June 2009 Archives
Illustration by MyNameIsRene
Remember that old ABBA song "Take a Chance on Me"?
The chorus went something like "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line; Honey I'm still free take a chance on me."
These days you can picture hiring managers at various companies say "he's low risk" or "she's a safe pick" while discussing the merits of candidates.
I don't think this is a reaction to the economy. I don't think companies decided to play things safe in the last six months. Let's face it, companies tend to be a bit conservative.
Historically, most companies have always wanted to hire "round peg, round hole" candidates.
So does this mean you can't be a career changer? Heck no. It's just means you have to work harder. It means you have to WANT the job more than the other candidates. You demonstrate this by being more prepared than everyone else, by doing more research than everyone else, by asking better questions than everyone else, by quickly following-up with well-crafted thank you notes and finally... by DEFINING YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION!
It isn't enough to talk about your transferable skills. You have to demonstrate how you would leverage them.
Ideally, you want to come up with a few key messages, such as:
• I'm interviewing for the same position at two of your competitors in this market
• If you hire me, I'll be the only person on your team with (specialized skill)
• In my last position I was successful in implementing a (program, system, etc.) which mirrors your needs
• I really want to join your team because I believe in your mission of (...) and know I would thrive in your culture of (...)
Remember, this is all about sales. If you want a company to "Take a Chance on You" you need to convince them it is very low risk. Got it?
Illustration by MyNameIsRene
I had an epiphany the other day. Well, it wasn't really an epiphany, I knew it all along. But it was helpful to read a few other blogs to validate my own thoughts.
My epiphany is we can choose to be happy. And this state of mind comes from within and has nothing to do with anything external: cars, gadgets, relationships, jobs, etc. You CAN'T rely on anything external for happiness. Because cars, gadgets, relationships, jobs come and go.
Most of our days are lived in neutral. Neutral means life's pendulum hasn't swung in either direction: we didn't win the lottery, nor are we grieving the loss of a loved one. It's just a day. Or is it?
So if we are in neutral most of the time, how come we don't try to shift into a positive frame of mind? More specifically, how come we always say we are "busy" and "slammed" at work? It may be true, but that negative reinforcement is going to build up and soon enough you'll be stressed out on days when you're actually not that busy. Why not say you're having a "great" or "productive" day?
Why do job seekers say I'm "never" going to find a job or "nobody" is hiring? Alternatively, you can say "I'm taking my time to find a GREAT job."
Let's change the way we communicate at work and during our job search. Let's make it a positive experience. I think you'll notice a difference in your mindset. And if your job truly is soul crushing, make a plan to get out now. And be sure to keep interviewing until you find a company you'd be ecstatic to join!
Check out the following blogs for more on this topic: http://rechargeyourmind.com/, http://www.marcandangel.com/ and www.zenhabits.net.
What are some of your favorite self-development blogs?
Photo by Matthew Billingsley/Visceral
I often tell people the job search is all about sales. Frankly, it's the most crowded market there is. You have a finite amount of cereals, laundry detergents, automakers, airlines, etc. But with 9.4% unemployment, coupled with thousands of recent college grads, the job market is more saturated than it has been in a long time.
But here's the good news. There is competition in numbers, but not in quality. I'm not saying there aren't quality workers out there, but I am saying most people do not have a clue how to conduct an effective job search, define their value proposition for a company and navigate the ups and downs of a typical three-to-six month (or longer) job search.
So don't worry about the competition. Focus all of your energy on being a purple cow.
What's a purple cow? Brilliant author and marketer, Seth Godin, defines a Purple Cow as "something phenomenal, something counterintuitive and exciting and flat out unbelievable."
Every day, recruiters look at hundreds of resumes and meet with a few people who don't stand out... more and more black and white cows... the kind you see every time you take a drive through the country.
So stop being a black and white cow and become a purple cow, it's not as hard as you think. It's not hard to be remarkable!
Remember, the job search is sales. What is going to stand out? Applying to a job posting? Generic copy/paste cover letters and thank you notes? Having your friends and family blast email YOUR resume to THEIR contacts? Nope. That's what everyone else is doing.
Take a brief break from your job search and find five people who excel in a sales role. Take them out for coffee and ask them what their "secret" is. I bet you'll hear that they tailor their approach for each buyer based on information they can glean from them. They find out what the customers want before they try to sell them. They build rapport, etc.
Purple cow job seekers do the same. I spot them immediately. Because there aren't many. They are well prepared and know many details about the company that you can't find on the Web site, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. They know exactly what openings you have, what you're looking for in a perfect candidate and how they meet your requirements. They don't have to sell anything. They're just checking off boxes.
So start thinking like a salesman and soon enough you'll be purple...
(I highly recommend you read Seth Godin's blog and follow him on Twitter).
I must tell you that 90% of the people I meet each year are invisible. I don't remember them. People stop me on the sidewalk every month... "Hey Brian..." I have no idea who these people are. They DIDN'T STAND OUT. They were another box of cereal in an aisle full of 100+ brands.
So take my advice below. Do the extra research and draft great questions. You'll thank me later.
Following are the six questions you must ask in an informational interview:
1- I have read your bio and LinkedIn profile, but I'd love to hear in your own words how you got to this point in your career? (This breaks the ice and puts your contact on a pedestal. Plus, everyone loves talking about themselves. Take great notes because they'll mention other companies they have worked for and other important nuggets).
2 & 3 - Two of your burning job search questions that you'd like their perspective on. I am a career changer, how difficult would it be to break into your department? What professional organizations should I belong to? How did you find the other people in this department? What is the profile of someone who is successful at your organization? etc.
