Finding a job, not matter how difficult and complicated it may be, is easier than finding the right job. The right job is one where you bring something to the table that your boss really wants, while at the same time you have room to grow, like your co-workers and believe in your organization’s mission. Both sides contribute to and benefit from the partnership.
You can’t find such a thing by scouring job boards and applying electronically. You can only find these opportunities through good, old-fashioned networking – face-to-face connections. With nonverbal communication sending more than half the message, you can see why it would be important to spend some time with people before committing 40 hours a week to them.
As someone who networks a lot with “the hire power,” meaning I have the power to hire others, I see a lot of bad networking habits. Primarily, I find new contact rarely follow up with me, never tell me exactly how I can help them, and talk so generally that they all seem interchangeable in my mind. So why would I remember them when I hear of opportunities, let alone, recommend them for the opportunity.
Here’s some networking lessons I recently shared with a group of newly minted college graduates who were beginning their job hunt:
1) DEVELOP CONTACTS, DON’T JUST PUT THEM IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK – A lot of people complain that the contacts they get at various events don’t help. I found, however, that these people usually just gather cards and stick them in their address book. But they never follow up and develop these contacts. They are not really contacts until you actually contact them – more than once. Otherwise, they are merely someone you met once and sent a “it was great meeting you” email. Then when they finally do reach out, they basically say “Hi, I’m the same person, looking for the same opportunity as last time we spoke…just want to remind you I’m still here.” Instead, each contact should be an update with new info, such as, “Hi, since last we spoke about opportunities to write for a police procedural (TV show), I’ve done a few ride-alongs with police in LA and 4 suburbs. I would love for you to join Officer X and me for a drink. He has some great stories, and we can tell you about this one time…” If you have done something to make yourself more appealing to your contact, you will not have to remind them who you are – they will remember and you will be cocktail party fodder like, “This dude I met at a cocktail party a year ago took me to the bar where the cops hang out after they get off their shift. Beer’s only $2 and you wouldn’t believe this one story they told me.” Trust me, when that writing job on a cop show comes up, you’ll be the first person to come to mind.
Also, ask yourself what you’ve done to further the careers of others…and keep a list of those who have helped you. Maybe send a $5 Starbucks gift card out of the blue – or better yet on a date special to them like the anniversary of their first writing job. Show you listened to them, thank them for their help and give them an update…this works better when you have a cool update.
2) FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS – Common error from entry level to the C-Suite – trying to be all things to all people…aka “leaving my options open.” Do not say “I am a writer, but I will take an assistant spot” or “I like writing sketch comedy, but I’m open to sitcoms and dramas” or “I’ll do anything as long as I work in TV.” Do not make your contact work too hard to figure out how they can help you. And, again, do not be a commodity. Stay focused and help your contacts help you find that specific job opportunity.
3) EXPLAIN/APPLY UNCOMMON EXPERIENCE – What makes you different, makes you beautiful! (Ok, that was Backstreet Boys song, but it’s true.) If the person you are speaking with doesn’t think your experience counts, then you need to change the way you present it. Change the explanation with each person you meet until someone gets it, then keep saying it that way. I’ve worked in NYC, DC and briefly in LA before returning to Texas. At first, everyone acted as if I was bragging when I mentioned this, even though I meant to showcase my national contacts and unique experience. I finally realized that it doesn’t matter if I don’t think I was bragging, that is how it appeared. So I had to change how I presented that info. I know that understanding the landscape in these three cities is amazing and unusual and valuable when you live in the rest of the country. I started to present the info (after many, many failed attempts) as my being able to help Texas businesses navigate these three key cities. When I would find someone in one of the cities who would help a Texas business…boom…I’ve gone from bragging to delivering.
4) BE UNIQUE, NOT A COMMODITY – You want to go where you will stand out. Do not attend events where you stand next to your competition when you look for a job or a client. You can mingle with competitors when you are improving your skills, like writers talking about writing. However, when job hunting, go where the people who can help you get the job are. For example, if you write health-related products, attend conferences with doctors in a specialty you understand, so you can speak their language and show off your writing talents. If you are a consultant who is an expert in manufacturing efficiencies, attend manufacturing industry conferences on new technology, if you want to find clients with the interest and money to hire you to help them implement what they are learning at the conference.
Hiring power. Few people have it. Even fewer people wield that power well.
Yet we all, at some point in our lives, must face those with “the hire power” and ask for work – full-time, part-time, or contract/project work.
As someone who jumps that fence regularly between being hired and doing the hiring, I see a lot of harmful assumptions among job seekers. I say harmful because job seekers waste the precious little time they have in front of hiring managers, both in the application process and the interview.
