I’ve worked and consulted for many great companies, so many people come to me for help and advice as they look for jobs.
I learn a lot from these individuals as they conduct their searches, and one common mistake I see is that people are not aggressive enough. Perhaps it’s because people who are unemployed sometimes lack confidence, or they feel the balance of power is against them and they don’t want to be perceived as pushy. But I think many executives “in transition” (the new term for “unemployed”) are too tentative, think too small, fail to use all of their available resources and thus decrease the odds they will find a great job.
Here are seven tips that I’ve developed based on my observations. I don’t expect many professional recruiters or HR veterans to agree with all of these. But I’ve seen each of these tips used to great advantage, so they work sometimes, for some people. Use your judgment.
1. Search a Very Wide Geography
Probably the most common and damaging mistake I see job hunters make is they limit the geography of their search. For example, I live in Colorado and many of my local contacts who come to me say something like, “I want to stay in the Denver area,” which usually means they aren’t looking very hard anywhere else. Limiting your search geographically is not aggressive.
Now, narrowing in on a geographic area might seem like a reasonable requirement for a job search. Executive recruiters often ask about your geographic preferences and limitations first. But they are asking this question not so they can find more jobs for you but rather so they can eliminate you as a candidate for many of the jobs they’re seeking to fill. The second you tell a recruiter you don’t want to move, you’ve taken yourself off the list for most opportunities.
Consider my friends in Colorado, where I lived for most of my life. You might think that it’s logical for there to be lots of jobs there because Denver is a pretty big, fast-growing metropolitan area. In fact, the Census Bureau reports that the Denver “MSA” (Metropolitan Statistical Area) has a population of 2,812,732.
Here’s the problem: the population of the United States is 324,436,000, meaning Denver has just 0.87% of the national’s people. So putting in place a limitation like, “I want to stay in the Denver area” means you are probably eliminating more than 99% of all US job prospects. How much harder did your job search just become?
I understand that people have good reasons for wanting to stay local – they have established social networks, a spouse working in the area, or a custody agreement regarding children from a prior marriage, etc. But most of the time, people just really want to live where they are now.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I understand the reluctance because I have moved 14 different times in my life, not counting relocations within cities. Moving is very difficult, expensive, and emotionally draining.
However, it is not as emotionally draining as unemployment, or worse, severe financial hardship. So if you are limiting your search to where you live today, recognize the tradeoff you are making. And consider casting a wider net even if you don’t want to move. I’ve seen many cases where someone who told me that they wouldn’t relocate changed their minds later when they became desperate. And yet they had wasted six months’ of their search process ignoring everyplace but their hometown.
You can always turn down a job offer, but they’re still nice to have. You can’t accept an offer you don’t get. So go get some offers, wherever they may be — then decide based on your circumstances at the time and the nature of the job if you want to accept it or not. Searching strictly for local jobs is not aggressive unless you have no choice.
2. Leverage Your Past Fearlessly
I once had lunch with a good friend who was trying to start a very interesting company. Everyone who knows this individual thinks he’s extremely impressive. He’s extraordinarily intelligent and capable and has a terrific resume. He’s had high-level positions with some of the world’s most prestigious companies and he has the kinds of education and certifications that other people can only dream about.
However, the start up that he was pursuing had very little to do with the work that he’s done before. In addition, he didn’t have any significant intellectual property to claim. That means that even if he were able to find investors, there would be nothing to prevent others from copying his business model. So it was a risky approach and while that’s aggressive, it was also a long-shot opportunity.
Out of curiosity, I asked him why he wasn’t pursing something that was more similar to the work he has done in the past. As it turns out, while he had many successes working for his prior employers, in two cases, his tenure ended badly. Apparently, he’d taken on extremely difficult assignments and when they didn’t work out, he had to leave the companies.
This is actually a pretty common scenario, and it didn’t diminish this individual’s remarkable abilities or effectiveness one bit. My advice to him was to continue to look for jobs for which he was very well-qualified and to remember that none of his prospective employers would know the details about his positions that didn’t turn out so well. He wound up abandoning his start-up idea and getting back into work he was well-qualified to do and he has continued to be very successful.