4 & 5 - Two questions that will allow you to leverage your research. I love referencing news items on blogs or newspapers. For example: I read on the PRWeek blog last week that your firm won a large account with Apple. What kinds of programs will you be doing for them? How is this office involved? How is that going to impact your staffing needs? Or another: There was an interesting article in The New York Times this morning about the convergence of marketing, advertising and public relations in the digital space. How is your industry/company positioned to provide the most value to clients?
6 - Ask for more contacts. This was a very helpful conversation. I really appreciate your advice. Could you please put me in touch with a couple people in your network for similar networking conversations?
YOUR GOAL OF EVERY INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW IS TO GET TWO MORE NAMES. THAT'S IT.
Why? Because the company isn't going to hire you that day. Probably not that month. So leverage the meeting to meet people in their professional network. You need to do 30-40 informational interviews before you start to see a return on your time investment.
What you are doing is enlisting "internal job search ambassadors" who are going to start calling you when they hear about openings at their company. They will also go to lunch with friends who mention openings at their companies and will think of you and call you!
A great journalist cultivates inside sources. A great job seeker does the same.
Don't expect instant gratification. This is about hard work. But if you follow the steps we discussed in this four-part series, you'll be able to choose where you want to work and not settle.
People who settle play it safe and hate their jobs.
Wall Street, starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, is one of my favorite movies. In the scene referenced by the quote above, Bud Fox (played by Sheen) brings a box of Gordon Gekko's (Douglas) favorite cigars to his office, hoping to secure a few minutes of his time.
(Please note, I don't advise you bring gifts to contacts... unless you're playing a character in a late 1980's movie about investment banking :)
This blog is going to be about conducting research for your informational interviews. Follow these steps and you will be better prepared than 99% of job seekers!
1- Do a Google search on your contact's name. Print out relevant articles, bios, etc.
2- Search for your contact's name on LinkedIn. Print out the profile. Also take a look if there are any links to blogs, Web sites, associations, etc.
3- Search LexisNexis for the past year on your contact's name.
4- Repeat #3 on Google News.
5- Search Google News for information on the company. Set up an RSS feed from Google News to send relevant articles to your blog reader every day. (If you need help with this, post a comment and I'll walk you through the process).
6- Research the company's Web site, especially the news, press room, investor or media areas. Print out a few recent press releases.
7- Find and sign up for a few industry-related blogs.
8- Find out if your contact is on Twitter; also follow anyone else who works at the company.
9- Compile a summary of all this data in a couple pages that you can bring to your meeting.
Does anyone have any other suggestions?
If you could only distribute 20 resumes during a job search, would you be so quick to click "apply" on every job posting you see? You'd use those 20 resumes up in an hour and you probably wouldn't be contacted by any companies. But if you treated each resume like a hundred dollar bill, you'd make sure it got to the right place each and every time. That's what I am going to teach you in this post: how to ensure you meet people at your target companies. You MUST do this. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.
Step 1: You don't go to the grocery store without a shopping list and you can't find a job if you don't know what you're looking for. Identify the industry you want to work in and research companies in that space. Don't worry about finding contacts yet, just create a target list of 30-40 companies in an Excel sheet. I recommend the following column headers left to right: Company, Web site, Last Name, First Name, Email, Phone, Twitter, Last Contacted.
Step 2: You need to find contacts at your target companies. First, send your Excel sheet to friends and family and ask if anyone has contacts at your target companies. Second, look for fellow college alumni through your alma mater's Career Center or via LinkedIn. Third, if you can't find anyone, search for employees who have blogs or are quoted in articles frequently (Google News and Google Reader are great for this).
Step 3. By now you should have contacts at several of your target companies. Now you need to perform outreach. Send a simple email requesting a few minutes of their time. A sample is below:
Subject: Referral from Joe Smith; Seeking Your Advice on Marketing Careers
(or if it is a college alum: Fellow USC Grad; Seeking Your Advice on Marketing Careers)
Dear Mr. Jones-
The purpose of this note is to ask for your insight and guidance about the marketing field. I recently spoke with Joe Smith and he highly recommended I reach out to you.
I have spent the past five years doing XYZ... [no more than two sentences highlighting your career path].
I'm very interested in learning more about [your company], particularly due to X, Y and Z... [mention two or three interesting facts you found while researching the company].
I would welcome the opportunity to schedule a brief meeting with you to gain your insight. I will follow-up with you via phone in a couple days to see if we can arrange a time. However, if it is more convenient for you to reach out to me, my email is XYZ and cell phone is XYZ.
DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR RESUME IN THIS EMAIL. DON'T SEND IT TO THEM UNLESS THEY ASK FOR IT!
(Another great resource is this post by one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Ferriss, about sending emails to busy people. Read it here.)
Step 4. If the contact replies to your email or calls you, great! Set up a meeting. In-person meetings are always best. You get to build better rapport with the contact and get a feel for the company and atmosphere. If you don't get a reply in two days, pick up the phone and call the contact. I suggest before 9:00 AM or after 5:00 PM. Write a brief script referencing your email and speak with a smile. Most people will pencil you in.
Congrats, you have just secured yourself some informational interviews!
Full disclosure: I am a heavy user of social media, especially Twitter and LinkedIn. But last time I checked, no one has ever been hired at any of my firms without a face-to-face or phone interview. So, I urge you to shut down your laptop and iPhone for a few hours every day and spend time actually meeting people.
I know we live in a society where texting is now more popular than chatting on the phone (heck I'm lucky if I get phone calls returned 50% of the time... and I'm probably just as guilty). But even the most progressive companies still hire the same way they did 20 years ago: by meeting people.
Networking is king my friend. You should use social media and Google to do research on a firm or a contact, but you need to get some face time. An informational interview IS an interview.
In my next three posts, I'll tell you exactly how to secure that informational interview, how to prepare and what questions you MUST ask.
Until then, I'll be sending tweets via Uber Twitter on my new BlackBerry...