Here’s some job hunt lessons I recently shared with a group of aspiring writers:
1) OF COURSE YOU ARE QUALIFIED – If I interview you or ask for more info, then I know you are qualified. I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER call someone in for an interview to see IF they are qualified. If I took up precious time on my busy schedule – and it’s busy or I wouldn’t need to hire you – then I believe you are qualified. I may ask test Qs to make sure you told the truth on your application, but it’s not to see if you are qualified. Remember, a lot of qualified people applied for the same job you did. I’m looking for why you are EVEN BETTER than the rest of those qualified people. Ask yourself what you have to offer that is beyond the skills/tasks listed in my announcement, and how that experience or those skills are unique, and set you apart from those other applicants. Unfortunately, you don’t get to know anything about those other people and what they have to offer, but you should know your industry and your competition well enough to know why you stand out.
2) IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU, IT’S ABOUT ME, ME, ME – Stop telling me why you would like to have the job. Instead, tell me what you will do for me in the job. Not “I will work hard and toil long hours.” Anyone can do that. Remember, this is a business, in fact, it’s MY business. I want to know how you are going to save me money or bring in more money or make my life easier so I can make money. Just because I landed a large contract or have a big budget, doesn’t mean all of that cash landed in my pocket. I have personal bills to pay and payrolls to meet so others can pay their bills and taxes to pay – way more than you think. Let me tell you, as the one in charge, I am in constant fear that the last client was my very last client with the very last check I will ever receive! I worry that I will have to fire the people I am getting to really like as coworkers. So, when I interview you, I want to know – are you going to add to my stress or help relieve it?
3) BE AN INTERESTING PERSON – Most applicants fail to show me their personality on their resume, not to mention leaving it out in the interview. Afraid that anything “off script” will disqualify them, many candidates actually just melt together. One key aspect of hiring is answering the question: Why would I want to sit next to you for 10-12 hours, or trust you to treat people well when I’m not there, or ask you to take important calls for me? You need to have interesting, exciting outside interests that demonstrate your ability to interact with people (aka “clients”), as well as to fill the time we may be waiting in an airport…extra bonus points if those outside interests demonstrate that you are resourceful, helpful and smart. Trust me, if you’re big outside interest offends me, you don’t want to work for me anyway.
4) BELIEVE IN YOUR VALUE – Do not beg for a job or say you’ll work for no pay or low pay and long hours. Again, anyone can say that, do that and hate that…and you have made yourself a commodity. It is true that some people who hire like to hear that, but you do not want to work for someone who hires you solely because you will work long hours for no money. They will just wait for you to drop dead, and then move on to the next sucker. Instead, pick a price and stick to it. Do not come down in price for the same services. In other words, if you need to make $50k/year, then say that. If the employer says the position only pays $40k, then say, “Well, I can work for $40k if I can get 5 weeks vacation, a gas allowance and full health benefits” or “I would be willing to come down to $40k if you will work with me to expand my skills in speechwriting by sending me to one conference a year,” or “Sorry, I can’t really go below $50k. I appreciate your time.” It also helps if you can say “I helped my last boss save $XX and got him a meeting with X and so I’m confident I can help you with the same.” If you can point to accomplishments that helped with the previous boss’s biz, then you can add, “Do you want to try it for 30-60 days at the $50k level? If you don’t think I’m worth it, we can part amicably.”
Writing samples. The bane of my professional writing existence.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great confidence in my writing ability. I have written for dozens of clients who were much older, much younger, different religions and races, and male…in fact, primarily male, and I’m a woman.
In other words, my clients’ personal stories and life experiences were very different from my own. Yet, I was able to successfully capture their voices, use their personal stories and help them deliver the messages that only they could deliver.
The key to a truly wonderful ghostwriter – as opposed to a good writer – is that we can, and must, morph into the persona of our client. It isn’t just about good grammar or pithy quotes. It is more about telling the story in the way that the speaker would tell the story, but better.
We don’t create the recipe for success, we are the sous chefs who make the chef look even better. We give our principals that extra edge.
For example, one of my clients – a cabinet secretary – started his speeches with the same jokes, jokes he had used for years. The jokes were becoming dated, unwieldy and verbose. I tried to remove them to no avail. Ultimately, I stopped fighting his natural tendency to start with a joke, and updated the jokes, making them shorter and honed them for the audience. Success. The jokes took up less time in the speech and became more relevant for the audience.
In another instance, I had a client who loved to use numbers. Dozens of numbers. Mind numbing numbers. I tried to explain that too many numbers turned the data into white noise for the audience and had the opposite effect she wanted – the audience had to work too hard to figure out which number to remember, which one was important, and how the numbers were applicable to them.
