If you’ve read any of my posts, you know most of my work involves training corporate recruiters, staffing firms and hiring managers in Performance-based Hiring. The bulk of this involves convincing them to clarify real job needs, spending more time with fewer job candidates and making sure the hiring decision is a complete win-win-win for all parties involved. The video below describes this process.

Collectively, this is a paradigm shift from mass hiring on a transactional basis to a more one-on-one consultative approach. There’s no reason job seekers can’t do the same thing. It starts by knowing the difference between transactional and consultative selling. Buying cars, purchasing anything on Amazon or negotiating the price for something based on quantity is considered a transactional sales process. Finding jobs on some job board and applying is a similar transactional process.

When a product or service is customized to fit the specific needs of the buyer a consultative sales process is used. In this case the sales rep begins with a discovery process to determine the customer’s needs and based on this prepares a customized solution. Customizing your home in any way or buying a new system for your business involves consultative selling.

A comparable consultative process for hiring often takes hours spread over weeks to ensure the person being hired is a good fit for the job and the job is a good fit for the person. This is pretty much how people are hired in the hidden job market before requisitions are publicly opened. In these cases hiring managers first try to find people internally or get referrals from co-workers. Many times these jobs are modified to better fit the career needs of the person being hired. If jobs aren’t filled this way, the job is posted and a shift is made to a more transactional hiring process.

Here’s how job seekers can take advantage of the hidden job market using a consultative job seeking process.

  1. Take a less is more approach to job hunting. Rather than applying to anything and everything, find 8-10 companies that seem to have positions available that best fit your skills and interests.
  2. Do your research. For each company focus on their new product efforts, where they’re trying to be more efficient or if they're trying to recover from a problem. Your objective is to uncover business challenges they’re facing that you can help solve.
  3. Use the back door to find the decision-makers. Don’t apply directly and forget contacting HR or the internal recruiting department. Instead use LinkedIn or the phone (call and ask for the name of the person) to find out the names of the hiring manager or department head.
  4. Get referred if you can. Networking is not about meeting as many people as you can. It’s about getting a few people who can vouch for your performance to introduce you to a few other people. This is another example of the less is more concept.
  5. Market discussions, demos and teasers, not your resume. When contacting the decision-makers, don’t sell your need for a job. Sell the idea of helping solve one of their company’s business problems. One grad student told me he put together a competitive analysis of a new product line, sent it to the VP Marketing and landed an interview a few days later. He came up with the idea looking in an industrial journal with the product announcement.
  6. Focus on campaign results, not response rates. Sending out hundreds of resumes in the hope to get a 1-2% response rate is a waste of effort. Instead, use multiple approaches and a lot of persistence to arrange exploratory meetings with at least 70-80% of the companies on your target list.
  7. Success is making advances, not having interviews. The measure of success in consultative selling is moving the process forward, typically more meetings and more demos with more people to get more insight about the buyer’s needs. For job seekers this equates to arranging a series of exploratory conversations or doing a small project to demonstrate your ability.
  8. Make sure you’re assessed properly. During the discovery phase you’ll be asking the people what needs to be done to help address their problems. During the interview your goal is to demonstrate you can do this work by providing examples of comparable accomplishments. This interview template and video will help you structure this approach.

While I don’t promote my books, videos and articles to job seekers, I get requests for advice weekly. This often follows the complaint that the person has applied to hundreds of job postings with little results to show for it. My advice is always the same: Stop pushing the apply button. Instead get creative, find some companies that can benefit from your abilities and then go prove it to them. This process is called consultative job seeking. It takes a lot more work than applying directly but it represents the difference between hoping for an interview and getting a better job.