One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...
I always draw a clear distinction between the front and back doors of career transition.
Consider this: Every single person reading this article has either gotten a job through someone they know or knows someone who has. Yet too often that incident is treated like a neat little coincidence or synchronicity, not recognized as a lesson about how an effective career transition really takes place.
Matter of fact, a participant in a recent workshop confessed that every job in his life came through connections, so he always figured he just didn’t know how to find a job. Think of that! He’s been doing it right all along, but he still felt guilty that he wasn’t doing the same-ol’-same-ol’ front-door stuff like everyone else: looking for open, advertised positions and applying as one of the lemming hoards.
To understand why 80 percent of all jobs are filled before they are ever advertised — and why the back door is better than the front door — let’s look at a job opening’s life cycle. Let’s consider a hypothetical department in a hypothetical company…
Phase 1: A position is going to open up, and only a handful of people know.
There is no position open, but, by the miracle of creation, a position will open up soon. Let’s say Clarice is moving to Lima, Ohio, or Joe isn’t cutting it; the boss wants to get rid of Joe, but not before she’s found a replacement. At this point, there are people who know that an opening is coming. We’ll call them the “people in the know.” What are they doing with what they know? Telling their family, friends and acquaintances, of course. Why? Because if there is a desk open beside you, wouldn’t you rather fill it with someone you know than run the risk of HR putting in some sniveling weirdo? Of course you would. It’s in your own best interest.
But, as Joe or Jane Jobseeker walking up to the company today, you’ll get routed to HR — the first stop for unknowns — and will be told that the company doesn’t have a job… because HR doesn’t know about it yet.
Yet, all the while, the “people in the know” are talking to others they know. Folks are moseying in and having casual conversations with the boss … and getting jobs.
Phase 2: The department gets wind that a job is opening up.
In this phase, it is general and open knowledge in the department that a position will be opening and there is movement toward getting a job requisition over to HR. But how long does that take? In some organizations, it can take weeks or months. Yet, as Joe and Jane Jobseeker approach the company, HR again informs them that there are no jobs — because the position is still not official or known. (Joe and Jane may feel free, however, to input themselves into the company’s huge database for future reference.)
What’s happening back over at the department? The “people in the know” are still talking to friends, relatives and acquaintances, and folks are still coming in, having casual conversations and getting jobs. “Oh, you’re Judy’s friend! Grab a cup of coffee, sit down, let’s talk.” Eighty percent of all jobs are filled by the end of this phase.
Phase 3: HR finally receives the job opening from the business unit.
Now HR has been officially informed, and they’ve put out the word in the publicized job market. They are inundated. Ten thousand resumes for one position. Now Joe or Jane Jobseeker coming through the front door has a competitive stance of zilch … and their negotiating position is no better. If you don’t like what the company’s offering, there are 9, 999 people right behind you who do.
At this point, you no longer enjoy the casual back-door interviews you would have had by being known by someone “in the know” in the earlier phases. No, now you have adversarial interviews with HR. God love HR, but they’ve got a tough job — they have to whittle 10,000 resumes down to one. So they are going to look for why you’re not right for the job rather than why you are.
Lastly, one final nail in the coffin of the front-door method: If you think about it, a lot of people knew about that job before it was advertised. How come it’s still open? Maybe it’s not a plum position.
To summarize, front-door knocks get you:
While back-door moseying gets you:
Therefore, my question is: Why would you ever focus on the front door in your career-transition efforts? It’s just not a wise use of your time. Sure, maybe keep your eyes peeled in case some fluke comes through the front door that may be worth an inquiry. But I’d rather see you use an advertised position as a guide post to creating back-door connections rather than believe that those avenues will actually net you a job.
Think about it: If that company has that position, don’t you think its competitors have similar positions? Use ads simply as road maps to locate who you should be getting to know through research of interests and industry issues. (An ounce of research is worth a pound of job search.)
Get to know those people before a position may necessarily be open. That leaves you as someone the “people in the know” know when openings inevitably arise.