I’ve written a number of posts lately describing how people get interviews and job offers and what to do if they’re not a “perfect” fit. What I find interesting is that many of the people who don’t fit the traditional mold find the advice refreshing and just as many find it depressing. I’ll use this post to summarize the advice and provide more ammunition for using the back door to get an interview. I’ll start with a high-level view of the current job market (February 2015).

As the graph (JOLTs Report) from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) indicates, job growth is continuing to strengthen, with over one million net new unique jobs posted online this past year. (This is the top line in the graph.) A separate DOL report indicates that 3 million jobs were filled in 2014. Expect these trends to continue for at least the next 6-12 months. As a result, now is a great time to get a job, a new job or a better job. It’s also exactly why you should not apply directly to a job posting.

How and Why You Should Use the Back Door to Get Your Next Job

  1. There are two job markets - the public market and the hidden job market. Jobs are filled in the public market with people who have “perfect” backgrounds and are willing to take lateral transfers. Careers are created in the hidden job market with people who have non-traditional backgrounds. The JOLTs report represents all of the open jobs in the U.S. public market. There are just as many better jobs in the hidden job market, but you’ll only get to these through the back door.
  2. In the hidden job market, people are judged by their past performance and future potential. Before a person is even interviewed for public jobs, they must pass through a bunch of filters largely based on things that represent a “perfect” background. Companies are now using predictive analytics to find even more perfect people. Those with non-traditional backgrounds can get hired by gaining entry through the back door and getting assessed largely based on their accomplishments.
  3. Demonstrate your ingenuity, drive, persistence and ability by hacking a job. Here are 15 different techniques you can use to get an interview by entering through the back door. Most of them involve demonstrating your ability to do the work in lieu of a perfect background.
  4. Spend at least 80% of your time finding a key to the back door. Unless you’re a perfect fit you will not get an interview by applying directly to a job posting. So don’t waste your time. Limit this effort to one hour per day. Here’s what to do with the other 6-8 hours.
  5. Getting a back door interview increases your chances of getting the job by 2-3X. Hiring managers assign more value to those who bypass the gatekeepers. Most of these are referrals and people who have contacted them directly in some unusual way. By ensuring you’re being judged on your past performance, you’re more likely to get past the first round of preliminary assessments. Here you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting hired. Job seekers who apply directly have less than a 100 to 1 chance of being interviewed and a 1 in 10 chance of being hired if they get interviewed by a recruiter. (Contact Dr. John Sullivan if you want to dispute these figures.)
  6. Once you get the interview, don’t wing it. Candidates must be be fully prepared. It's even better if they're given the questions ahead of time. If so, they can then formally present their answers using this template. Regardless, completing and practicing using the template will help during the actual interview. (Job Hack 16: send a recording of your best practice session using the questions in the template as another idea for getting an interview.)

I’m still amazed that active job seekers think complaining about the unfairness of the job market and the hiring process will help their situation. It won’t. What I’ve learned is that the best people take advantage of the situation regardless of the circumstances to achieve their objectives. If your objective is to get a new or better job, recognize that how these jobs are being filled is now changing. So take advantage of these changes. Getting a job is a sales process. And like a sales process, you have a choice: either make lots of cold calls or a few warm calls. More important, the warm calls will help you get a key to the back door and a better job. The cold calls won’t.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.