the laser edge strategy to reinvigorate what you’re doing.
For example, say you’ve been searching for “VP of Marketing” roles for a while without any luck. Depending on the company, a “Chief Marketing Officer” position might demand the same skills as a VP-level position. Instead of relying on the job title to determine the scope and function of the role, read the whole listing to discover what’s actually being asked for.
Be especially wary of the term “manager,” it’s one of the most confused terms in the career world. One organization’s “Marketing Director” might, in fact, be an individual contributor, whereas a “Marketing Manager” with a different company could lead a team of 10.
Don’t worry, tweaking your target doesn’t mean that you have to make it so vague that you end up looking at positions you don’t even care about. It’s about opening up your search by navigating the shortcomings of job ad lingo! As long as a role fits with the bulk of your non-negotiables (like pay, company type, or location), it’s worth exploring further.
2. Stop Waiting Around for Openings to Be Listed
Applying online is instantly gratifying. You can apply to 20 places in one sitting and feel incredibly productive.
But I get it: When you hear that most jobs aren’t publicly advertised, you want to bang your head against a wall. Because what if the perfect opportunity really is out there—and you just don’t know about it?
While finding unadvertised openings is a slower process, it’s also a better approach to finding work you’ll love. Applying online matches you with positions that are ready-made and available to a sea of competitors. But aligning yourself with roles that aren’t posted allows you to stand out from a considerably smaller candidate pool. You also have the advantage of creating unique opportunities that meet the company’s needs—and speak to your exact skill set and interests.
So, how do you access this secret underground job market?
Start by making a list of companies you want to work for. Organize your list based on whether or not you have an “in.” If you already know someone there, put that organization on one side of the list, and send an outreach email asking to set up an informational interview. For everywhere else, you’ll need to make a new connection, which brings me to my next point…
3. Shake New Hands
Whether you’re gunning for unlisted openings, or feeling like you’ve tapped out your network, shaking new hands is essential to moving your stale job hunt forward.
Yes, I’m encouraging you to do some cold networking here.
To get a sense of a company’s general structure, you could start with its team page, and from there, head on over to LinkedIn. Look at the profiles of those you’d potentially work with or report to. Either would be a great place to start reaching out and building relationships, so see if you can find a common interest, skill, or other conversation starter.
While it’s tempting to send a note to several people, reach out to one at a time. This’ll make the individual you chose feel special, and be more likely to respond. Try this template:
I found your name while researching [company name], and I’m wondering if you have 15 minutes for an aspiring [job title]?
I would love to hear about your journey in [career field], and any advice you may have regarding [enter occupation] and networking in [current city].
If you have some time in the next couple of weeks, I’d love to buy you cup of coffee, hop on a quick call, or send a few questions over email to learn more.”
Thank you for your time,
Do not—I repeat—do not ask for a job in your outreach message. It’s presumptuous, and it’ll like get you referred back to that online portal you’re trying to circumvent.
If you’re feeling awkward about cold networking, try easing into it with my “wink marketing” approach.
Finally, don’t discount the power of speaking with recruiters: They typically have the inside edge on what an organization’s upcoming hiring needs will be. Pinpoint those that work with your target companies and reach out to them directly to explain what you’re looking for.
Expanding your job search when you’ve exhausted all of your options isn’t about losing sight of where you want to go—it’s about finding a new way to get there. Strategic creativity and getting comfortable with the unfamiliar will move you forward!