Our Take: Active Job Search Techniques

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Recently we explained our philosophy of career planning and growth, which can be summed up as "active career management." Now, here are some techniques to help you maximize expected returns from the effort you put into your job search.

Most of these tips below came from Ken Murray, president of Mercury Partners, a New York-based search firm focused on hedge funds and investment banks.

Steer Away From the Crowd

Seek out "undiscovered" employers. Because career sites of large, well-known companies draw heavy traffic, when you respond to job postings there you'll be swimming in a crowded lane. As an alternative, use search engines, trade publications, directories and other sources to identify employers whose names are less visible than the top tier.

When using search engines, never stop after the first page of results. Opportunities that make their first appearance on later pages are more likely to bear fruit, precisely because fewer job-seekers will make the effort to view them.

Use the news to ferret out unadvertised job openings. For example, when any employee jumps ship, the firm they left often requires a replacement. What's more, the new employer may make additional hires to fill out or upgrade their department. So that's two companies likely to have current openings for a known skill-set, whether they've posted them or not.

The latest news about appointments and job changes can be found through Internet search engines or news Web sites. For example, Bloomberg offers functions that filter news for stories about specific people, companies or industries. To begin pursuing a potential opening you've identified from a news story, ask your existing contacts within either company to inquire about who is heading up the search, so you can approach the hiring manager.

The Smart Way to Leverage Contacts

Doing this is the most effective way of leveraging your professional network. Rather than ask people who know you to tell you about job openings - something I've tried and, believe me, it doesn't work - it's smarter to identify promising openings and employers through your own efforts, then ask your contacts to usher you in the door. If a contact inside a company forwards your information to the hiring manager, you come in as what New York career counselor Phyllis Rosen calls a "warm call" rather than a "cold call." That can make all the difference. Using your network in this way also makes it possible to follow up if you get no response after answering a job ad.

Then there's this tip from Dave Tomer, president of Tomer Search Group in Boston. Before even starting a job search, ask the most influential person who knows your work to send you a letter of recommendation in digital form. Each time you apply to a posted opening, include that reference letter alongside your resume. An attached letter from a well-known or high-placed name is far more likely to be noticed than a "references" section far down in a resume, Tomer says.

Offers Beget Offers

Murray advises making maximum use of specialized job-search channels that focus on your professional niche. That includes posting your resume on finance-specific sites (such as eFinancialCareers), and using any and all recruiters who have assignments in your niche. (That last point differs from the consensus view. Most recruiters and career counselors tell candidates to work with at most three external recruiters, to avoid the risk of overexposing your resume.)

Finally, when your goal is in sight - meaning, when you received an offer - don't slow down for a victory lap. Do the opposite: Step up the pace by informing other employers who've interviewed you but haven't notified you of a decision. Leveraging one offer to generate additional offers is now the norm. Murray says the first offer often becomes a powerful catalyst that spurs other employers to stop dragging their feet and make an offer themselves. At that point, he says, "It almost becomes a bidding war."

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