Most job seekers follow what could generously be called the black hole strategy.  They “update” their resume, trawl every job board available, and just start shooting out copies of their resume everywhere they can.  Day after day, they send out dozens of resumes, so many that when a recruiter does call them, the job seeker can’t even remember what company they’re talking about.

Many people stay unemployed for years, robotically spamming out resumes day in and day out and never even considering that they might be doing something wrong.  More commonly though, job seekers with at least some valuable skills will simply broaden their search and lower their standards until they get a job.  It won’t be the job they want, it won’t pay very well, and it may not offer much in the way of future opportunities, but they simply won’t have a choice.

Thankfully, there’s a better way.  It requires a lot of up front work, and won’t get you a job within a month, but you can leverage the power of social media to research targeted companies and build a network specifically designed to help you get the jobs you really want.  Within a few months, you can have multiple job offers, at least one of which will be your dream job.

Clarify what you want to do

When people ask me if I know anyone who’s hiring, all I can say is “Yeah, a lot of people are hiring.”  When people ask me if I know of any late-stage tech startups hiring product managers, I know exactly who I can talk to to help that person find a job.  Too often, job seekers set goals like “I want a job that pays well, with cool coworkers and decent hours, work I enjoy and a short commute.”  That’s just waaaaay too vague; it provides no focus for you, and no way for your network to know how they can help you.  A good goal should sound like “I want to be a consumer marketing manager for a snack food company with revenue between fifty and five hundred million dollars a year.”

There are two components to this: your job title and ideal companies.  Everything else- pay, work environment, how much you’ll enjoy the work- stems from that.  First off, figure out your ideal job title, or 2-3 closely related job titles.  To do this, first off, Google “What does a (job title) do” and read some of the answers, assuming the job title is one you haven’t held before.  Second, look at job postings for descriptions of what people with those job titles actually do to see if you meet (most of) the requirements, and think you would enjoy the work.

To find your ideal companies, use LinkedIn’s industry search or advanced job search to look for companies that sound interesting, and are hiring, or have hired, for your chosen roles.  Build a list of 15-20 companies that sound good- you’ll refine this list later.  Do not worry if a company doesn’t seem to be currently hiring for your chosen position; the best jobs aren’t advertised, and companies will often create a job just to snap up top talent.

Start building inside connections at your target companies

Next up, you’re going to start building a network that includes strong connections in your chosen field, at your target companies, by conducting informational interviews.  The best way to do this is to use LinkedIn’s advanced people search (getting a premium account will help tremendously at this stage) to find people at your target companies, in the field you want to work in.  They don’t have to have the exact job title you’re going for- they just need to be in the same department.  If you can find alumni from your school, that will also give you a higher response rate and help you build strong connections with them.

Tell these people that you are interested in their company, they seem to be very successful in their careers, and you’d like to meet them for lunch/coffee to pick their brains.  Contact at least 5 people a week- you can expect response rates of 20-40% with a well-written message.  During these interviews, keep the focus on the other person and just learn as much as you can while building a connection with them.  Don’t ask them for a job or anything at this point- they’ve already helped you a lot.

Before you do ask anything else of your contacts, you’ll want to follow up and strengthen the connection further.  Send them a thank-you note the next day, and send a couple of follow-up messages over the next few weeks, either letting them know that you followed their advice, or sharing something you think they’ll find helpful.

This stage should last anywhere from two to four months.  Before applying to jobs, you should have at least ten inside connections at companies you want to work for, and you should have first met each of those people at least a month prior.  The idea here is not just to know people at your target companies, but to have contacts who are willing to recommend you to hiring managers.

Leverage your connections to get (and crush) job interviews

Before applying, you’ll need a great resume and cover letter.  Forget hiring resume writers- the information you’ve gathered from your contacts will let you do it better yourself.  Write them to highlight the specific skills, experience and accomplishments that will be most important to your target companies.  Then, you can slightly customize your resume for each company based on its unique challenges and requirements.

Once you have your applications prepared, start submitting them to your target companies.  An ideal pace is about three to five applications per week, which gives you time to prepare for your interviews.  After submitting each application, contact your new friend at that company, let them know you’ve applied, and ask them to put in a good word for you.

In preparing for your interviews, use the inside information you’ve gathered to prepare a pitch for each company.  Instead of just answering their questions like every other interviewee, you can drive the conversation by discussing the company’s challenges, and some ideas you have for how to face those challenges.  Do this right, and it’ll be like you’re interviewing them.

If you do each of these steps well- pick the right goals, build strong connections, write a top-tier resume and ace your interviews by being better prepared than anyone else- it’s entirely possible to send out 20 applications, do 10-12 interviews and get 4-6 job offers.  At that point, you can spend a week or two negotiating the offers (remember, if you picked your companies well, they’ll all be jobs you’d be happy to take) before settling in to your dream job.

Keep your network strong

Once you’ve started your amazing new job, it can be tempting to think of the process as over.  But what about that amazing network you just built?  Shoot your contacts an email every month or so, meet them for lunch, or better yet, invite them out to events with you- alumni game-watching parties are perfect for this purpose.

Top performers can call up a few of their contacts and have a new job within a week, and you can too if you nurture the relationships you’ve built.  Remember that just because it’s your dream job, doesn’t mean you’ll want to be there forever, and keep maintaining the foundations for your next job hunt, so that each successive job search is faster and easier than the last.  This process alone can lead to a big raise and promotion every few years- the effects of smart networking compound over time just as surely as any investment.