After several attempts to just use one or two figures in a speech, to which my client simply added new ones, I began to put the numbers in context for the audience. This slowed the pace in which the speaker delivered the numbers and gave mnemonic devices for the audience to use to remember the key numbers.
With this in mind, next time you – as a ghostwriting candidate – submit writing samples, use samples with different voices, to show how you can change your voice to match the speaker. In your cover letter, point this out and explain the significance. This ability to change voice makes you more valuable to the company because you can write for more than one person, when the need arises.
As a client looking to hire a ghostwriter, I urge you to focus on how different the writing samples are instead of looking for a writer that sounds like you. Even if you are so lucky as to find someone with multiple samples that sound like something you would say/write, you may find that he/she has little range.
Range is especially important if you want to hone your speaking and messaging skills. The writer with range also will be the best candidate to assist others in the company, when the need arises. You never know when your second in command may need to take over a speaking engagement for you, or when someone else’s speechwriter may be out ill, and ask to borrow yours. It is important to have someone who has the flexibility to work with more than one person.
Nearly 5 years into my business and I was slapped with the shocking realization that I had created a great job for myself.
Unfortunately, my goal was to create a great company.
Therefore, I took time off from some regular tasks, such as blogging for myself (still blog for clients, because that’s my business!), to focus on business strategy and process. Not too sexy.
Part of my process was to invite three women who were strong where I felt I was weakest. I invited them to participate in a “Career Intervention.” I was comfortable with my hours and the fairly decent income my job produced. Yet, I knew I should be making at least twice what I was making, and I needed to be more efficient with my time. But I had gone as far as I could go alone.
The women – a banker who had funded hundreds of businesses, a ghostwriter who commanded six figures to ghostwrite books for CEOs, and a woman who had grown her own PR firm from nothing to more than a dozen employees – gave me lots of great advice. One of them even guided our little group through the DISC analysis, adding an unexpected dimension.
Later, I also met one-on-one with about a half dozen other successful women – some who knew me well, some not very well, some personally knew me, others only knew me professionally – to ask them for advice.
As a result, my business doubled over the next few months. Business then plateaued, forcing me to revisit the advice that I had let slide. I’m working on making it all a natural part of my business, but for now it’s still a “practice.”
Among the most impactful advice:
Lot’s more where that came from, but I also learned to set aside the appropriate time for each task, and wrap it up…even though I can do more, doesn’t mean I should…HARD STOP.
Last week, I asked where the inspirational speakers were…going through my notes, I found the 5 Cs of Success by Vince Poscente…he was one amazing speaker…he wanted to be an Olympic athlete, so he randomly chose speed skiing where their motto is “Safety Last” and he broke international records in the trials.
*Spoiler alert: He came in last in the actual games, but he was a part of them!*
“Our life is full of defining moments, pivotal choices,” according to Poscente.
The author of the easy read “The Ant & The Elephant,” Poscente, jumped on chairs, yelled, encouraged audience participation and gave the following advice at a talk earlier this year (April 16, 2011 – another archive goodie)…it may not be as exciting in writing as it was in person…but it bears repeating:
C#1 – Clarity of Vision: Pay attention to your subconscious (elephant) not just conscious (ant) mind. “Don’t just see it, but feel your vision and what it means…If a thought gives you a physical reaction – pay attention.”
C#2 – Commitment: Have the courage to decide. “Doubt is loudest at 99-percent commitment, and it goes away at 100 percent.”
C#3 – Consistency: Focus on your goal – use reminders around the house to refocus you and create a consistent strategy to reach your goal. What change do you want to affect?
“The second you own the solution, you innovate.”
Most people look to their competitors and do what they are not doing…they fill a void…not a bad path, but not a bold one either. Poscente says, “You should do what the competition is not willing to do…That way, you can even tell the competition what you are doing and they won’t do it, because it is what they are not willing to do.”
C#4 – Confidence: Results plummet through the gap between “fear” and “confidence,” so don’t go there…be confident…reinforce to your subconscious that your goal is real and true.
C#5 – Control: This is basically creating a routine. You can reinforce your confidence with a controlled routine of consistent steps toward the clear goal to which you are committed. (See, I got all the Cs in there!)
Poscente wraps up by saying that you will have skeptics as you move toward your goals…just make sure your subconscious isn’t one of them…work to marry your ant and your elephant…the rest of the world will follow.
“When skeptics see results, they will become your biggest supporters.”
As someone who was exclusively an elephant hunter, I am proud to announce that I’ve learned to hunt rabbits…in fact, I’ve even landed a few – so today, I eat!