There are career coaching services out there who advertise that they will teach you a powerful “secret” method for finding jobs. It’s a magical technique that will put you in touch with the vast majority of job openings, which never even get advertised. They’ll sweeten the deal by promising that this special technique will bypass the usual hiring gatekeepers and earn you a much warmer reception from senior executives than you’ll normally get.
This technique really exists. At the risk of giving away this valuable secret knowledge and earning the wrath of those who would sell it to you for thousands of dollars, I’m gonna give it up. It’s actually a common-sense technique that every job hunter can and should use. It combines networking and informational interviews.
It’s a technique that requires some care — it can easily slip into a deceptive practice, at least as far as employers are concerned. To explain how to utilize this powerful Jedi mind trick, let’s walk through an example. In this case, we’ll watch as Deb Smith, a young woman fresh out of college, works the magic to find a job in marketing:
- Deb starts by asking the two executives she knows best — her father and her neighbor — if they know any marketing executives. If she didn’t know anyone who might have suitable contacts, she could also ask one of her college professors, or she could even contact a marketing executive she read an article by/about in a local paper. For the sake of this example, let’s say the two people she asks each volunteers the name of one referral. Deb decides to push her luck a bit, and she also asks them to a call to these referrals, to let them know that they can expect a call from her. This isn’t necessary, but it makes Deb’s call a little easier. (Ideally, when they make this call, they’ll put in a personal plug for Deb.)
- Deb calls each of these referrals. She identifies herself, how she got their name and why she’s calling. For example: “Mr. Salesguru, this is Deb Smith calling. My neighbor, Patty Marketstudy, suggested I give you a call. I’ve just graduated from UW Whitewater with a degree in marketing, and my neighbor thought you would be an excellent person to discuss career strategies with. May I ask for half an hour of your time? Would Tuesday afternoon be OK?”
- Deb shows up, impeccably dressed and groomed, and fully prepared. After introductions, unless Mr. Salesguru takes control of the conversation, she opens her notebook to a list of carefully planned questions. The questions walk a fine line: they are questions any sharp job candidate might ask, but not questions that imply that she misrepresented her reason for the meeting. Here are a few she could ask, in roughly the order they might come up:
- Mr. Marketstudy, may I ask what your educational background was, and how you got into marketing?
- What are some of the skills you feel have been instrumental in getting you where you are in your career?
- What are some of the key marketing challenges that you believe you and your company will face in the next year? Ten years?
- Is there any advice you would offer an entry-level job seeker with my skills?
- Deb wraps up the interview promptly when the half hour she requested is up (unless her host volunteers more time). Her last questions would be, “Mr. Salesguru, are you aware of any job opportunities for someone with my skills?” And/or, “Do you know additional marketing executives who might be able to share additional insights? Finally, if she feels like there is a good enough rapport to go a bit farther and ask for a favor, “Would you mind giving them a call to let them know I’ll be calling, and that your referred me?”
A few notes about the technique illustrated in this example. First and most importantly, Deb didn’t do or say anything that suggested she actually showed up at Mr. Salesguru’s doorstep thinking he’d offer her a job. Indeed, nothing she said even implied an assumption he would have any job openings available. That would have been both deceptive and presumptuous of her, since she requested an informational interview. Of course, Mr. Salesguru may volunteer an opportunity. The best case scenario may be that when he’s asked if he knows about any suitable opportunities, his reply is “why yes, we have a perfect opening here in my department, and I think you’d be perfect for it.”
(Note: rarely will you walk into such a perfect situation, but using these techniques, it’s not unusual to find situations that are almost as promising. Such as “we may have an opening. Why don’t I talk to some of my managers and we’ll let you know.”)
Second, think about your experience last time you posted a resume in response to a job ad, online or in the paper. You probably didn’t hear anything back. If you got really lucky, perhaps you actually got an interview — with an HR person who wasn’t even the person making the hiring decision. In contrast, in our example, Deb was treated like a visiting dignitary! She spent half an hour or more with a senior executive, who welcomed her warmly. The senior executive could make decisions, had intimate knowledge of the field Deb wanted to work in, and knows plenty of other marketing professionals. How cool is that?
Third, as mentioned, a large number of jobs aren’t advertised. For so many reasons: maybe an employer hasn’t gotten around to it, they aren’t sure precisely what the job definition is (until the right candidate walks in and sat down!) Or, perhaps they’ve learned that the highest caliber of job candidates comes from personal referrals. Such as referrals from Deb’s neighbor, Patty Marketstudy. The point is, in addition to being a powerful technique, this one puts you in touch with “the hidden job market.”
Some feel this technique is only suitable for job hunters fresh out of school, because when they call the successful professionals who are referred to them they can say “I just graduated… and I’m looking for information about careers in your field.” Yes, this is an easy way to get a foot in the door — it’s a good reason to request an informational interview. But any job seeker can make this work; the key, simply, is to offer a plausible reason. Such as:
“I’m changing career fields from sales into operations, and while I think many of my skills transfer well, I’d sure appreciate the opportunity to get some advice from an operations professional such as yourself regarding the field.”
“My company laid off my entire department. I was with them for 10 years, and honestly my job hunting skills are a little rusty. Mr. Salesguru told me you know more about inside sales than anyone else in Milwaukee, and that you might be willing to spend some time helping me develop a job hunting strategy.”
“just 5 years short of retirement I was terminated. My friend Susan Programmer mentioned that you found yourself in a similar situation several years ago, and that she admired the way you tackled the challenge and found a new job. Would you mind meeting me for breakfast — my treat — and sharing your thoughts about the best way to do this?”
Additionally, more seasoned job seekers don’t need to ask friends and relatives for that first round of referrals. They may already know dozens — even hundreds — of working professionals they can call (family, friends, fellow church members, previous coworkers, fellow Rotarians, etc.)
A good friend and exceptional career mentor once told me that since 80% of all jobs were unadvertised and could only be reached through this technique, job seekers should expend 80% of their efforts using this technique. That percentage has probably dropped now that online job postings are so easy and ubiquitous, but the logic still holds. So, keep watching Local Job Network websites and replying to suitable postings, but take advantage of the proverbial “six degrees of separation” by applying this amazing “magical” networking technique.