There are still great opportunities to be had today, but as the economy has slowed down, there are naturally fewer of them. For those inclined to proactively take their job search into their own hands, we’ve outlined a five-step approach that has proven to be highly effective during a market downturn:
1) Define your scope by answering the following three questions: a) What industries do I want to work in (no more than two)? b) What size company am I comfortable working at (startup? mid-size? large corporation?)? c) Where geographically do I want to live?
The classic mistake that many job-seekers make is defining a scope that is too broad. Remember: “You can’t boil the ocean.” Narrow your scope aggressively and know that you can expand later if necessary. By narrowing the scope, you will dig deeper in the space, which will allow you to find hidden opportunities (which are always there), and you will have a better and more convincing story for hiring authorities.
2) Create an exhaustive list of all companies that meet your scope. A manageable scope is anywhere from 15 to 50 companies that align with your career goals. Any less and you’re unlikely to find a good opportunity. Any more and you’ll spread yourself too thin. There are multiple ways to find this information. If you have access to pay services such as ZoomInfo, those are best. You can also Google your scope for free. For example, Googling something such as “chemical companies in Chicago” will get you started.
3) Research and prioritize your list of companies. Simply go online and review the websites of each company in your scope. Force yourself to rate each company as either a) high interest, b) some interest or c) no interest. It’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing companies based on the open positions they list on their website, but don’t make that mistake. This is not about what positions a company has listed publicly (which is never an accurate reflection of a company’s hiring needs). Instead, you’re simply trying to prioritize which companies you want to work for, regardless of who you believe they are looking to hire.
4) Identify and reach out to the appropriate hiring authority at your top target companies. The hiring authority is effectively the person to whom you would report if you were to join the company. This is NOT human resources (unless you desire to be in a human resource role). Leverage LinkedIn and classic Google/internet searches to identify who that person is.
How you reach out to this person and what you say to them is clearly important. Start with an email or a LinkedIn message, but you should plan to follow-up with a phone call as well. Whether you’re sending an email or leaving a voicemail, a simple, straightforward message is best. Your email and voicemail script (which you should write out and practice) should include the following topics: a) this is who I am, b) this is what I do (or have done), c) I have no idea if you’re looking for someone like me (this provides a nice disclaimer which allows the hiring authority to drop their guard) and d) I’m interested in you and I would appreciate the opportunity to set up time to speak with / meet with you.
Note that when calling you will likely get this person’s voicemail. In this case, your message should be largely the same as what I’ve listed above, just in an executive summary format. If you’re calling a very senior person, it’s possible that you will get their assistant on the phone. In that case, you should communicate with the assistant almost in the same way you would with the hiring authority, as they will be passing your message along to their boss (the alternative is to wait until after 5:00 p.m. when the assistant has left for the day and you will go straight to voicemail).
Many of you may be asking, “Why call a hiring authority if they don’t have a job posted?” The reason is two-fold: a) Many companies don’t post every role they’re looking to fill. b) Hiring authorities are always looking for great talent, even if they don’t have an open requisition. I’ve heard countless executives say: “I don’t have an opening, but I’ll create one for this person.”
5) Be highly appreciative to those who help you. Be sure to get the email address of everyone you speak with and send a brief thank you note. In your email, be sure to list your career goals (in two sentences or less) and don’t hesitate to attach your résumé. You’ll be surprised by how many calls you get from people who received your résumé from a colleague you sent it to.
The key to this approach is polite persistence. Don’t just email and call the hiring authority once and give up. These are busy people, and there are a lot of things vying for their attention. Our rule of thumb is to email the hiring authority and then place your follow-up call no later than five days after. Rinse and repeat no less than three times. It shows that you’re serious, and companies only want to engage with serious candidates.
As I mentioned above, this five-step approach is not easy. However, we’ve found it is by far the most reliable way to identify multiple career opportunities if you invest the time.