This is the third part of the “How I Got My Job” series, the story of how I went from unemployed to working at my dream organization. Read part 1 and part 2.
Most people trawl online job boards or attend job fairs even though we know it’s not effective. These sorts of activities make us feel productive, and hey, sometimes they work. But according to What Color Is Your Parachute? (WCIYP), only 4-10% of people succeed in finding a job by responding to online ads. Responding to newspaper ads is similarly ineffective.
So what should you be doing instead? A targeted, direct job search.
There are probably hundreds of companies in your field that you don’t know about. Once you have identified the field you want to focus on, start a Dream Company list. Research the names of as many companies as you can locate. There are lots of great resources for tracking them down:
1. Job boards targeted to your industry-—I used idealist, the catch-all for nonprofit job ads. Those interested in publishing would try bookjobs.com. Sometimes these websites allow you to search for companies in general; if not, just look at an unscreened list of job ads and copy down the name of each company. Then check them out on their website.
2. Vault.com—This is a great online resource that has information on over 10,000 US companies, including employee satisfaction surveys, salary information, tips on getting hired, and more. It also has detailed profiles on different professions.
3. Identify trade and special-interest magazines in your industry and see if you can browse them at the local library, bookstore or magazine shop. Take down the names of any companies with interesting ads or articles.
4. Websites of companies you already know often will mention partnerships or publications made with other companies. For me, the Vera Institute of Justice had a great Resources page with lots of leads.
Do a quick study of every company and see if it deserves to be on your Dream list. Read about their stated mission and values, try to figure out how they operate and make money, and see what sort of work their employees do. You should end up with a fairly long list of potential employers.
Once you have created this list, order it by preference. Then begin contacting each one. Check their website first to see if there are any job openings, but you’ll be better off if there aren’t—the company won’t be getting deluged with job applications, and will be more likely to read your letter.
Take several hours to research each company. Look for recent achievements or news articles that you can refer to, as well as older victories that the company might be famous for. Once you have enough information, draft a very detailed cover letter. Describe why you like the company, explain your skills and how they might be used, and invite them to contact you if they ever need to hire someone with those skills. Make the cover letter as specific as possible—let them know that this is your dream company and that you would be passionate about working for them.
To really wow them, include some portfolio items—writing samples, completed projects, etc. Make sure to personalize the letter to the head of the department you’re interested in. If possible, deliver the package by hand—you just might meet the right contact face-to-face. Once you’re done, move on to the next company! Before long, all the best companies in your industry will have heard of you. It may not pay off immediately, but this is just the kind of exposure you want while job hunting.