This article is great career advice. Even though it’s written for programmers, it’s really for everyone who has a job.
“Read ad. Send in resume. Go to job interview. Receive offer.” is the exception, not the typical case, for getting employment: Most jobs are never available publicly, just like most worthwhile candidates are not available publicly (see here). Information about the position travels at approximately the speed of beer, sometimes lubricated by email. The decisionmaker at a company knows he needs someone. He tells his friends and business contacts. One of them knows someone – family, a roommate from college, someone they met at a conference, an ex-colleague, whatever. Introductions are made, a meeting happens, and they achieve agreement in principle on the job offer. Then the resume/HR department/formal offer dance comes about.
This is disproportionately true of jobs you actually want to get. ”First employee at a successful startup” has a certain cachet for a lot of geeks, and virtually none of those got placed by sending in a cover letter to an HR department, in part because two-man startups don’t have enough scar tissue to form HR departments yet. (P.S. You probably don’t want to be first employee for a startup. Be the last co-founder instead.) Want to get a job at Googler? They have a formal process for giving you a leg up because a Googler likes you. (They also have multiple informal ways for a Googler who likes you an awful lot to short-circuit that process. One example: buy the company you work for. When you have a couple of billion lying around you have many interesting options for solving problems.)
There are many reasons why most hiring happens privately. One is that publicly visible job offers get spammed by hundreds of resumes (particularly in this economy) from people who are stunningly inappropriate for the position. The other is that other companies are so bad at hiring that, if you don’t have close personal knowledge about the candidate, you might accidentally hire a non-FizzBuzzer.