Friends, Acquaintances, and Former Coworkers
People you know directly are an invaluable resource. It is no doubt easier to get your resume seen and get a foot in the door through someone who works at the company you're interested in than to end up in the resume pile where you are reduced to a collection of keywords.
Not only do friends provide an "in" to the company, but many companies offer bonuses for a referral, making the relationship mutually beneficial. Also, friends are more likely to give you an honest evaluation of the job and the company, details that you might not discover until you've worked at the company for a while. You can also get some insight into the interview process.
When starting your job search, ask around. Even if you do not have friends that work at your top choice companies, they may know someone in those companies and can introduce you.
You always hear about the importance of networking. This is easy networking that does not require too much time or effort. Of course, going to industry events and meeting new acquaintances expands the range of contacts you can implore for help. Using your existing circle, you do not need to put yourself out there as much and there is no shame in asking for a favor of this small magnitude. You would do it for a friend of yours!
Many people underestimate the value of LinkedIn. You may just keep an updated profile, casually accept connections here and there, and wait for the inquiries to come rolling in.
Your job search is likely targeting some awesome companies in the area. Log on to LinkedIn and look up your dream company. From there, you can view the list of employees on LinkedIn in order of how closely you are connected. For your second degree contacts, check out whom you have in common, and ask that person for an introduction.
I know several friends who have gotten interviews at top companies by using second degree LinkedIn connections. As mentioned above, networking does not have to take a ton of time and effort. You only have to put yourself out there a little bit to get results. Again, especially with referral bonuses, you are really not asking for a large favor.
CareerBuilder, Monster, etc. are probably one of the first sites you go to when you want to see what opportunities are available in your area. I like to sign up for several, create saved searches, and sign up for email updates.
Also be sure to visit the website of a company you are targeting. You may even be able to still use the career services of your alma mater.
In this sense, I mean recruiters from a recruiting agency, commonly referred to as headhunters. I do not mean HR recruiters that work directly for a company.
Recruiters get a bad rap, but there are pros and cons to using a recruiter. For one, they have a very large network of contacts, including the network of everyone who works with them. Many companies hire recruiting agencies to find them talent so they know about a wide range of jobs and they are getting paid to place you. It is in their best interested to find you a job. They take some of the work of looking and negotiating out of the equation for you since they have to facilitate a deal that everyone is happy with.
On the other side of things, recruiters tend to have many contract jobs since they make more on contractors than direct hires. They do have a plan to hook you up with benefits, but you will likely be contract or contract-to-hire for three to six months. If you are looking only for a direct hire position, you go down on their list of people to place.
Because the hiring company needs to pay the recruiter, you may end up taking slightly less pay due to going through a recruiter. If it gets you a great job, then it should not be a big deal. It's just something to keep in mind.
When starting your job search, evaluate which combination of tools is best for you. A job search is a lot of work, but the work is necessary to get a better opportunity.