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4 Key Steps to Finding — and Snagging — Your Dream Job

Skip the job boards, it's all about a referral. Follow these 4 foolproof ways to get one.

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Fill in the blank: This type of applicant is 15 times more likely to be hired than an applicant from a job board.

Did we pique your interest? The answer to intriguing question is someone who is referred. Job boards have just a 0.4 percent effectiveness rate, according to a recent Jobvite study, while the rate for someone who comes in the door via an employee referral is over 5 percent. “The best job search is the job search that you don’t need to do,” says Jacob Share, founder of JobMob.

But while some job seekers seem clued in to that fact — almost 35 percent applied to their most recent position through a referral — the majority have not. So, how do you get that referral and then sell yourself on the ensuing application? A few suggestions:

Be prepared before diving in to the job search

Even if leaving your current job hasn’t crossed your mind, you should always have two things ready and up to date — your resume and LinkedIn profile. “That’s where employers are going to look for you,” says Alison Doyle, job search expert for the Balance. And if the idea of a new opportunity has crossed your mind? Before you begin applying, know this: In cover letters, most people tend to talk about what they want instead of how they can help a company reach its goals. Many think the latter is implied, but it’s not — and you’ve got to draw that very specific line.

Even if leaving your current job hasn’t crossed your mind, you should always have two things ready and up to date — your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Even if leaving your current job hasn’t crossed your mind, you should always have two things ready and up to date — your resume and LinkedIn profile.

It’s your responsibility to match those job description keywords and show how you line up with the role. “There’s a difference between ‘I can contribute to your success in XYZ ways’ versus ‘I’m a great candidate, look at me,’” agrees Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute. The key here is to look at the success marker for the job and then be very specific about how what you’ve done can help replicate that kind of success. Use concrete numbers wherever possible.

Start connecting

As you start thinking about making a move, prepare a shortlist of companies (maybe three to five) you’d like to work for, and do extensive research on them. You want to be as certain as possible that the company you might jump to will make you happier than the one you’re leaving, and it’s hard to know that until you hear from people who currently work there. Try reaching out to people who work at your shortlisted companies that you have something in common with — the same school, major, interests, hometown or LinkedIn group. Invite some of them to coffee — your treat if possible — to ask them about what it’s like to work there. “People in general will want to help if it doesn’t cost them much,” says Share.

Think “relationships” over “networking”

“If you are making a habit to nurture your network along the way, then you won’t be seen as searching for a job,” says Mitchell. “You’ll just be in the right place when opportunity opens its door.” It’s true that the idea of networking can make some people feel drained or even fake. But if that’s the case, says career and executive coach Maggie Mistal, you might be doing it wrong. “Networking isn’t about you,” she says. “It’s about the person you’re talking to.” Take an interest in the other person by asking about their interests, goals, challenges and where they’d like to go in their career. See if you can help them. Another key: Do more listening than talking. The irony is that opportunities tend to come faster when people focus on fostering a genuine connection.

Usually the person who can help you is two to three degrees of separation away — a person might not be in your chosen field, but their relative, sister or best friend could be.

Usually the person who can help you is two to three degrees of separation away — a person might not be in your chosen field, but their relative, sister or best friend could be.

Another pro tip: Try to avoid getting impatient and feeling the urge to move on if someone isn’t directly tied to the career path you see for yourself. “Usually the person who can help you is two to three degrees of separation away,” says Mistal — for example, that person might not be in your chosen field, but their relative, sister or best friend could be. Something else to keep in mind when you’re relationship-building? It's an ongoing effort. Do it “consistently and constantly,” says Adrienne Tom, certified employment strategist at Career Impressions. “It could help you unearth hidden jobs or create custom opportunities for yourself.”

Keep an eye open for hidden jobs

The big potential win is that by laying all this groundwork, you'll find your way into a "hidden job" — one that isn't found online or on a job board or even published. That's huge. “Once a company posts an open job, you are immediately in competition with a gazillion people, usually, for attention,” says Jenny Foss, job search strategist and founder of JobJenny.com. One solution is to apply for a job that doesn’t yet exist at a certain company. In order to do this, you’ll need a solid understanding of the organization and its potential holes in leadership. You can start the process by sending along what experts call a “value introduction letter,” or a succinct letter that introduces you as a person and the value you can afford the company. You’ll want to outline a clear action plan for addressing the company’s key pain points and actionable ideas for solving them. Consider starting with a question, like, “Are you looking to optimize operations and save on costs?” and then go into quantifiable metrics that you personally generated in your current or most recent role. The proof lies in the results.

With Hayden Field.

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