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.”
“Our generation is very resourceful,” Stuart Watkins, one of four recent college grads on “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, proudly declared Sunday. He was responding to questions regarding the fact that fewer jobs than ever before are available for the latest graduating class.
The four students were called together Sunday on “This Week” to confront two corporate titans allegedly in a position to hire. Yet both corporate leaders spent most of the time talking about the futility of the students’ job search.
Niiiiiice…Way to encourage the “resourceful” workforce that your companies so desperately need to not only succeed, but to survive.