04/09/2012 03:33 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2012

How to Un-Blind a Blind Job Ad

My friend Diana and I were leading a job-search workshop when the subject of blind job ads came up. You know those things -- they're the job ads that say "A growing organization in the northern suburbs seeks a yada yada something or other." The job ad tells you what the employer is looking for, but it doesn't tell you which employer it is.

That stinks! If you knew which company had the job opening, you could research the organization and write a halfway intelligent cover letter. You could customize your resume a bit, beyond just parroting the keywords in the ad (in case every single solitary job-seeker isn't going to do that). You could get a feel for the employer's business situation and the needs the company is most likely to have.

A blind job ad keeps you from digging into the firm the way you'd like to do before launching a job-search campaign in its direction. That's okay -- many times, we can thwart the Blind Job Ad mechanism.

This is Diana's tip, and it works tremendously well -- we've been talking about it in workshops ever since, and it is fun to try. Here's the story.

When you find a blind job ad, read the ad carefully looking for the most un-boilerplate-ish, non-standard-corporatespeak phrase you can find. When we spot a distinctive phrase in the job ad, we're going to use that phrase in a Google search to try and find the employer that placed the job ad. "Seeks a Marketing Manager" of course is not a good choice, because every job ad in creation includes a phrase like that. You're looking for language that's a little more distinctive. Ah, here is something!:

We've been selling Christian educational sofware since 1984...

Bingo! You'll cut and paste that non-generic phrase, in its entirety, into a Google search box, and add quotation marks at each end of the phrase. When you search on

"We've been selling Christian educational software since 1984"

There's an excellent chance you'll get the employer's own website back as one of the top search results. If "We've been selling Christian educational software since 1984" is the language they typically use to describe the company in other spots (on the website, in marketing materials, in jobs posted on their website, etc.) your Google search is likely to bring you back to the company's website, where the same phrase appears. Once you know the employer's identity, you can do a few useful things:

You can read about the employer (on its own website, the LinkedIn Companies directory, bloggers who have written about it, Twitter and in news items) and learn more about its situation. That will help you write a stronger cover letter and to customize your resume for this employer.

You can get your hiring manager's name and write to him or her directly, circumventing the Black Hole job-application abyss.

Now you can dig in and research the firm to your heart's content. That gives you lots more control over the marketing campaign (and that's what a job-search is, of course). Isn't that a good feeling?