Learning how to tap the hidden job market is the best thing you can ever do for your career. It can be summed up in one word: network. Here's how to identify and go after job openings before they are advertised or posted.

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You’ve been looking for a job for what seems like forever. And here we are looking at Labor Day weekend.

But this is good news, because many companies step up their hiring in September. Managers come back after summer vacations and realize that they need to get people in place before the end of the year, or that they need to allocate staffing budgets before they run out come December. Everyone sits up and gets busy after Labor Day.

In theory, you’ve been networking, interviewing and researching all summer long so you will be well-positioned to snap up one of these juicy new openings.

What’s that, you say? You’ve been on vacation? All the more reason for you to get going.

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You’ve probably read a million job-hunting tips, so I am going to limit my suggestions to only one. (Seriously.) And that is: Identify and go after job openings before they are advertised or posted.

It’s often called the “hidden job market,” and learning how to tap it is the best thing you can ever do for your career. It can be summed up in one word: network.

You’ve heard this one before, too; but yes, it really is “who you know.” And the more people you know, the greater your chance of hearing about, or being referred to, a job. Here’s your post-Labor Day game plan in a nutshell:

  1. Identify companies where you’d like to work.
  2. Learn as much as you can about these companies; use Google News Alerts to keep up to date on when they open a new branch, get new funding or merge with another company.
  3. Devise ways of meeting people who work at those companies; join professional or trade associations, attend conferences, ask members of your existing network for referrals.
  4. Get to know those people; tell them you are interested in working for their company, and why.
  5. Keep in touch with them. Be the person they think of first when they have a position to fill.

This job-hunting system will serve you your whole career. Bonus tip: You are allowed to contact potential employers directly, without a referral or an existing job posting. So be bold!

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.