With the US unemployment rate slowing creeping down from 10%, I’m seeing many clients with unemployment and underemployment on their minds. Worse, conventional techniques for job-hunting seem to be less effective as time wears on. But I’ve found there are new, less-conventional approaches that can help put job-seekers back in the game.
Escape from Resume Mountain
The 1990s and 2000s brought a slew of Internet-based job-hunting sites and tools. The want ads were quickly overthrown in favor of online job boards. When the economy was hitting its stride, posting a decent resume online was enough to garner a dozen calls in just a few days. In my previous life as an IT professional, I was at times hounded by recruiters trying to place me. So my old formula used to be:
- Post a resume to my favorite job boards.
- Wait for calls from recruiters and employers
- (Optional) Read through online job postings and email a resume and cover letter to every job that looked promising.
In a good job market, where there are about as many jobs looking for workers as there are workers seeking jobs, this approach is effective. If only that were the case today. Now employers are bombarded with mountains of resumes and cover letters. Many resumes are very impressive, but in my experience, most are padded almost to absurdity. Job seekers playing it straight with resumes that fairly present their qualifications are quickly drowned out in a roar of baseless boasts from other, less scrupulous job seekers. Employers quickly learn to tune out this channel, meaning that posting or emailing a resume is no longer an effective way to make a good first impression with your next boss.
Not Just Networking
Let’s get all the tired platitudes out of the way first: “networking is crucial”, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” blah blah blah. I’m not saying the truisms aren’t true, but if you’re connecting to near-strangers online through social media sites, if you’re cold-calling, if you’re going to job seeker breakfasts sponsored by local congregations, or if you’re going to job fairs (which I’ve found are highly discouraging in their own right), then you’re probably little better off than if you had stayed home. As with resume postings, you’re clamoring with too many other people with no way to stand up above the crowd. In order to have a ghost of a chance of being recognized, something more is needed.
Let me show you a different approach that gets you past the roar of the faceless horde. The trick is not to address your potential employer directly, but your own trusted inner circle of professional and personal contacts. You’re trying to discover whether a contact of yours also has a contact with your future boss. The chance that a common link exists is far greater than you may imagine — remember “seven degrees of separation”? What you want this trusted associate to say to your future boss is “I know Bob and Bob is good.” That’s it. That’s a personal, trusted referral; and it sends you to the front of the line, ahead of all the cold calls, emailed resumes, and job-board responses. I’ve used this approach both accidentally and later deliberately to find work in the past during both of the last two recessions.
Networking for Effect
As I alluded to earlier, having a trusted intermediary between yourself as the job seeker and your potential employer was something I stumbled upon, but now I’ve developed a process to create this sort of serendipity on demand. If you’re looking for work and willing to try something new, here are my recommendations.
- Draw up a list of all the people who know you personally and would be willing to recommend your work, your character, or both. They don’t have to be very close, long time friends, but they do need to like you and respect you enough to make that all-important referral. If you’re coming up short, you may need to build out your social circle. Going to church or synagogue or temple, etc., is one way to build your circle, and volunteering is another.
- Create a plan to call everyone on this list regularly. “Regularly” is the most important word in the previous sentence. Most folks who like you will be glad to have a brief phone call with you every week or so. And I also want to strongly recommend a phone call over a text or an email. Direct, personal contact is key.
- Create an outline (not a script) for your calls. Ideally with every call you’d like to achieve the following:
- Emphasize that you appreciate and value this person in your life.
- Let them know you’re looking for work, and what sorts of work you do or have done.
- Ask them if they know anyone in your industry, not necessarily anyone with an available job even though that would be ideal.
- Presuming they known someone, ask them to present you as a trusted contact. If the presentation goes well, that third person can be added to your list as a regular contact, growing your network.
- If they’re drawing a blank, thank them anyway and ask if they’ll keep their eyes out for someone in your industry. This is why regular contact is key. You’re priming their memory so they’ll be alert for the specific kinds of people and opportunities you’re seeking. Don’t be surprised if they volunteer to actively poke around on your behalf. When you contact them again, prompt them to see if they’ve run into anyone relevant since your last call.
- In any case, forward your resume to your contact so they’ll know your qualifications and have it ready to present in the future.
Making your outline flow in actual conversation may take some practice, but with perseverance, it can become natural and enjoyable to make these calls. People get pleasure from helping others and letting your circle know that you could use a hand with a job is just giving them an opportunity to be useful and feel good.
- When you reach the bottom of the list, go back to the top and keep calling! Every two weeks is not too often. Depending on the relationship, weekly might be more appropriate. Use your intuition to tell you what makes the most sense, but most people err on the side of waiting too long rather than calling too often.
If you’ll make a sustained effort to focus on high-quality network connections, I believe you’ll be amazed at the number and quality of opportunities that present themselves. I would be grateful for any experiences you’d be willing to share while using this approach in the comments below.