You've probably grown tired of hearing about the importance that connections play in finding a new job. It can be frustrating advice if you don't have a robust network that delivers the leads that interest you. That's why I recommend focusing your job-search efforts first, then building your network around your targeted job-search strategy. Here's my simple four-step process for connecting with hiring managers and finding a new job. 1. Focus your job search on companies that need your expertise.
If you're not bound by a noncompete agreement, choose businesses that are competitors to previous employers, where your credentials logically transfer in hiring managers' minds and where your knowledge is viewed as an asset. Organizations that are familiar with your previous employer may be more likely to view your past affiliation as an asset and more likely to envision how you will enhance their company's performance. You might also want to consider organizations at a tier below your most recent employer, as they will likely express interest in a candidate from a bigger firm.
2. Develop customised written and verbal communications.
To grab prospective employers' attention, all of your communications with them — your résumé, bio, cover letters and elevator pitches — should emphasise how your skills and experience can help them address their specific business goals and challenges. Simply listing your past employers, your previous titles, the length of time you held each position and your responsibilities will not pique their interest enough to seek out a conversation with you.
If you have the opportunity to speak with an employee at a company where you would like to work, you need to clearly demonstrate that you know something about the company's business and that you possess the skills the employer needs to achieve its goals. To that end, you need to do some research on each employer to get a sense of what their issues are, and you need to incorporate those themes into all your communications. For example, consider the challenges you've faced, the responsibilities you've held and your achievements in each job you've held, and think about how you could apply what you've done in the past to an employer you're targeting. Present those achievements that are relevant to each employer in your written and verbal communications using the "challenge-action-result" format—that is, specify what the challenge was, the action you took to address it and the consequences of your actions.
The job search is not about you and your goals; it is all about the employer's needs and objectives. Make it easy for them to realize that you can help them by illustrating your abilities. You might also wish to volunteer to attend a meeting, to draft a job description or prepare a presentation beyond what is required or what your résumé shows.
3. Expand your network purposefully.
Seek out new contacts designed to get you in touch with hiring–decision makers likely to have access to the job leads you want. Try finding inside contacts through your alumni network and business and social networking websites, and by searching for names of top executives and managers on corporate websites, in business directories and trade publications. You can also try contacting vendors and consultants you've worked with in the past to see if they know anyone at the firms you're targeting. If those efforts aren't panning out, don't underestimate the power of cold-calling.
The more active you get on the networking scene by joining professional associations and attending conferences, for example, the greater your chances of meeting someone with a direct or indirect connection to one of your target employers. The goal of this networking is to establish connections with employees inside the companies you're targeting who can tell you about potential job opportunities, put you in touch with hiring managers and eventually vouch for your qualifications. The hiring manager is ultimately the one who can restructure an organization to accommodate a new staff member and reconfigure a budget to add personnel, and who is aware of future plans and secret challenges that need to be addressed when the right resources are available at the right cost.
Another way to draw connections to you and to get yourself noticed is to participate in appropriate online forums, get active in the blogosphere and write articles for trade publications. It takes thorough and creative research to identify those who need to know you, but it is well worth the effort in order to get connected to individuals with access to new job leads that meet your search criteria.
4. Follow up.
A critical step in the job-search process is following up on all relevant connections. Don't expect an immediate response from people; wait a respectful amount of time (three to seven days) to give them a chance to get in touch with you. If you don't hear from them, initiate a second contact to make sure they received your call or e-mail.
If you're still not getting an answer, wait a month and try again. Give an opportunity enough time and circumstances may be more favorable at a later date. Polite persistence does pay off. It demonstrates your sincere interest in them and will usually produce an acknowledgement. It just requires your time, so you have to decide which contacts to pursue and which do not merit further effort. Replace connections that have been exhausted with a fresh contact so as to keep expanding your network.
Debra Feldman is a nationally recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic and customised senior-level, executive job-search campaigns.
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