The “hidden job market” comprises 75% of most jobs and perhaps 90% of the best jobs. These jobs materialize when executives talk about their companies’ problems, needs, changes or opportunities, but haven’t advertised them as “openings” to the general public.

Jobs in the hidden market are not in newspapers or HR departments; they are not in employment agencies’ files, or anyone’s files for that matter. They exist only in the minds of hiring decision makers and are often created during an interview.

You’re more likely to tap into these hidden opportunities if you have what I call “referral meetings” with people in your network. Here’s a four-step process to implement a referral meeting strategy into your job search campaign:

Step 1: Create a primary contact list of 15-30 people you know well. They might be family and friends, or former employers and business associates. You might consider service providers like lawyers, doctors, dentists and accountants, or well-connected professionals such as insurance agents, realtors, stockbrokers or politicians. <Download this primary contract grid, to jog your memory>

Your primary contacts can potentially lead you to the next level of contacts:

  • Bridge contacts: People who can provide you with information on industries or companies you’re researching, or people connected to hiring managers.
  • Hiring contacts: People with authority to make a job offer, or those closest to them.

Step 2: Decide who to contact for your first referral meeting. Preface your request with this disclaimer: “I’m in the process of taking the next step in my career. You might be able to answer some important ques­tions for me. I don’t expect you to have or know of a job opening. Any information you can give me will be valuable and helpful in planning my next step.” Then describe your job/career objective and some steps you’ve taken in your campaign.

Step 3: Arrange this meeting with your contact; in-person is best, though phone or Skype meetings can work, too. Prepare your questions in advance, depending on what you need. Be sure to cover these main objectives:

  • Get feedback on how you present yourself and how well your résumé supports your career goals.
  • Listen and learn about what’s new in your profession, and for clues about problems, needs, changes or opportunities inside your target company list. (Side note: you should have 50-100 companies on this list). If you’re the person who can solve these companies’ problems, you can use this information as leverage in future conversations with those companies’ hiring manager(s).
  • Request 1-2 referrals to bridge contacts or hiring contacts who can be of further assistance in your search.
  • Reciprocate your contact for their help. You can say, “I have a huge network of contacts and resources. I’ll be glad to pass along whatever will be most helpful.”
  • Send a thank-you note within 24 hours, via email or postal mail.

Step 4: Follow up with any bridge or hiring contacts, then schedule appointments with them. Use the “disclaimer” from Step 2 and explain who referred you and why. Adjust your approach for each contact, whether you’re gathering information or dealing with hiring managers, who will be interested in how you can fulfill their company’s needs.

Repeat the above four steps with other contacts from your primary list. The good news is that you may only need to meet with 3-4 of them to reach bridge or hiring contacts.

The referral meeting strategy requires time, patience and persistence. If you stick to the process, you will find people who’ll lead you to hidden job market information and hiring decision makers who are looking for someone with your skills and talents.

© Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, the Career Success Coach, 2013 All Rights reserved. www.career-success-coach.com