Did you know that the vast majority of job openings are never advertised? You won’t see them in the newspaper, online, or posted on the company website. These job openings won’t have hundreds of applicants fighting for the attention of a busy employer, in fact, there are usually only a few applicants.

So how does this mysterious job market function?  The answer is simple:  Networking. If you’re currently searching for a job, your job application process probably goes something like this:

1. You peruse the online job site of your choice until you find a job that fits your skills.

2. You pull out your resume and a long cover letter, which you send off by email.

3. An HR rep receives your email.

4. He or she briefly scans it, and either immediately pushes it aside, or adds it to a binder with hundreds of other resumes.

5. You wait for a call that never comes.

Once you’re in it, this loop seems endless. Inevitably, you begin to value quantity over quality. “If I can just send out enough resumes, something will stick,” you think.

1. You should spend more time networking…

Networking bypasses this process completely. Through networking, you can get your resume into the hands of the people that really need to see it. You can skip the tedious search and the endless competition, and go straight to the end-game.

Chances are, if you’ve been involved in the job search process for any length of time, it’s not a new concept that you should be networking. In fact, most people know they should. So why don’t they?

In short, networking is complicated. The rules and the path forward aren’t always clear. It doesn’t have the instant, feel-good payoff of sending a resume to a posted job, and that makes it difficult.

If you’re ready to start tapping the potential of this hidden job market, how do you get started? This step-by-step summary action plan will get you started on making connections, and move you closer to getting a job.

2. Get a networking game plan: Start by reaching out to people you know

Chances are, you already have at least some experience in your chosen field, and even if it’s just academic, you already have a “network.” Contact your old professors. Contact anyone you’ve ever done an internship for. Contact anyone who’s ever mentored you. If you’ve worked in your desired industry before, contact former co-workers and acquaintances. You’d be surprised what comes back.

The key to making these connections work is to be clear about your expectations.  Don’t just update your Facebook status to “Job search = frustrating.”  Reach out directly to the people you know, and be clear about what you’re after. Tell them you are looking for a job in your field, and you’re hoping they could put you in touch with someone in a hiring position – even if they aren’t hiring at the moment. Attach a copy of your resume for good measure.

3. Don’t give up

If you’re very, very lucky, your first networking effort has paid off with a win and you’re heading in for an interview.  If not, you’re likely to be confronted by one of two situations:

A.  Someone from your network knows of someone in your field, but they’re not hiring.
B.  You’ve struck out entirely.

If you find yourself in situation A, schedule an interview or a quick lunch if at all possible.  Hiring managers really do keep these interviews and interactions on file, and will refer to them if they have an opening – chances are, they’ll remember you.

4. Go Bold

If you didn’t have any luck on your first go round, try a more bold approach: contact professionals you’d like to work for directly (we teach you how to do this and provide you with contacts here). Try to contact companies that you would truly love to work for so you have more enthusiasm and specific knowledge.

When you contact the managers, resist the urge to immediately beg for a job. Think of your contact with the hiring manager as a two-way interview. Tell him or her you’re fresh out of school, or changing career tracks, or looking to transition, whatever your story is. Tell him or her that you have their particular company in mind as one where you would particularly love to work.

If you can, engage them in dialogue about what makes their company unique, what they look for in an applicant, and how their career progressed to working there. When managers aren’t taking care of their normal responsibilities or sifting through hundreds of resumes for an open position, they’re usually happy to spare a few minutes with someone truly interested in their company.

At the end of your conversation, ask if you can send a resume in-case any jobs open up, and offer to follow up at a predetermined time. Networking is difficult, there’s no doubt about that, but it will pay back huge dividends when you land the perfect job you’ve been looking for.