You know your days are numbered at your current job, but flooding with resumes has yielded zilch. It may be time to take your search in a different direction and figure out how to get around the main obstacle in your way—the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper
What’s a gatekeeper? It is anyone who stands between you and the person who might want to hire you. Gatekeepers come in many forms, including receptionists, HR recruiters, and resume screeners.

A variety of people are out there whose job, in part, is to keep you from seeing the person offering the position you want. Sure, they may make you feel like they’re really in control. Perhaps you have heard one of these beauties: “We’ll put your resume on file and get back to you if we find a match,” or that all-time classic, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The truth is, these people are doing nothing but blocking your gateway to opportunity. So you need to figure out how to get past them and directly contact the decision-maker. Try these three ideas.

Make user groups work by flying low
Regardless of your language, platform, or development tool, some type of user group—either in person or virtual—is available to you. User groups can give you a chance to help peers, diplomatically showcase your talent, and keep your skills sharp. Leverage these advantages to help you find work.

Subtlety is key. You do not want to charge into a user group and start passing out your resume. These folks are not idiots, and blatant job sniffing too soon will get you blackballed in a hurry. Be careful. User groups are powerful weapons in your job-hunting arsenal, but they can blow up in your face if not handled with care.

Stick to the paper, but not the classifieds
Don’t start your job search by hovering over the classifieds every Sunday morning. You best bet is faithfully scan the business section of the local paper or other local/regional business publications, specifically the portion that recognizes recent promotions.

Promotions are what you are interested in here. If you want to be a developer at a company, and it just promoted someone to development director or manager, guess what? Odds are the company might need a developer, and the new development manager may be responsible for the hire or at least have some say in the candidates.

Immediately, before the gatekeepers appear, call the company listed in the paper, ask to speak to the person who was promoted (by name, of course,) offer your congratulations, and give a 10-second rundown of why you are calling.

Best-case scenario is that the manager recognizes your initiative and willingness to research solutions and, if your skills match up (more on that in a minute), asks you in for an interview. Worst-case scenario is that you get trapped in voicemail hell and are no worse for the wear.

If possible, gently probe to find out what skills are important for the job. That way, you can tweak your resume to fit the requirements. Finally, ask whether you can send your resume directly to the manager. If so, you are past the gatekeeper. If not, at least your name will be familiar when the manager finally does see your resume.

It’s important to stress that this call should be very short. Two or three minutes, tops. You do not want to be an irritant. Be brief, move fast, and politely get to the point. The idea is to get your name or resume in front of the manager, not to get the job after one phone call. Again, subtle is good here.

Don’t overlook those networking opportunities
Although you are probably well aware of the value of networking, you may not be taking full advantage of all the available chances to do it. Here are a few examples:

  • Churches or nonprofit organizations. Don’t underestimate this one. Volunteering enables you to get out, meet new people, and audition your skills, all for a good cause. If it doesn’t lead to a full-time gig, it could still land you some contract or freelance work. The only caution here is to follow up on any commitments you make.
  • Ballgames and other kids’ events. Sitting around the youth soccer or little league games? Guess what…more networking opportunities. That soccer mom or dad could be the CIO for a company that plans to hire for a big project, and you could smooth your way in on the ground floor.

Exercise restraint
I mentioned this before, but it merits repeating: Being subtle is the key with any of these approaches. You must be interested but not pushy. Make sure that you know exactly what you want before you talk to a prospective employer. Get to the point, get what you need, be gracious, and get out.