The Strangest Secret Of Job Hunting

Finding, preparing for, and pursuing the work you were born to do takes time, patience, hard work, and grit. It’s a multi-step process, and properly taking each step requires serious, dedicated effort. Once you’ve spent the necessary time to discover your calling, to research which career fields fit your calling, and to obtain the necessary training for the work you were born to do, it is then time to land a job that’s in line with your calling. For many, this is the hardest step to complete, and it’s during the pursuit of this step that so many dreams are dashed.

In today’s digital world, the first place typical job seekers turn to is the Internet. Not only do they search the Internet for job openings; they also rely on the Internet to apply for jobs they find appealing. The problem with this approach is that most other job seekers are doing the same thing, making it extremely easy to get lost in the crowd.

As technology expert Kim Komando reports:

It’s a tough job market out there with a lot of people looking for work. Whenever I post a job opening, I get hundreds of resumes a day. Some are from highly qualified people and some are from people applying for everything they see.While I weed out the good ones by hand, a lot of companies use automated systems that might put you in the wrong category. If you’re job hunting on one of the big job boards –, CareerBuilder, Indeed, etc. – your resume could easily get lost in the shuffle.

Automated systems and big job boards can lose you in the shuffle by accident, but, sometimes, they lose you in the shuffle on purpose.  In a recent L.A Times article titled, Labor force excludes many Americans who desperately need jobs, Steve Lopez reports:

In 2012, Rand Ghayad produced several thousand job applications for people who don’t exist. He gave his applicants virtually identical credentials, but some were unemployed for varying lengths of time.

“It turns out that even if you have a great education from excellent schools … once you spend more than six months out of work, nobody wants to call you,” said Ghayad, of the economic consulting firm the Brattle Group.

Often, Ghayad said, no human being even looks at the application. An automated system kicks out anyone who’s out of work. Ghayad calls it unemployment discrimination. And someone like Bernard Prosise of West Hollywood, Ghayad said, may be experiencing both unemployment and age discrimination.

Ironically, the technology that most job seekers embrace may be the very enemy preventing them from landing their next job!

So, how does one overcome the digital gatekeeper? First, you have to learn the strangest secret of job hunting. Actually, it’s not a secret at all, which is why it’s so strange that more people don’t act upon it. This truth has been around for generations, and generations have used it time after time to get things done in this world. So, what is the strangest secret of job hunting?

It’s not what you know.  It’s who you know.

According to Crossroads Career Network*:

Most employers first try to recruit people through their personal contacts before they advertise a position or post on the Internet. Of all the jobs that get filled, how many are part of this “hidden job market?” Over 50%! Another startling statistic came from a private corporate study that demonstrated that applicants who had been personally referred were 42 times more likely to be selected than those without personal referrals. That’s a 4,200% better chance! 

Amazing, isn’t it? Most of the available opportunities are not listed anywhere. It is even truer for contract work and finding customers for your business.  That is why we recommend that you spend 50% to 85% of your search time networking

Now, like it has always been, your greatest driver of a successful job search is going to be “who you know.” Can you land a job without networking? Sure. But the odds are MUCH more in your favor if you tap into the personal connections of the people with whom you are personally connected.

Why is networking so important? Why do employers prefer to fill their positions through the recommendations of people they know?  According to Crossroad Career Network*:

  • First, the employer knows someone who knows you.
  • Second, you are more likely to be favorably received because of the positive reputation of the referral.
  • Third, the likelihood of a match between personal values and corporate values is higher.

So, how does one tap into the magic of networking? Here are some strategies for benefiting from the relationships you already have.

Step 1: Know exactly who you want to be referred to.

My first job out of college was as a life insurance agent. Early in our training for the job, I and my fellow newbies were taught the value of asking for referrals. We were also taught how NOT to ask for referrals. For instance, we were told not to ask broad questions like, “Do you know someone who needs insurance?”‘ Such questions are too general and don’t jog anybody’s memory. Instead, we were taught to ask narrow questions like, “Do you know someone who just had a baby?” “Do you know someone who just got married?” “Do you know someone who has a history of cancer in his or her family?” Such people have specific problems that insurance can solve, and asking such specific questions brought specific people to the minds of our referrers.

In the same light, prepare narrow questions to ask your job referrers. Don’t ask, “Do you know someone looking to hire help?” That’s too broad of a question. Instead, ask questions like, “Do you know a doctor who is looking for nursing help?” “Do you know a hiring manager at a warehouse/distribution outfit looking for a forklift driver?” “Do you know someone who works at XYZ Corporation? I’d really like to talk with the hiring manager there, and I could benefit from a personal introduction.” Of course, before you can ask such narrow questions, you have to understand what kinds of problems you are capable of solving for potential employers. If you don’t have a good handle on what kinds of work you are best suited for, then take the time to discover your unique package of personality, interests, skills/abilities, and values. Then, armed with the knowledge of what kinds of problems you are best suited to solve, you’ll understand what kinds of employers you are best able to help.

