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Tapping the Hidden Job Market

by Beth McFarland, Manager Special Projects, SHRM Foundation   

As the former student program manager, I frequently received calls from students saying "Hi, I'm a student member and I just graduated, how will SHRM help me find a job?" Some members are disappointed to hear that SHRM does not provide any direct placement assistance. However, we do offer something far more valuable: the opportunity to network with our professional members. As in many other aspects of life, you will get out of your membership what you put into it. The greatest job assistance we can provide to student members is not our employment listings, it is the opportunity to gain access to what is often termed the "hidden job market." But it is up to you to use this opportunity.

How will your SHRM membership help you find a job? Surveys show that 60% - 80% of all jobs are found through personal contacts. Many positions are never even advertised, but are filled instead through the "hidden job market" by personal recommendations or "word-of-mouth." As a national SHRM member, you are part of a network of over 170,000 people worldwide. Make this work to your advantage. Use your SHRM membership to make yourself known to the HR professionals who are doing the hiring. For best results, begin building your personal network of contacts before you start your actual job search. Your goal is to meet a lot of people and to make a positive impression so they will remember you. How do you do this?

To meet HR professionals, begin attending professional SHRM chapter meetings, state and regional conferences, and if possible, an SHRM national conference. Volunteer to work on projects with professional members such as staffing registration booths, cleaning or setting up, or assisting speakers. Remember that every professional you meet was once "in your shoes". The majority of people will be very supportive of your networking efforts. Set a goal to collect at least five business cards at each meeting or seminar. Sit with people you haven't met and introduce yourself to those around you or at your table. To start a conversation, ask professionals how they got into HR, where they are from originally, or what they like best about the work they do. People love to talk about themselves, so learn to ask good questions and you'll soon be an excellent conversationalist.

At professional chapter meetings, take time to meet the chapter officers, and to talk to the speaker. Ask everyone what advice they have for someone just entering the field. You'll be surprised at how many people you meet and how much you learn about the real world of human resources. If you have a particularly good conversation or discover a special connection with someone, follow up with a written note or a phone call a few days later. Let the person know that you enjoyed talking with him or her and that you appreciate his or her time and insights.

After participating regularly in student and professional SHRM events for several months, you will start to notice familiar faces at many of the meetings and seminars. These new acquaintances will also be noticing you and they will respect your motivation and professionalism in preparing for your future career. These professionals will become your mentors and your friends. They will introduce you to other professionals and they will help you to locate internships and temporary work in the field.

When it comes time for your actual job search, you won't be in it alone. If you have invested the necessary time up front making friends and professional contacts, you will have a support network in place that will help you to tap into that "hidden job market" where the majority of jobs are found.

No, SHRM won't find a job for you, but it will offer you an incredible opportunity to gain access to the people who are doing the hiring. I challenge you to take advantage of this opportunity. Will you do it?

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