Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop (not too hard for most of us!) enjoying your latte, reading the paper, and minding your own business.  All around you, spirited conversations are likely taking place among your caffeine-addicted brethren, and thanks to the amazing powers of the human brain you’re able to tune out virtually all of this “background noise” without a second thought, correct?

The time eventually comes, however, when somebody at the next table says a word that has significant meaning to you.  Maybe they’ll mention the name of the company you work for, your favorite restaurant, the breed of dog you own, or the town you grew up in.  When this happens, your subconscious mind suddenly rings an alarm bell and you look up, start to focus, and begin eavesdropping in order to find out why the word in question was mentioned — and what the context might be.  You might even apologize in a joking way to your neighbors, tell them you accidentally overheard them, and chime in with a few moments of relevant insight or small talk.  Fairly familiar scenario, right?

Keep in mind, then, that this “selective listening” phenomenon is actually quite similar to the mindset that serious job seekers should strive to establish as part of their employment search.  Whether sitting in a coffee shop or surfing the Internet, you will be continually bombarded with information during the course of your job hunt, with 99.9% of this data turning out to be utterly irrelevant to your situation and worthy of tuning out.  The trick, however, is to figure out exactly which words and phrases have significant meaning to your career goals and then actively scan for these trigger words on both a conscious and unconscious level.  So if you’re targeting a job in international finance, for example, your ears should perk up anytime you hear the name of a foreign country mentioned (especially in a business setting) or when a relevant term such as “currency” or “exchange rates” comes up.  Alternatively, if you’re a graphic designer, the mere mention of “collateral materials” or “four-color printing” should be an immediate wake-up call.  Why were these words said and in what context were they used?

Knowing exactly what your “trigger words” are — and paying careful attention to them — will empower you to track down a number of leads and opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t stumble across or recognize.  Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.  And once you’ve made a list of the terms most relevant to your employment goals, we’d recommend you incorporate these keywords directly into your Internet searches, as well as educate your network about these phrases so they can keep their eyes and ears open for useful leads on your behalf, as well!