A successful job hunt requires more than scouring through open positions on Monster.com. Though replying to traditional ads is part of the process, tapping into the so-called “hidden” job market can be an even more effective way to land a job you’ll love when you graduate.
The “hidden” job market includes positions that haven’t been posted publicly. A hiring manager might let her colleagues know she plans to hire a marketing associate, for instance, before she gets around to writing a job description. And when those colleagues recommend professional connections for the job, it’s likely their connections’ resumes and cover letters will get noticed. More than three-quarters of recruiters say the best candidates come to their companies through referrals from current employees, according to the 2015 Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey.
Use these five tips to find others who can recommend you for jobs that haven’t even been posted online yet. You’ll save time writing cover letters that might not get read, and you’ll meet successful people in your field with expertise to share. What’s not to like?
Step 1: Make a list of current and potential professional connections.
Building a professional network can seem intimidating. But the more people who know you’re searching for a job, and who can vouch for your unique mix of skills and experience, the better.
“It’s all about building relationships so when something does open up, they think of you first,” says Robert Hellmann, president of Hellmann Career Consulting in New York.
Start slow by getting in touch with people you know, but whom you might not have thought of as connections. Former internship supervisors, professors, grad students in your major and alumni fall into this category; so do the neighbors you had growing up, your friends’ parents and high school teachers who might know others in your field.
Make a list of all the people you could feasibly set up time with, either in person or over the phone, to get career advice and to learn what they did to get to where they are. Ideally, they will work in jobs you’re interested in, hire for jobs you’d like to apply for or have a large network of their own in the industry you want to break into.
Step 2: Schedule informational interviews.
It’s best to meet with your connections before you graduate and start actively looking for jobs, says Jane Matthews, assistant director of employer relations at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. “That way you’ve already got the network in place,” she says. “People already know you, and kind of know your personal brand and what you’re about.”
During the summer before your senior year and the following fall and spring semesters, schedule at least one informational interview a week with a professional connection. If you’ve done internships or held leadership roles on campus your first few years at school, you’ve most likely already started to create a network. The goal is to send each connection a brief email re-introducing yourself and asking to meet (or speak on the phone) to learn more about their career path.
“A less scary way to think about that is just starting to build relationships,” Matthews says. “‘Networking,’ I think, sometimes has kind of a daunting connotation to it.”
These connections will remember you if they hear of a job opening you’d be a good candidate for, or you can let them know after you’ve applied for a job at a company they’re familiar with.
Matthews recommends saying, “I’ve found this opportunity. Do you know of anybody who might be beneficial for me to follow up with?” That’s more professional than asking them to “put in a good word for you,” she says.
Step 3: ‘Cold-call’ hiring managers you want to work for.
You can also network with people you’ve never met. When you’re on the job hunt, search LinkedIn or company websites for managers who may be in the position to hire junior-level employees like you.
If you want a job as an advertising copywriter, for instance, look up the creative director or director of content at firms you’re excited about. Send him or her an email with a bulleted list of the skills and prior positions you’ve held that make you a great fit for his or her team, even if there aren’t any job openings posted. Include a catchy subject line, Robert Hellmann says, like “Open to discussing fresh approaches to copywriting,” and ask for 20 minutes of his or her time to share how you can help the company meet its targets.
“The goal here is to get an informational meeting, just to get in front of them,” he says. Once you meet or speak over the phone, even if there aren’t any positions currently available, the hiring manager might keep you in mind for the future.
Step 4: Follow up with hiring managers and keep in touch with connections.
If you don’t hear back right away, Hellmann recommends calling the hiring manager three days later to follow up on your email. Leave one message, but don’t call back if you don’t get a response. It’s best to come across as enthusiastic, but not over-eager.
You can also choose to reach out after you’ve sent in an application through the company’s online hiring portal, Hellmann says. Since it’s hard to stand out when you’re one of hundreds of applicants, sending a well-written email directly to a manager in addition to the basic cover letter and resume shows you’re serious about the position.
“What I’m talking about is going beyond HR, finding the person who could hire you or the person who’s hiring you,” Hellmann says.
It’s also important to follow up after informational interviews with professional connections you already know. After you speak with an alum or a previous internship supervisor, send him or her periodic updates on your job search, articles you think they’d like or a message checking in during their busy season at work. Too many job seekers schedule meetings only to have the relationships fizzle over time, Hellmann says.
“That’s only 50% of it. The other 50% is keeping in touch,” he says.
Step 5: Show appreciation after every meeting, phone call and email exchange.
It’s crucial to send a thank you email after every informational meeting you have, and even after you’ve exchanged emails with a connection who’s given you useful insight. Others will be more likely to think well of you — and recommend you for jobs —if it’s clear you’re respectful and appreciative. Send a thoughtful email following a meeting or phone call with a hiring manager, too, to make sure you stay on their radar.
All this effort is worth it, Hellmann says. Actively seeking out opportunities can expose you to higher-quality roles than you’d find among the jobs made available to all job seekers.
“The return on your time investment is huge compared to just waiting for the ads and the headhunters.”
This article originally appeared at NerdWallet.