Thinking broadly about the industry, organization and position can help you pinpoint how your intangible skills and qualities match that employer's needs. For example, suppose that budget cutbacks have required employees to take on additional duties, leaving them less time to deal with customers' complaints. If you are especially skilled at resolving conflicts efficiently, you offer that employer something that most applicants do not. With this knowledge, you can highlight your intangible skills in a way that makes you stand out.
If you don't have any sources from within the organization or industry, leverage your network: Who do you know who might introduce you to someone with this information? Keep in mind that most people appreciate helping others especially when the request is small and from, or through, someone they know. "Could I have five minutes of your time to ask some questions about your company (or industry)?" is generally safe and reasonable as a starter.
Use social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to identify friends of friends who could answer your questions. Follow Twitter feeds from people in the organization or industry to find out what new developments or problems are trending.
Ultimately, you need to show how your credentials and intangible qualities match what that employer needs. To do this well, you must be curious about all aspects of that employer's needs and prepared to demonstrate how you fill those needs — via the rsum and before, during and after interviews.
While you may not be the best fit for every opening, thoroughly investigating your target employer and showing how your technical skills and intangible qualities match that employers' needs dramatically improves your chances. Taking this approach for each opening you pursue will ultimately help you succeed.
Cynthia Kay Stevens is an associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is an expert in workplace issues and her research focuses on recruitment and staffing, decision-making, diversity, and how to deal with difficult co-workers.