Network smarter, nor harder: A strategic approach to job prospecting
This feature first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Let’s face it. Landing a job that has it all — good pay, awesome co-workers, fun and purposeful work, and advancement opportunities — is a difficult task. Regardless of where you are in your career, whether it’s your first job or your fifth job, getting a job, a really great job, is a difficult task.
Job prospecting is a lot of work. Finding, applying for, and landing a good job is a skill that takes study, practice, and experience. It will stretch you and get you out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to do some selling and marketing, only in this case it’s not for a company or a product — it’s for yourself.
As a technical recruiter for TestOut Corporation, I’ve looked at hundreds of résumés, and it really is true what they say: On average, a recruiter will take six seconds to scan a résumé and decide whether or not to set up an interview. What really makes me feel bad is when I read over an application, one where I can tell the candidate spent a lot of time preparing it … and I have to disregard it.
On the other hand, I also get résumés where I can tell the candidate spent two minutes preparing and sending it to me, along with thousands of other companies. And after two seconds, I have to disregard it.
So what’s the key to getting an interview? To be honest, there’s not a perfect answer. What a hiring manager or recruiter really wants may not even be fully articulated in the job description, and sometimes, the job description is poorly written.
Rule of thumb: If you have all or more of the qualifications and experience listed, then you’ve got a great shot at getting the interview. Especially if you have an IT certification. When applying to almost any tech position, this will bump you ahead of somebody who’s equally qualified, but doesn’t have a certification. A performance-based certification, like those offered by TestOut, ensures that you have both the knowledge required to work in IT and the skills needed to apply that knowledge to real-world situations.
But what if you’re still not getting that phone call? Let me tell you my three “bads,” three telltale factors that may explain why the call never came:
You Have a Bad Résumé
Sometimes résumés are just bad: bad design, bad work history, bad contact information. My advice: Have multiple people look at yours. Find somebody who’s in the same line of work as the position you’re applying for, and get their opinion. Have someone who’s hired a lot of people in their career look at your résumé. It really could be the smallest thing that’s causing you to be ignored.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Human beings naturally want to help others. If possible, find a way to talk to someone at the company you’d like to join, and ask them what they think the hiring manager is looking for. What’s one of the first principles of selling that a salesperson will tell you? Know your audience. Put the time in to build the best résumé you can build, and try to really understand what the recruiter is looking for in the position.
You Have Bad Timing
You’d be surprised at how many job listings stay up even when they’ve already been filled, or after the company has decided to freeze hiring. Day-to-day business operations can change quickly, and hiring managers can change their minds about positions. I’ve even worked with some hiring managers who have no intention of hiring for an advertised position. They just want to interview a group of people so they can learn from their expertise, and field a range of opinions about how they would handle a situation. Cruel, I know … but it does happen.
There are also times when the recruiter has a candidate at the last stages of the hiring process, but he or she doesn’t want to take the posting down, just in case the current frontrunner doesn’t work out and the recruiter has to start the process over. My advice: If you’re going to apply online, whether it’s through an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) or e-mail address, always try to be one of the first applicants. Recruiters want to fill positions as fast as possible. If you want the best shot, get in at the front of the line.
If you want to be alerted when a new job is posted, some companies have e-mail lists you can sign up for. You can also follow company profiles on sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com, so when a new position is posted, you’ll be one of the first to know. Also, it never hurts to contact the company and simply ask whether the position is still open before taking the time to send in a résumé.
You Have a Bad Relationship
Your chances go down if the recruiter doesn’t know a lot about you. Even if you’ve got a great résumé, recruiters still have to consider whether you’re a good fit for the company culture. There’s a fair chance they’re going to be investigating you on social media. If there’s any hint that you won’t fit in culturally, then they probably won’t be calling you.
One of the first things I do when I see a résumé I like is try to find out whether the candidate knows or has worked with any of my fellow coworkers. If, when I ask the coworker about the candidate, the reply is something like, “Oh man, we’d be lucky to get that person,” or “Definitely hire that person,” then I know I’ve got a great candidate to interview.
