Does today's tough job market have you stressed? With the unemployment rate at 9.7%, job seekers must use more imaginative ways to uncover job openings. We've all heard stories about great jobs found in unusual ways – a strange coincidence, word of mouth, a conversation overheard in the grocery line. How can you cash in? (If you must leave your job, go out fighting for the best benefits you can get. Read our article The Layoff Payoff - A Severance Package.)

The Challenge
It's true that about 80% of all jobs aren't advertised. Although most job hunters spend hours every day responding to online openings, let's face it: it's probably easier to break into the Pentagon than to be noticed via an online job application. If your resume doesn't have exactly the right key words, it lands in the hiring manager's trash folder. And speaking of hiring managers, let's take a moment to recognize that they're just as overwhelmed by the stack of online applications they get as you are by sending them. That's why hiring managers are, in fact, looking for you elsewhere -­ by asking their current employees, colleagues, recruiters and friends. (Find out how professional resume writers can help you land a coveted career. Be sure to see Resume Scribes Seal The Deal.)

Plant Many Seeds
Being on a job hunt is a lot like being a gardener: you must plant many seeds, because you never know which green shoots will surface. So, here are a few ways to tap into your secret job market:

Start With Your Own Contacts
Make a list of all your closest colleagues, college buddies and past employers. Don't forget Uncle Harry – working relatives can be a great source of job leads! Send your contacts a copy of your resume and ask to network with them. Be sure you're prepared with a professional resume and an idea of what position fits your skills. Call everyone on your list, and don't hang up the phone until they've given you at least one new referral. You'll quickly build an impressive network of new job lead sources.

Join LinkedIn
Social networking is a great way to expand your network. Set up an account on LinkedIn and post your profile and resume there. You can look for former colleagues, alumni, professional associations and other connections. Recruiters frequently search for applicants on LinkedIn, so put your best professional face forward.

Look For Temporary Work
Taking a temporary assignment has multiple benefits. First, it gets you out of the house and into a professional environment, which keeps your spirits high during a long stretch without work. Secondly, it generates income. Thirdly, you'll add another employer to your list of references. Finally, temporary assignments can often lead to full-time job offers. Head to your local temporary job agency and sign up. (Learn the steps that will help lead you to a new career. Check out Taking The Lead In The Interview Dance.)

Share Job Leads With Other Job Seekers
It may sound counter-intuitive to give leads to your competitors, but who's more up-to-date on the latest job openings than fellow job hunters? These folks have their ears to the ground and might know of a job that isn't a good fit for them, but could be for you.

Tell Your Tennis Buddies...
...
or your golf buddies, or your book club friends or whoever else might be in your social circle. Even if they haven't worked directly with you, they still know you pretty well. They can recommend you for those qualities you exhibit socially, such as a good character, a positive attitude and a sense of team play.

Ask For Help
If you've applied for a job, ask those in your network if they know anyone at your target company. A call made on your behalf to a company "insider" can elevate the visibility of your resume and credentials, which is especially important in today's highly competitive environment. Those in your network are happy to help, especially if you can clearly give them a specific task to carry out.

Unearth Exciting Job Opportunities!
With persistence, creativity and a little luck, you, too, can tap the hidden job market and unearth exciting job opportunities from the oddest places. (If you want to switch careers, you may not have to go back to school to do it. Find out how in Sell Your Skills, Not Your Degree.)

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