With so many web sites featuring job postings these days, it’s easy to think that the only jobs available are the ones being advertised but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

According to statistics, 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised; they are filled through networking, inside contacts, and word-of-mouth. “Most people just go to classified ads and Internet job posting sites and think that’s the end of the line in terms of looking for a job,” says Suzanne Toppy, development editor at Peterson’s, which has published the “Hidden Job Market” guide every year since 1991. Job postings are not useless, but Toppy advises that job seekers should not rely solely on what they see.

Find a contact person
Peterson’s “Hidden Job Market” is a directory of fast-growing companies and their key contact people, which illustrates one of your most important job search strategies: finding the right company contact. When you respond to a classified ad, your resume usually goes to the HR department and gets lumped in with the other applicants, lessening your chances of standing out. To tap the hidden jobs, bypass the HR department and send your resume to someone in your preferred department. For example, if your sights are set on an editorial position, find the managing editor’s name; if marketing is your goal, track down the name of the marketing director. This information can usually be found on the company’s web site, but if it is not, don’t be afraid to call the company and ask.

Your alma mater can also help you find an “in.” Ask the alumni office if any grads work at the companies you’re interested in applying to. If not, find out who works in the industry; these people can usually point you to more appropriate people. Use job fairs, also, as a networking opportunity. The people you meet are the ones who are doing the hiring.

Become an expert
Learn as much as you can about your favorite companies so that you can speak about them comfortably and intelligently. Company web sites, or sites like hoovers.com, are good places to start your research.

Once you have become knowledgeable about the companies and have contacts on the inside, write letters that do not blatantly ask for jobs. Instead, request informational interviews, which allow you to demonstrate your industry expertise and position yourself for jobs later on.

Use the ads to your advantage
Of course, you shouldn’t forget about online job postings and classified ads completely. Use them as a source of information to see who is hiring, or for ideas in writing cover letters for other positions. “Just because you don’t see an advertisement in the newspaper with your job title on it, it doesn’t mean they’re not looking for you,” says Martin Yate, author of the annual Knock ‘Em Dead series of books. He even suggests going through older listings to see which types of positions have been advertised in the past. Perhaps there’s been some turnover and the company has just chosen not to re-advertise the openings.

Yate also says it’s a good idea to put yourself in an online resume bank and sign up for a career web site like experience.com. “This is the best way to tap into the hidden job market. You don’t have to go on the interviews, and you don’t have to accept the jobs. But you’re staying attuned and connected to your profession,” he says.

Though we’ve tried to boil down the hidden job market to some simple tips, our methods are not the only ways to exploit it. “There isn’t one best way to find a job,” Yate says. Start by doing your own digging around in our Research section and uncover the job that’s right for you!