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Monday, May 17, 2010

Job Search Strategies (as published in the Washington CPA Magazine, May/June edition)

I was honored to be asked to write an article on job search strategies for the WSCPA.

Effective Job Search Strategies from a Recruiter’s Perspective

You have spent hours online searching job boards for open positions and have applied for hundreds of openings. You are exhausted, but don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Is there anything else you should be doing? Absolutely! Like with anything, the smarter your job search strategy is, the more effective it is going to be.

While working as a corporate recruiter, I had a front-row opportunity to see how candidate’s different job search strategies worked out. If the company I worked for extended an offer to a candidate, I backtracked several key factors, including how the person found out about the job, how their resumes looked, how they interviewed and how they followed up. Now, I share that information with my business clients. One of the first questions my clients want to know is how to find a job and in this article, I’m going to share that advice with you.

Start your job search by choosing 15 - 20 companies for whom you think you would love to work. They can be employers you have heard great things about from friends that have worked there, businesses you have read about in the news, companies that are geographically convenient or employers who make a product or service that you love. They should meet your "hard" criteria too; they should be of a size likely to provide you with the type of employment opportunities you seek, for example. This is a list you will add to and subtract from, as you gain more insight.

Don’t wait for an opening to be posted to apply. Some open positions can’t be posted, the person leaving may not know it (performance termination) or may not announce it publicly (planning a move), for example, but often the recruiter or hiring manager has already started looking. If your resume were to land on their desk before they needed you, you would likely get more attention than if you applied when they posted the job.

Once you have selected your target companies, start your research and record your findings on Excel. For each company, assign a worksheet and add information gained from news articles, blogs, company websites or word-of-mouth. Search your LinkedIn contacts for people you already know that can offer insight into the company’s culture, hiring process, opportunities, etc.

Not on LinkedIn? Join! LinkedIn provides a great place to keep track of your network. These are people that you work with or used to work with, friends, family, neighbors and fellow group members. The first step to using LinkedIn is to create a profile. You will enter information about where you have worked or volunteered, where you went to school, and the groups you are a member of. Then, start adding contacts; I suggest you only add people that you know, like and trust.

Lost track of some people? LinkedIn has several ways to find people with whom you have lost touch. You can look up an old employer and see all of the people who have identified that place as their current or past employer. If you remember them, add them. In addition, LinkedIn has a feature where it will “look” in your email and tell you who you already know that is signed up on linked in. Alternatively, you can type in someone’s name and see if they have an account. In any case, the person will get an email from you asking if they would like to connect. Once they do, you will be able to see their profile and that is when the magic happens!

Let’s say you connect with 100 people on LinkedIn and they have worked an average of five jobs each. That is potentially 500 employers where you now have an inside connection. The beauty of LinkedIn is that you can also see friends of friends, raising your potential inside connections exponentially. You will know right who to go to to get the inside scoop on a particular company.

LinkedIn has a few other terrific features and I have learned a few job search strategies that they do not talk much about. In addition to a terrific Q&A section and job board, you can learn a lot from looking at the profiles of people who hold your “dream job”. Wondering what industry affiliations to join? Check what groups that people holding the jobs you want are members of. Wonder what your ideal employer is looking for in a candidate? Look at the profiles of recent hires for clues on certifications, volunteerism and education.

Join and attend professional organizations. Typically, they meet once per month and you will often find that there is a guest speaker, they may offer snacks or a meal, and there is usually time for networking. Set a goal to talk to two or three people at each meeting. More than that and you will forget with whom you spoke. Ask for the cards of the people you converse with and jot down some notes about the conversation on it after your talks. Then, follow up – add them to LinkedIn and arrange a coffee meeting if your conversation went particularly well. Folks I have worked with have had great luck with alumni associations, so consider joining those as well. Many have a charter to provide services to job seekers.

Treat your network connections as you would your friends. Always ask about how you can be helpful to them, for example, to ensure they do not feel as if you are purely contacting them to see what they can do for you. Since the best networking is always done in person, casually ask if you can chat with the person in their office, short of that, a coffee meeting or other gathering is perfectly fine. Phone contact is next best, but try for a face-to-face meeting if logistically possible.

