Over the past week, I’ve seen the Internet at its best with human resource management grads on AHRI’s LinkedIn forum asking the most genuine of questions: how do I find a job? AHRI is the Australian Human Resources Institute.

Rather than replying to each specific request, I thought I’d offer these thoughts in a central way, being a member of AHRI for 29 years and a person whose career has taken him places he’d never thought he’d go; many times wishing he never been. But we do have to pay the bills.

So let’s start with the basics

I’d estimate that what grads are experiencing given this dilemma affects 90% of all job seekers today (not just in HR)—and forever has. 10% of job seekers find their roles through luck, timing, contacts and networking. Which is where I’ll begin my advice and it’s taken me the best part of my working life to learn.

It’s time to network

The more people you meet, the more people you’ll know, the more doors you’ll see, and the more that will open. It’s grade-school math.

Next step, who do you want to work for? Not what work do you want to do? I’ve written about this previously in my advice to grads on the subject of preparing a resume.

In a nutshell, find businesses that gel with you. It takes a lot of soul searching and reflection. I’ve been in my own business for three years now and I’m only just working it out when it comes to my optimal client.

Then learn everything you can about them. Once done, discover whom the gatekeepers are, find a key decision maker at each and ask to approach that person for a non-committal chat: A non-committal chat. That person may ultimately become your sponsor.

These steps of course, are by no means easy—that’s why they’re powerful. Pitch your dreams; more importantly, pitch your ideas for them based on what you’ve intimately discovered about them. Business is very much a JFK world of “not what the company can do for you”, rather “what you can do for it”.

Once a rapport exists—likely in a meeting a month or two later—ask to join the organisation in any role you can. It most likely won’t be in HR. That’s reality. If successful, dive headfirst into that business and create future opportunities in HR from there if that’s still where you want to go.

You see there’s a truth grads aren’t taught at university

Many HR GMs, directors of HR and CEOs did not start in their professions. Many senior HR executives are non-HR qualified. They don’t need to be. They became multi-disciplined over a period of decades; they learned their industry politics and built their careers from there.

A degree in HR thus, does not mean you must start your career in HR or end there. You first need to learn about business. Regardless, you’ll more likely succeed no matter what you do, when you find an organisation that means something to you. You have to love where you are to fight for it. That’s why your sponsor will eventually fight for you.

A sponsor is a person who will push for your entry into their organisation. Don’t confuse the concept of sponsorship with mentoring. Sponsors possess power; mentors teach.

Retrenchments, restructurings, takeovers and mergers: I’ve seen them and been through them all. You may have done everything right and still lose your career within a given organisation as a result. That’s the roll of life’s dice.

But if you can first, find a synergy with whom you join—and then commit to learning everything you can about them—chances are the role you really want will be yours to stake a claim to with credibility later. Stake a claim to. Like I said, you’ll still need to fight to win it.

So what about recruiters and job ads?

Why do they seem to be ignoring you for “better qualified” people?

Look—truth is they’re snowed under, desperate for a commission and facing immense pressure from their bosses to perform. Not to mention clients who farm out the same vacancies to multiple agencies at the same time. Recruiting is a ruthless business.

Hence, if you don’t meet exact criteria, no matter how qualified you think you are, it’s why you’re being pushed aside. If a recruiter today, dared put you forward as a candidate meeting few elements that a client demanded—he or she would be shunned next time around as well. It matters not if the client suffers from an impaired reality and can’t see the forest through the proverbial.

Then what about internal recruiters?

Why is it so hard to gain an interview when jobs are sourced in-house too?

Contrary to what you’ve studied in HR, there’s rarely any given science or rationale to a company’s recruitment processes—particularly at entry levels. If I’m wrong then image consultants wouldn’t exist, employment discrimination would be as rare as polio and luck would be the sole realm of casinos.

As you climb the HR ladder you’ll soon realise that the graduate program candidates you sweat over one year, will likely be retrenched in another; if they haven’t first flown the coop. This is all the more so today, with the advent of the great, hardly capitalist, behemoth called “Cheaper China”.

HR managers are more than ever, facilitative cost cutters. Few HR departments practice any form of succession planning—few ever have—and it remains absolutely unheard of below executive level. Massive effort though, goes into restructuring only to the see the rumps of departments later closed or offshored by line management.

Graduate recruitment therefore, tends to settle around two factors: a candidate’s grades and perceived personality—hardly ever one’s desire and rarely one’s succession potential.

The first is easy to measure; the latter remains massively subjective—at times tested via ridiculous “boot camps”. Yet, grades continue to rule the day in the traditional humanities and sciences. The antithesis of this, of course, is the recruiter biased against candidates with the best grades due to some whacky Weltanschauung of their own (look it up).

To put it all into perspective, while recruitment consultants focus on client specs, internal graduate recruiters work on quotas.

That leaves a real question doesn’t it?

Is it true that most great job opportunities are unadvertised and hidden?

I believe so. It’s why we come back to networking. Getting to know people outside the job-ad carousel is critical. It’s about creating genuine professional relationships at industry gatherings, social outings—and hitting the road.

As a raw grad back in the 80s I had no idea of the saying: “Always be selling”. Damn it if it isn’t true. In other words, in order to land a role: sell.

Sell you

In life you oftentimes have to make opportunities happen and like everything worthwhile it takes a long-term investment.

But is all this, doom and gloom? Not at all: ask any Wall Street veteran. They’ll tell you that opportunities exist everywhere; you just have to grab them. Looking for a job is no different to running a business.

That means, it’s going to be hard work. Businesses require customers; jobseekers need employers. Rarely does a customer approach a business without internalizing some sort of marketing or seeing a difference. Why then should an employer approach you without first experiencing your brand?

Which of course leads to a final truth

Business is synonymous with rejection.

It’s like: No. No. Let me see. No. How much? Yes. Ergo, looking for a job. For this reason, you’ll be more relaxed once you embrace rejection.

Remember, the no’s you want shouldn’t be coming from pro forma resumes going en mass to everyone. Sure, you may get an interview or two—and you can definitely land a job that way. But will it be the company you want? And how genuine will you be in addressing its specific needs at interview?

Once again, you want to research the right companies, knock on the right doors and make the right pitches.

Good luck with your business’s goals! I hope I’ve helped in a modest way.

Keep posting your questions and comments on professional sites like AHRI and AHRI LinkedIn. I think it shows great initiative; more importantly, it reflects you’re not scared to show your face. And you never know: perhaps a sponsor will see your difference.

© 2015 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion.
Main picture: Corporate window on Central Park, NY, author’s photo.