To say that the process of finding a new job is difficult is something of an understatement. This is especially true as the job market in the United States continues its slow (but steady) recovery from the trying economic times of the last few years. There are so many job listings out there that it can be incredibly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and find those precious few listings that are actually worth your time. So how exactly do you figure out what is a quality listing and what is something generic disguised with buzzwords designed to do little more than prey on your hopes? The answer is thankfully simple: you stay off the job boards altogether.

Recruiters and Headhunters

The simple fact of the matter is that anyone can just throw up a listing on a job board, whether they’re actively looking for new employees or not. Some people just want to see what the quality of applicants might be like should a position within their organization arise. While there may be some value in this approach from their perspective, it does little more than waste the time of someone looking for employment.

Recruiters and headhunters, on the other hand, are always on the lookout for new, valuable employees for any available position within a company. Their very job depends on their success, which means they have a much more vested interest in finding those ideal candidates than any one job listing could ever represent. Starting with recruiters or headhunters (or in many cases, both) is a great way to immediately get a leg up on the people who are relying solely on job board postings for all of their needs.

Forget About the ‘Job’ and Focus on the Company

Say there is one particular company that you admire that you really want to work for, but they don’t have a job opening at the moment per se. There is nothing stopping you from getting your resume together, writing a cover letter that describes why you value the company and what they do and why you would be an ideal fit and sending it off to the relevant people. Many people have had great success with this approach, even when they aren’t applying to a job listing or even if no such listing actually exists. If you are a great fit and your enthusiasm jumps off the page, you’ll be difficult to ignore – period. The worst-case scenario is that you’re at the forefront of their mind if a position DOES open up, which is never a bad thing.

Beef Up Your Network

One of the most important lessons to carry with you on your job hunt is that your network should always be as strong as possible. When it is, these mutual connections essentially act as your own personal PR firm. Case in point: say you have a friend of a friend that knows a guy who oversees hiring at Company X. After you submit your resume, you can give that friend of a friend a call to see if they can reach out to the hiring manager to put in a good word for you. Suddenly you don’t just have a quality resume – you have a real, tangible recommendation from someone that hiring manager trusts. At that point, you’ve just separated yourself from the competition before you’ve even gone in for an interview. But this ONLY works if you’re willing to strengthen your network at every opportunity, not just when you’re looking for a job.