No question about it, networking is still the single most effective method that professionals in transition should be using to generate job leads — and I don’t for one second want to “disincent” people from reaching out to everybody they know, including myself, to seek introductions and referrals to various companies of interest.

At the same time, it strikes me that many job seekers are unaware that there is a short list of companies around town that EVERYBODY seems to be chasing — and trying to break into — making the degree of difficulty much higher than normal, from a networking standpoint, in terms of being able to establish useful inroads into these firms.

Here’s my own highly subjective “top ten” list of the toughest places in Puget Sound to network into — and some thoughts about why:

1.  Gates Foundation

Bar none, GF is the local employer with the highest “per capita” number of people pounding on the door to get in, since so many people are enamored with the idea that working there might fill their days with meaning, without requiring (they assume) the pay cut of a typical non-profit organization.  The reality?  You’d better have some jaw-dropping credentials or a healthy trove of blackmail material if you expect to get very far over there!  They’ve become a high-walled fortress, from an employment standpoint, simply due to the appealing combination of their deep pockets and positive reputation.

2.  PATH

Heard of this organization?  It’s kind of the “baby brother” to Gates Foundation and is no longer a best-kept secret on the Seattle networking circuit.  Your odds aren’t going to be much better breaking into here, either, without some serious social capital in your back pocket.  For all the same reasons as company #1, above.

3.  Microsoft

Love the company or hate it, our friends in Redmond account for a HUGE number of jobs around town — and for driving a massive chunk of our local economy, when you consider all the vendors, consultants, and suppliers that count on them as a key client  And while they’ve always got thousands of job openings floating around, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to snag an interview over there, since many of their positions are intensely technical — and each work group seems to have its own fairly independent culture and hiring process.  Long gone (from what I’ve heard) are the days when every outside applicant referred by an internal Microsoft employee was automatically guaranteed at least a courtesy interview!

4.  Expedia

While the number of people I encounter wanting to work for Expedia has cooled off slightly in the last year, the organization is definitely still on the top ten “most wanted” list and therefore pretty tough to break into, networking-wise.  I think the notion that one might enjoy some great travel benefits (ostensibly) from working there is a huge draw to many people, in addition to the cutting-edge things they work on in the hospitality and e-commerce space.  So go for it — but realize that a lot of the management staff there can be standoffish, due to the influx of resumes and networking requests they receive.

5.  Starbucks

Not everybody thinks working for our local coffee giant is the cat’s meow, but boy, every professional I’ve met with even an ounce of retail or consumer products background seems to treat Starbucks as the “holy grail” of the local employment scene!  So consequently, they can be tough to penetrate from a networking standpoint.  They also are reputed to have a very rigorous hiring process and to not be the warmest, fuzziest place to interview with.  But hey, they provide their retail employees with full health benefits, and that’s pretty terrific!

6.  REI

It’s outdoorsy.  It’s a cooperative.  And you’d get awesome product discounts from working there.  But shucks, the corporate  HQ is located all the way down in Kent — and in terms of landing a job there, keep in mind that you’re up against every hiking/skiing/camping enthusiast in the area with a college degree!  So REI might be an absolutely marvelous place to hang your hat, if you can break in, but rest assured there’s a line out the door (wearing crampons) of other applicants.

7.  T-Mobile

Oh, the stories I could tell!  Of all the companies around, I probably know more people who do work or have worked at T-Mobile than any other organization on this list, except perhaps Microsoft.  So rather than spread rumors, I’ll just stick to the subject of this blog, and remind people that as large as T-Mobile is, they’re a hard nut to crack given their high profile.  There does seem to be lot of turnover at the organization, however, creating more opportunities than you’d see at an average employer of their size.  And they seem to hire more than their fair share of contractors, too!


Known for being extremely picky about who they hire, and for having a love affair toward candidates with advanced degrees, Amazon is nonetheless an exciting local success story and seems to be in perpetual growth mode.  So definitely do whatever you can to get an audience over there, but don’t get frustrated if it’s an uphill battle.  They also seem like they steer most networking requests back to their HR/Recruiting department and ask people to go through the formal application process first and foremost, regardless of who they know within the organization.

9.  Costco

In all the years, I’m not sure I can think of even ONE person I know who has gotten hired at Costco, believe it or not, at least in terms of their headquarters office.  Word on the street is that they hire almost exclusively from within, drawing from the management pipeline at their warehouse stores, and that once people get into the HQ they almost never leave.  So while they seem like an obvious and tantalizing target to many people in transition, they don’t account for all that much outside hiring, from what I can tell.  They’re something of a mystery.

10.  Russell Investments

Are you a refugee from the banking, finance, or investment industry?  If so, chances are you’re drooling over the possibility of working for Russell one day, especially now that they’ve packed up and moved to the heart of Seattle, eliminating the hassle of an hour-long commute to Tacoma!  And while it’s exciting that they’re now up here within striking distance of so many job seekers, their sudden proximity also presents some fresh challenges from a networking standpoint.  Consequently, let me take this opportunity to publicly apologize to (as well as thank) my one main contact over at Russell.  She’s been downright heroic in helping people get the lay of the land over there — but she’s only one person, and can only do so much!

Some other “honorable mention” companies I also get asked about, all the time?  Coinstar, Parallels, Intermec, Swedish Hospital, Aegis Living, Nordstrom, PEMCO, HTC America, and Clearwire, to name a few.

So in closing, while I’m not for a second suggesting that job hunters shouldn’t actively target the above organizations, they need to realize that these organizations are getting POUNDED by networking requests (of both the off-line and on-line variety) to a degree that’s an order of magnitude beyond that of any other local company.  So when trying to find an interpersonal conduit into these places, again, make sure to manage your expectations accordingly and to be crystal-clear with your contacts about WHY you’d want to work for each firm (beyond the obvious “they’re big” or “they’ve got a good reputation” answers) and WHAT you’d want to do for them, specifically.

And lest this posting be a downer to some of you, possibly due to the realization that the above list corresponds exactly with the set of employers you’ve been chasing around town fruitlessly, for months, I’d encourage you to not lose heart!  There’s no question that people can and do get hired at these places, if they’re persistent.  But more importantly, I’d like to remind you that there are over 50,000 OTHER employers in town where you could be trying to secure an introduction, if you just look around.  And I promise you that the line to break into these other under-the-radar firms will be a lot, lot shorter…