Have you ever been sitting in a coffee shop, minding your own business, when somebody at the table next to you mentions a word, or a phrase, or a name that has special significance to you?  And that causes you to look up, despite the fact that you weren’t even consciously monitoring the “buzz” of conversation all around you?

Believe it or not, I’ve found that this familiar experience has strong relevance to a powerful (yet little used) job lead generation technique I call “opportunity scanning”.  In a nutshell, this technique involves monitoring a bunch of different information sources on the web, hoping to stumble upon companies using the terminology most closely related to the types of problems you can solve and the types of assignments you’re targeting in your search.  It’s basically a form of intentional eavesdropping that relies on the same logic at play in the coffee shop scenario.  In other words, the reason my brain wakes me up when somebody next to me at Starbucks says “Juneau, Alaska” or “career coaching” or “ultimate fighting” (true confession time — I’m a fan!) is that it knows these specific words are almost always correlated with a conversation that would interest me.

In this same vein, no matter what you do for a living, a layer of language exists that is highly correlated with the problems, challenges, and organizational “ecosystem” that would fit you best as a professional.  Aggressively searching for companies or individuals using this specialized language, therefore, will help you uncover hidden opportunities to sell yourself that most of your competitors will miss.  It’s far more effective, too, than limiting your job search strictly to sending out your resume in response to the handful of explicit “leads” published on employment websites.  As most people have figured out, such a one-dimensional search is usually quite unproductive.

So as a starting point toward using the “opportunity scanning” technique in your own job search, you first have to sit down and create a list of the key terms, jargon, and language most associated with your particular career path.  Sounds simple, I know, but you may find this step trickier than you’d think.  Not only is it easy to overlook certain useful keywords, simply because you’re so close to them, but you also have to make sure that the words and phrases you select don’t have other meanings and aren’t commonly used in any other work contexts besides the one you’re targeting.

Here are a few examples:

Are you a Supply Chain Manager?  Your list of “opportunity language” might include phrases like logistics, bar coding, inventory, SKU, 3PL, APICS, PPAP, supplier rationalization, strategic sourcing, etc.

Are you an Organizational Development Consultant?  Your list might include phrases like change management, leadership development, systems thinking, culture change, process improvement, succession planning, human capital, etc.

Are you an Architect?  Your list might include terms like LEED, mixed-use, Revit, BIM, building information modeling, rendering, building codes, construction administration, pre-construction, etc.

Get the idea?

Once you have your list of language pulled together, you’re ready to roll, and can start using it to search through information sources such as Indeed, SimplyHired, Zoominfo, LinkedIn (people page), Puget Sound Business Journal, and other sites to see what contact and company names turn up, linked to your goals!  Better yet, for those sites that allow you to set up automatic e-mail alerts, you can program them to forward you any new job listings or articles that match your terminology on an ongoing basis.  Last but not least, you could even run your “opportunity language” through Google Maps (add a geographic limiter like “in Seattle” after your search term) to see which companies around town are speaking your language.

Used properly, the above techniques should greatly expand your horizons in terms of generating some hiring opportunities beyond the tired old landscape of the published job sites.  You just have to focus on the language that you’d share with your ideal target customer, then embrace the reality that most job leads, after all, are never published.  They’re developed by those people smart enough to identify (and initiate dialogue with) those companies around town working on problems and projects related to their field of expertise…