Step 2: Make a list of who your potential referrers are.

I’ve heard and read many times that the average person knows about 250 people. Whether that estimate is true or not, the reality is that the average person does have a network, no matter how big or how small. By asking the people you know the specific questions you’ve crafted in Step 1, you’ll have access to hundreds, if not thousands, of people, one of which might just have a job opportunity that’s a perfect match for your employment needs.

Make a list of all of the people you know who don’t hate your guts. If they don’t hate your guts, they’re going to be willing to help you, if they can. Write down the names of family members (both immediate and distant), friends from high school, friends from college, coworkers, former employers, fellow church members, civic club acquaintances, professional association members, people you do business with – the possibilities are endless! Write down the names of everyone you can think of in one sitting, but keep your list handy. Almost certainly, other people will come to mind later, and you’ll want to write those names down when they do.

Step 3: Set goals before you approach your potential referrers.

Before approaching your job referrers, be sure to establish two goals. First, set a goal for how frequently you will approach the referrers on your list. Do you want to contact one referrer per day? Ten per day? Maybe you prefer weekly goals to daily goals. It doesn’t really matter. Just set your approach goals, write them down, and look them over every morning before you start your day. Doing so will keep your goals fresh in your mind. When your goals are top of mind, they will motivate you to action.

Secondly, set a goal for how many referrals you would like to get from each referrer. When I sold insurance, my goal was to get at least three referrals from each referrer. I usually hit my goal, and quite often I exceeded it. How? I had about about five, narrow “Who do you know?” questions that I asked each referrer. Once the names started to flow, I made sure to ask a powerful question after each name mentioned: “Who else comes to mind?” Notice that I did not ask, “Does anyone else come to mind?” Yes or no questions in referral situations usually trigger “no” answers.  Asking more open-ended questions like, “Who else comes to mind?” keeps your referrer’s brain gears turning, making it more likely that he or she will add additional names to your list.

Step 4: Ask!

Until now, you’ve simply prepared to approach your network. Now it is time to get busy asking for help!  There are four main ways to connect with your personal network: in person, by phone, by correspondence (email or snailmail), and by social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).  The more personal the connection, the more effective you’ll be in uncovering potential employers to approach.  Why? When you engage referrers in conversations, either in person or over the phone, you have more opportunity to ask the questions that jog your referrers’ memories. The more impersonal your approach, the less opportunity you’ll have to ask those questions. I’m not saying that email, snailmail, and social media can’t yield results. They certainly can!  However, in-person and over-the-phone contacts yield better results, so use those methods as often as you can.

When approaching your referrers, be sure to ask them how they would be willing to connect you with the potential employers they know. Are they willing to introduce you in person? Over the phone? Via email? Or, would they rather you make the contact yourself?  Certainly, a personal introduction – either in person, over the phone, via correspondence, or through social media – is preferable. But, if referrers don’t have the time or the will to introduce you personally, they can still be a tremendous help by allowing you to drop their names. During my life insurance days, I almost never received a personal introduction from my referrers. However, when I contacted their referrals, the conversations (typically over the phone) usually went something like this:

Can I speak with Larry?


Hi, Larry, I’m Robbie Romeiser with _________, and your friend Jody gave me your name. How are you today?

Oh, I’m okay. How do you know Jody?

Well, I was working with Jody recently…

If your referrers would prefer that you make your own introduction, be sure to get from them the following: permission to use their names, their referrals’ phone numbers and/or email addresses (both is best), and any tidbits of information (like how the referrer knows the referral) that could be useful in an introductory conversation.

People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust.  It’s really hard to become known, liked, and trusted by potential employers who only know you as just another applicant from a Web portal. With a little bit of effort and patience, however, you can use the power of human connection to become known, liked, and trusted by the employer who has God’s vocational calling waiting for you.

* Crossroads Career Work Book, Page 44. Copyright 2000-2013 Crossroads Career Services, Inc. Crossroads Career is a career ministry founded by Brian Ray, former Vice President and Executive Committee Member of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain. While at Chick-Fil-A, Mr. Ray was responsible for Human Resources, Operator Ventures and Administration, and he has used his extensive knowledge of human resources  to develop a biblically-based, 7-step process to help people discover and pursue their career calling.

imgRobbie Romeiser is a commercial real estate broker, real estate instructor, and author of the daily devotional Today’s Quote From God ( Desiring to help his own children follow God’s calling in their lives, Robbie founded Career Callings ( to help people find, prepare for, and pursue the work God has called them to do.