The best networkers never ask for a job, they know that someone who knows, likes and respects them will be alert to potential opportunities without having to be asked. The key is to keep your network responding to you in the “yes” mode – Yes, I can tell you what I like about the company – instead of the “no” mode – No, we don’t have any openings. Don’t encourage your network to avoid you because they don’t want to say no.

Did you get a “yes, you can stop by” response? Let them know you will have five questions prepared and that you won't take more than 15 minutes of their time - then stick to that. Make it clear when you have reached the end of your questions and observe the time, this will help them gain trust that you stick to your word and are not taking advantage of their kindness in seeing you. Quite likely, they will want to extend the conversation and at this point, it will become more of a conversation and less of a favor they are doing for you. Even so, be respectful of their time and they will feel more confident in referring you to talk with someone else. Your tone should be curious and positive while asking questions. Make notes during the meeting, add new information to your Excel worksheet and follow up on leads.

In addition to asking about what the person with whom you are talking likes best about the company, other great questions include, "What was your first position with the company?" "What is the hiring process like?" and "What advice might you have for someone in my situation?" Also, ask what groups or industry associations they are active in; consider following up on those groups to see if they might be a good fit for you. During your job search, strive to meet two people per week and join two groups that meet monthly.

Be sure to triangulate information whenever possible and don’t dismiss a job opportunity just because you hear negative comments from one or two people. They may be disgruntled, had a bad boss who is no longer there, or were bad employees. Even the happiest employees will bring their own skewed perspective; just keep that in mind.

Where you cannot seem to source a "warm" connection to a particular target company, be sure to drop the name of the place into your conversations with people. Chatting with your neighbor? Toss in, "I wish I knew someone from XYZ, it seems like an interesting place to work." If they know someone there, and if they know and trust you, they will introduce you. Don’t pressure them by asking outright whom they know; you want your network to say “yes” to you and you want it to be their idea, so they’ll take ownership of it down the road. Consider the difference: “Here’s that great controller I was telling you about,” vs. “John asked me to ask you if there were any openings for a controller.” The best connections come from a mutual party's desire to make a match, not a desire to get you off their back.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned answering want ads yet. That is mostly because the numbers are against you. As a warm contact referred by someone that the hiring manager knows and trusts, you are much more appealing than a stranger answering an ad on the Internet. This factor alone explains the reason why 70% of all open positions are filled by someone who knew someone who knew the hiring manager. Sure, that leaves 30% of all jobs, but would you rather be one of 3-4 people personally referred for a position, or one of 300 – 400 who apply for a position posted on Monster?

By the time most jobs make it to Monster, they are picked over. The company’s recruiter has exhausted their network of strong candidates as well as the networks of everyone that works for the company and is forced to go fishing with a large net. Instead of taking the work of someone she trusts that the candidate being referred is sane, smart and motivated, she has to shuffle through hundreds of anonymous resumes to try to find the best candidates. If answering ads on the Internet is part of your job search strategy, try to keep it under 15% of your search time.

Consider using staffing services, especially if your network is skimpy in your industry or if you are new in town. Know that it is thousands of dollars more expensive to hire you through a service than if you found the job yourself, so if you have leads on certain companies, be sure to let your recruiter know not to refer you to those places due to the commissions involved. Wonder which service to contact? Check the LinkedIn profiles of people working where you want to work for prior involvement with staffing agencies. Or, contact the HR departments of your target companies and ask if they are contracted to work with a certain company. When you meet with the staffer, talk about temporary, temp-to-hire and permanent placement options.

You never know where your next job will come, so take advantage of every opportunity and be prepared. Practice a brief “elevator speech” about what kind of job you want and why you are a valuable candidate. Tell a story about a time where you “saved the day” in some way in your last role. Don’t be overly concerned about not being completely qualified for the positions that interest you. An 80% skill match is close enough for most places as they are also interested in hiring people that are a good culture fit and show enthusiasm for the company.

Jill Walser, of I got the job! Career Services, is a former corporate recruiter now sharing inside secrets with her clients.

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