If the reply is something more like, “I don’t think that person would fit here,” or “Don’t bother interviewing that person,” then in most cases I’ll disregard the résumé. My advice: try to make a connection with someone who works at the company, and see whether they can help you apply for the position. Or consider applying at a company that has someone who can vouch for you. This will significantly increase your chances of getting an interview.
Networking: Go Beyond the Bads
So do you really want to know the best way of getting your foot in that door? Networking. If you don’t want to risk your résumé getting lost in the slush pile, or applying for a job that is closed or has already been filled, then spend more time networking.
You may have heard that the best way to get a job is through networking. It’s true. But good networkers aren’t necessarily outgoing social butterflies. When I was in school, all I ever heard was that, in order to be successful in my career, I had to network. Nobody seemed to know, however, the best way to approach it, or even precisely what to do.
My best guess about the nuts and bolts of networking was that I needed to start cold calling people and asking them whether they knew of any job openings. Or maybe I should go to an event and start chatting up random strangers. Connections sometimes get made in surprising ways. Unless you’re the world’s most confident and charming person, however, a random tap on the shoulder or out-of-the-blue phone call will not be effective!
The real key to networking is relationships. The best advice I’ve ever heard about networking is to view it from the perspective of, “How can I help this person,” rather than “What can this person do for me?” Understanding this simple twist in perspective is a game changer.
Think of the times when you’ve made a new friend. What barriers were broken down for there to be trust between you? What was it that made you think, “I want to be friends with this person,” or “I want this person to like me”? Professional networking is like making new friends. The same principles apply.
This will take time and practice, but networking is more natural than you think. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
Make a List — Put together a list of the people you know. Even if you think a person you know has no way of helping you find a job, just put them down. Studies have shown that most people know at last 632 other people. Start gathering e-mails and phone numbers, and create a notes section where you can jot down information and remind yourself to follow up.
Change Your Perspective — Don’t think of networking as figuring out, “How is this relationship going to help me get a job right now?” Think of it more as figuring out, “What do I need to do to have this relationship still be meaningful 10 years from now?” Or maybe it’s, “Who do I know who could help this person with something they need?”
Everyone you come in contact with — friends, family, teachers, coworkers, bosses — is a link in your network. Each of them could be the key to your next opportunity, even if it’s 10 years down the road. The important part is taking yourself — your actions, your reputation, your work — seriously. Anyone you interact with could be the key difference maker who vouches for you to a recruiter.
Utilize Social Media — I don’t recommend spending all of your time on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn messaging people all day. Think of social media as a tool that will help you keep track of people and manage your conversations with them. These are great ways of finding people and maintaining a connection with them, however informal. LinkedIn, in particular, can be a powerful job prospecting tool.
Attend Events and User Groups — What’s a user group? Put simply, a community of people who have similar interests, goals, or concerns. There are a lot of user groups out there with people who are engaged by the same things that motivate you. It’s great to attend an event where you instantly have something to talk about with those you meet. Meetup.com is a great site to find local user groups.
Perform “Informational Interviews” or “Career Exploration Meetings” — An informational interview is when you pick someone at a company and ask to meet with them to learn about what they do. You’d be surprised at how often people are willing to meet with you. The person you ask to meet is likely to feel flattered that someone wants to talk with them about what they do. This can be great way to get referrals, or perhaps even discover professional opportunities with that individual’s employer.
Follow Up and Follow Through — This is essential to being an effective networker. If someone gives you a referral, or tells you about a job opportunity, make sure to say “Thank you,” and update them on your progress. Also, be willing to return the favor and help them with a project they’re working on.
Gone are the days of blasting your résumé to hundreds of companies and hoping that someone replies back. This simply is not effective. You have to be smart about job prospecting in order to avoid the three “Bads” that stop that phone call from ever coming. Keep your audience (recruiters and hiring managers) in mind when applying for jobs, and don’t ever forget to network.
Remember, you make an impression on everyone you meet, so why not make a good one? You are always making connections, even when you aren’t intending to. Your network is everyone you associate with, and any one of those people could be your link to a great job.