Over the past 25 years, good friends, nieces and nephews and one of my daughters, have come to me asking for advice on their job searches. For some of them, who’ve taken what I’ve told them to heart, it has worked very well for them. It’s worked so well for one of my daughters, she’s become the “go-to job search advisor” for her friends and colleagues. One of my favorite nieces recently sought my advice and I updated two key aspects of my advice spiel for vastly improving one’s chances of getting a great job. The first one is about searching and the second about interviewing. Here is the first of the two:
Most people find a job search highly frustrating. You work for weeks to get your resume just right, send it out more times than you can count and see little results for your efforts. Finding a job is almost a full-time job in itself. I’ve had a good deal of experience hiring, getting hired and helping others in the process of getting killer jobs – ones they absolutely love. Let’s get right to the heart of the matter.
The commonly accepted job search process doesn’t work and the odds are slim of finding a job this way. Most of the process for landing a job is flawed and fails those looking for a job as well as those employers who need a skilled new worker. Sending out resumes and introduction letters is mostly a massive waste of time. While resumes have some use, it’s later in the process. The first step in finding a job is deciding where you want to work. What companies most appeal to you? What company is employing people doing the sorts of things you want most to do? Are there companies that espouse a set of values you believe in? Have you researched the “best places to work in – (your city?)” Spend time researching sites which rate the best places to work. Ask your employed friends, if they could switch companies, where would they most want to work? Does this take a lot of effort? Yes! Will it force you to ask yourself a lot of very hard questions? Of course!
You’ll know you’ve completed this step when you have a list of companies with 4-5 prospects, maybe 2-3 at the top of the list, that sound to you like places where you would really want to be. On those top prospects, take your research to the next level and find out everything you can about them. Go to work on them, as if you were writing a 2-3,000 word research paper on each of them. Focus on what makes them different from other companies and how they fit with your values and what you want to do with your life. After this research, reprioritize your list from one through five, with the company you want the most at the top, although you’re going to work all five companies. Your next step in your research effort is to find connections between you and these companies. Remember the old Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of separation thing? Send feelers out to all of your past contacts, former professors, advisors, friends, former colleagues, those in your industry, asking “Do you know anyone who works at or deals with X company? If not, do you know anyone who might know someone at X company, or Y company?” While some people prefer to do this by email or text, I find it often works better to call people on the phone and talk with them about this. The results are typically much better when you do. The goal in this Phase 1 of your search is to have a list of five or so companies, prioritized, with potential contacts at each. You might not have contacts at all of them. That is okay.
Your next step, working in reverse order of your list, is to find a way to schedule as many informational interviews as you can with someone from these companies or failing that, with somebody who knows more about them – a former employee, someone who’s done business with them, a competitor of theirs, etc. Of course, checking to see if they have job openings and going in for an interview – even if the job does not sound well-suited for you is perfectly okay and a good idea. If that happens, it meets two objectives; you’ll now have someone at the company you can actually sit across the table from and learn more about the company from them, and they very well might become a key contact for you, even if the job is not even close to what you’re looking for. This phase has a number of benefits and opportunities for key learnings, including getting comfortable talking about yourself and answering questions in succinct ways that make people either wish to hire you or failing that, want to help you in the next step of your search, by providing you with another introduction. At every interview/meeting at this stage you will want to conclude the meeting by asking, “Now that you know a bit more of what I’m looking for, is there anyone else you can think of that I should talk to?” Typically, they will think of someone and give you a name. When they do, ask, “Would you be willing to call XXX, and let them know we’ve spoken and that I’ll be calling them?” Again, 90% of the time, they will say yes. Make sure you get the full contact info for the person to whom they’re referring you. If/when you first ask the question, they can’t think of anyone, then change the question slightly and ask “…. is there anyone outside the company you think might be able to assist me with ideas in this area?” And follow-up in the same way.
You are also going to learn and practice a set of techniques on how to turn an interview into a job, but that is something I will cover in Part 2.
One thing that is going to happen while working on priorities 3-5, (not your top #1 and #2 choices), is you are going to start getting strong hints someone wishes to hire you, and perhaps even make you a job offer. But your goal is not about getting one job offer; it is about getting multiple good offers and then thinking through which one is best for you. By the time you’ve practiced on the lower priority companies, you will be in top form when you get to the prospects you want the most. Your meeting and interview skills will be the sharpest as you will have recently practiced.
Let me anticipate an objection you might have. You may be thinking, “Okay, suppose I have no contacts at all at my top priority company, how do I waltz in there saying, ‘You should hire me’? They will think I am nuts.” Au contraire! You can’t begin to believe how much you will stand apart from other candidates when you upend the applecart in this way. When you walk in and say, “While I’m not sure how my skills apply to XX’s goals of “blah, blah and blah,” (remember, you’ve done your research so you know what this company is most committed to making happen), “… but I love your company, believe in what you are doing and want to see if there might be some fit between my skills and your mission before I go and get a job with someone else.” By this time, your meeting and interview skills will be so good, you’ll easily guide the ensuing conversation to be largely about them, while working in the most compelling and salient parts of your past work experience into what they are looking for. As you will learn in the next section on interviews, the best ones are when you are in control and ask the questions. The interviewer will love you and come away wanting to do everything they can to get you to come and work for their company. I am not making this up!
I’ve shared these ideas with a host of people. Cousins, nieces, nephews, colleagues and friends. About half of them decided I might be on to something and put some effort into this and tried my suggestions out. Without a shade of exaggeration, every single person who put an effort into using these techniques and the ones outlined in Part 2 (How to turn an interview into a job), were successful. It has a 100% success rate. So, give it a try. What have you got to lose?
Stay tuned for Part 2 – from Interview to Job Offer