Are you looking for a new job but can’t seem to find any openings that fit your interests or skills? If so, you’re not alone: I talk to job seekers all the time who tell me they’re actively searching for new positions but there are few or no openings. As an executive recruiter, I know this perception is not entirely accurate. The unemployment rate hit a 16-year low in May and companies are struggling to fill roles fast enough in this competitive talent market. So if companies are ready to hire, why are job seekers coming up short? The answer: more often than not, these job seekers are combing through online job boards and LinkedIn postings– reacting to existing opportunities rather than proactively creating them.

I don’t wait for a company to post a candidate’s dream job. Instead, I proactively think about what that candidate has to offer. Next, I develop a list of target companies who would most value this skill set and experience. Finally, I stay in close touch with these companies so that I find out about potential job opportunities long before an opening is every posted on LinkedIn. In some cases, I may even help the company tailor a new position to fit a candidate’s specific skill set.

You don’t have to be a recruiter to approach your job search like one. Here’s how to shift your search from reactive to proactive:

1. Define your unique value proposition
Most job seekers start by looking at open positions and then consider which roles would fit their skill set. But when you job search like a recruiter, you start by thinking about your skill set. Consider your experience, your accomplishments and your certifications. Put together your own personal brag book. Looking at your unique combination of skills and experience, ask yourself what you have to offer that sets you apart from the other candidates you’d be competing against.

2. Put together a target list of employers
With your unique skill set in mind, put together a list of the companies who would derive the most value from what you have to offer. Do some research on these companies and think strategically about their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. Where can you bring needed value? Look for companies in industries where you have experience, in geographies where you know the market. If you’ve worked primarily at tech companies with 50-100 employees in the Midwest, you can start your search by putting together a list of companies with similar profiles that pique your interest.

3. Find the key people at each company
Once you’ve identified your target companies, use LinkedIn and company websites to identify the leaders who are one or two levels above you in seniority in the business lines you’re interested in. Reach out to these people and request an informational coffee meeting or short phone call. At this stage, you should be asking for career advice rather than asking for a job outright. If they agree to meet with you, ask them about their experience, about the company, and about what kinds of skill sets and characteristics are most valuable in new hires.

4. Follow up periodically
After your informational meetings, follow up with genuine thank you notes and keep in touch on an ongoing basis. Even if no roles are available immediately, by staying in touch you’ll be top of mind for any roles that open up in the future. Not only will these interactions help you to find your next dream job, but they’ll also give you a network of individuals who can open doors for you in the future.

With a proactive mindset, you can make sure that you’re first in line for a job opening and score an interview before the role is even posted.

Have you had success adopting a proactive approach to a job search? I invite you to share more about your experience and approach in the comments below.

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