How to Access the Hidden Job Market
Most students are shocked
when they discover that only 20% of all job opportunities are posted online.1
And that doesn’t mean that your school’s online job platform posts only 20% of available jobs. It means all of the job websites in the world, combined
, represent only 20% of available jobs, internships, and research positions. You might be skeptical of that statistic at first, as I was, but if you talk to professionals and look at research, you’ll realize that it’s true. People like to hire people they know or people their colleagues know. As a college student or recent graduate, your biggest challenge in the job search process is to become known by the right people at organizations where you want to work.
The next four chapters cover the strategies, mindsets, and knowledge you need to access the hidden job market. I’ll discuss why the single most important thing you can do for your career is to apply a holistic approach to your job or internship search that includes proactive relationship building with professionals. The norm for students is to respond only to the opportunities put in front of them by their school or through popular websites, which is reactive. Students who are also proactive build more self-confidence, expedite their career exploration, and increase their chances for landing the positions they want. If you are seeking a job in a competitive industry, being proactive will differentiate you from an ocean of applicants and give you an advantage— oftentimes regardless of your GPA or prior experience.
The strategies in part 1 will show you the path to taking control of your career success and creating the mindset to achieve your goals.
The Origin of the Career Launch Method
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
I was the first person on my mom’s side of the family to go to a four-year college, and my dad was the first person in his family to do so, after he attended community college.
My life changed in the middle of my junior year. At the age of twenty, I hadn’t given any thought to life after college. I was sitting in Professor Al Ferrer’s sports management class at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I had transferred after attending a community college. Professor Ferrer told the class he had five summer internships with professional sports teams to hand out.
He asked the students, “Who’s interested?”
As you might imagine with a class of sports management students, everyone’s hand went up.
Professor Ferrer went on to say, “The only fair way I know to select who receives the internships is to reward the students with the best grades.”
Upon hearing this, my shoulders slumped and I put my head down. I was far from being one of the best students. My grades consisted of mostly Bs and a few Cs.
But then Professor Ferrer continued, “If you are not one of the students with the best grades but you consider yourself a hard worker, come see me during my office hours and I will provide some tips to increase your chances of landing an internship with a professional sports team, even if you do not have any connections.”
That line resonated with me because I considered myself a hard worker. My first job, during middle school, was delivering newspapers door to door at 4:00 a.m. In high school, I played sports and still worked as a cashier at the local pizza restaurant. In my first year of college, I started a four-year stint working for the kitchen knife company Cutco.
Although I had this work experience, I didn’t have a résumé or cover letter. So I went home, found some examples on my career center’s website, and quickly put together the documents. I showed up at my professor’s office hours the next day, eager to learn about how to land an internship with a professional sports team.
Professor Ferrer told me that I needed to “zig when others zag.” Applying to sports internships on the internet, well, that is what everybody does (zagging). I needed to take a different approach. I needed to have a holistic and proactive approach that included being targeted and strategic (zigging). I needed to do more than the typical student to stand out.
HOW TO ZIG WHEN OTHERS ZAG
That night, I made a list of the five professional sports teams that I would love to work for. Being a San Francisco Bay Area native, I targeted the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, and Golden State Warriors.
Next, I made a list of the employees I thought could be strategically beneficial to me at each team. I realized that chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and chief operating officers don’t hire interns. Neither do entry-level employees. At most reasonably sized organizations, people in director or manager positions hire interns. So I went to each team’s website and online search engines (LinkedIn did not exist at the time), researched the names of all the directors and managers I could find, and added the names to a spreadsheet. I wasn’t picky about finding the perfect department or division within the organization because I simply wanted to get my foot in the door.
On my spreadsheet, I added any additional information I could find about these people. For example, their email addresses, phone numbers, mailing address, and miscellaneous information such as educational background (and institutions), prior employers, favorite books, hobbies, and the like.
When I finished the spreadsheet, I narrowed my list to six directors at each of the five teams for whom I had enough information to reach out. I had a total of thirty business professionals who could potentially help me land an internship.
That was the easy part. Now it was time to figure out how to get any of these directors to engage with me. I thought to myself, I’m going to go old school. I’m going to send a cover letter and résumé via the U.S. Postal Service—snail mail. Not only that, but I also decided to print the documents on extra-thick card stock paper to showcase my extra effort. From my job experience with Cutco, I knew that little things can make a big difference in standing out from the crowd.
I purchased oversize envelopes (9 × 12 inches), because I knew that an oversize envelope was more likely to get noticed and opened than a regular-size envelope. I even thought about what type of pen I would use to handwrite the address and return address on the envelope. I knew a ballpoint pen would look puny, so I decided to use a Sharpie.
It took many hours over several days to create thirty envelopes with personalized cover letters to each director, but I felt that this was what it would take to land an internship in one of the most competitive industries in the world. I was very excited when I finished the project, and I dropped off the thirty envelopes at the post office. But was my excitement realistic? I knew that all thirty people wouldn’t respond to me, but how many would? Two or three? Five or six? Ten or twelve?
After the first four days, I didn’t have any responses.
After a week, still no responses.
After ten days, nothing. Not even an email acknowledging my gesture.
After fourteen days, I walked into Professor Ferrer’s office and told him I had not received any responses. I was frustrated and depressed. The excitement that I had two weeks prior was long gone.
Professor Ferrer replied, “You know what you need to do next, right?”
I said no.
He said, “You need to call them.”
I said, “Call them?” There was no way I could call these professionals. I was a pimple-faced, dyed-hair college student with average grades. Who was I to be intruding on their time? It would be rude of me to call them. Plus, I didn’t know what I would say or what to do if they answered the phone.
Professor Ferrer said, “You’re telling me that you can’t dial someone’s phone number and when they answer, say ‘Hi, this is Sean O’Keefe, a student at UC Santa Barbara. I sent you a letter in the mail and I was wondering if you received it.’ You can’t say that?”
“Okay,” I said. “Yeah, I can do that.”
“If they say ‘Yes, I did,’ you then ask the person to advise you about the next step they would suggest for a student like you to take in obtaining an informational interview or internship. And if they say ‘No, I didn’t get your letter,’ you say that you’re interested in earning an informational interview or internship and ask if it would be okay to send them an email with a copy of your résumé and cover letter.”
Despite feeling apprehensive, I brightened up and said, “Yeah, I can do that.”
So, for the next three days, I called ten of the professionals on my list each day. I was hoping that someone would invite me into the interview process for a summer internship, or at least an informational interview.
Most people didn’t answer the phone call and I had to leave voice mail messages. Some of the people who did answer told me I needed to contact the human resources department, some told me to call back in a couple months, and some told me there were no internships available in their department.
I received many rejections in response to my inquiries. In total, nobody invited me in for any kind of interview. I was dejected and feeling defeated. I gave serious thought to giving up. But the story is not over. Through my proactive outreach, by zigging, I was building a positive personal brand and reputation.
When there’s that moment of “Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,” and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.
MOVING PAST REJECTION
After these rejections, I remembered my manager at Cutco, Stephen Torres, teaching me about the art of professional persistence. Professional persistence means that people who are asking for something should walk the line between being aggressive and avoiding follow-up. Continually contacting busy professionals is rude, but well-timed follow-up messages can show your commitment and increase your chances of success. Professional persistence alone will not earn you the position you want. You must demonstrate competence and confidence that you will excel in the job or internship you are seeking.
I decided I would send a follow-up email to each of the thirty professionals the next week, call again the week after that, and send another email the week after that. If somebody gave me a definitive no, then I would cross them off my list and stop reaching out to them.
I was extremely nervous during my calls and voice mails, pacing around my dorm room, but I tried to sound more calm and mature than I felt. I reminded myself that the worst thing that could happen was someone saying no to my requests.
I knew that landing an internship would increase my chances of landing a job after graduation, so I tried all sorts of strategies and tactics to get my foot in the door. I asked for informational interviews. I asked when and how the formal interview process for interns would occur. I explained how I would do a great job in the role, if given the opportunity.
And you know what?
Ten weeks after beginning this process and mailing out thirty envelopes, I landed an internship. I would report to Lisa Wood in the marketing department of the Oakland A’s!
Lisa told me that she had created the internship for me because of my efforts. I had convinced her that I could add value to her department. She told me that other candidates had reached out to her with better-looking résumés (higher GPAs, leadership positions with on-campus clubs, better experience, and so forth), but that because of my professional persistence and communication of competencies, she had felt compelled to create and design an internship for me.
Even though I grew up rooting for the San Francisco Giants, I was thrilled to have secured an internship with their rival Oakland A’s. You can’t be too picky when you are trying to land positions in highly competitive industries.
This was a pivotal point in my life. I had proven to myself, with help and advice from Professor Ferrer and Stephen Torres, that I could accomplish my lofty goal despite having no prior connections to the industry.
What an internship it was! Driving to the office meant driving to Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s played their baseball games. I got to be the note taker during marketing meetings and to interact with fans during ball games. I also did lots of grunt work, like stuffing envelopes, which I did with joy.
At the end of the internship, I asked Lisa for, and received, a letter of recommendation that would be valuable for future job applications and interviews.
LEVERAGING ONE INTERNSHIP TO LAND ANOTHER
One week later, I was back in school at UC Santa Barbara. My summer internship with the A’s gave me some credibility in the professional sports world, and I felt that I could use my momentum to make a compelling case to land another internship during my senior year. In my opinion, the greatest benefit of an internship is the opportunity to build personal relationships with people who make hiring decisions about full-time employees.
I now had industry experience and a letter of recommendation that I could strategically utilize as a reason to get back in touch with professionals from the other teams I had been contacting earlier in the year.
A San Francisco 49ers employee named Drew Casani in the Player Personnel Department had always taken my phone calls. It seemed like every time I called, he picked up. He would always begin, “Forty-Niners, this is Drew.”
When I had first started reaching out to Drew, he told me that the personnel department hired an intern every winter to help out with the college draft. However, he said that this position was always filled by somebody close to the team’s family (a son or daughter, niece or nephew, next-door neighbor, or similar), because the intern had access to highly confidential information.
At this point, I had spoken to Drew four or five times on the phone. I had a feeling I needed to create a stronger relationship with him. I told him about my experience with the A’s and my letter of recommendation, and I asked him if it would be okay if I stopped by his office to put a face to my voice when I headed home for Thanksgiving. He agreed.
You have to do what you dream of doing, even while you’re afraid.