A lot of people like my friend leave corporate jobs to “do something different,” like entrepreneurial ventures. And while that’s tempting, the fact is that we have the very best shot at landing a future job that looks like the ones we’ve had in the past. Our strengths and resumes make us very attractive to companies hiring those positions and they are the jobs we can compete for most effectively.
If you haven’t done so lately, take a look at your resume from the perspective of an employer. What does it say you are best qualified to do? What kinds of jobs are you most suited to pursue? Learn how to portray yourself as an expert in your field — a master of your area because of your experience, training and education. Then practice describing why you have extraordinarily strong qualifications and simply ignore parts of your previous jobs you don’t wish to discuss. That’s not only aggressive, it’s what many of the people you’re competing with are doing as well.
3. Master the Dreaded Practice Interview
I think it’s sort of a platitude that you should practice your interviewing skills, but hardly anyone does it. This is unfortunate, because interviewing effectively is an acquired skill and most people are pretty poor at it if they haven’t practiced it a lot.
Have someone interview you and videotape it. Scrutinize the tape, make some improvements and then do it again. I know that most people hate the way they look and sound on videotape, but that’s really how you look and sound, so you might as well know it. Once you do, you can work on improving the way you come across and eliminate the things you don’t like. You will see and hear yourself do things on the tape that you weren’t aware of that are distracting or take away from the impression you’re trying to make.
I once videotaped someone who couldn’t seem to land a job no matter what he did. When we watched the tape, he was aghast to see that whenever he was thinking about a question, he dropped his head down and stared at the table. It was disconcerting and made him look discouraged and not at all confident. After a few tries, he was able to correct this and some other faux pas and was much more confident in his interviewing. He landed a job soon after our videotaping session, even though he had been interviewing for a couple of years with no luck. That practice, he said, is what made the difference.
There are many other areas of interviewing that will improve with videotaped practice sessions — how you enunciate, the words you choose, your hand gestures, the way your clothes and hair look and how loud and fast you speak, etc. You simply cannot master all of these details unless you see yourself in action.
Make sure whomever plays the role of the hiring person is ready for your rehearsal. They should be professional and play the part with complete seriousness. When you begin, enter the room like it’s a real interview, shake your interviewer’s hand, and once you get started, stay “in role” until the interview is done. Don’t stop if you flub up — you can’t do it in a real interview, so make yourself recover from mistakes in practice. Finally, ensure the interviewer has a long list of questions to ask, some of them quite difficult or pressing on areas of your resume where you are the least confident. There are almost no interview questions that you can’t anticipate, so be ready with answers to all of them. As I tell my friends, memorize your ad libs in advance so that you can deliver them articulately and with poise and confidence when it counts.
Hardly anyone practices their interviewing on tape and then reviews the results carefully. Be the aggressive, consummate professional who does.
4. Ask Friends to Help — But Not the Way Other Candidates Do
I find that many people are reluctant to ask their friends and colleagues (current and former) for substantive help in finding a job and this is a big mistake. I know everyone “in transition” emails and calls some friends to ask that they keep them in mind if anything comes up, but that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not aggressive.
Aggressive networking for a job involves reaching deep into your well of relationships and contacting everyone you can possibly think of to enlist them in your search. When you ask someone for assistance, it creates a sense of obligation on their part that doesn’t exist otherwise. I don’t know why this is the case, but I’ve seen it happen many times. You won’t know which of your friends, associates and former coworkers will have great opportunities to send your way until you ask them to, but I have been frequently surprised at where great job leads come from.
But even if you ask for help, most people who know you are looking for a job won’t think of you when they run across relevant leads. Everyone’s busy and has their own problems to deal with, and you probably won’t come to mind very often except to your best friends and colleagues.
So go farther. Ask them to write recommendations for you on LinkedIn. Ask them if they will go through their LinkedIn connections with you on the phone and give you email address of people you can approach with their blessing. Also, ask if they will be a reference for you and then follow up with an email summarizing your strengths and experience, so they will have it handy if a prospective employer calls. When I founded my consulting practice, I did this with a former associate of mine and wound up with a dozen great leads, one of which turned into a significant contract.
Don’t worry about offending someone or being turned down when you ask for their assistance. People are usually happy and even flattered that you are seeking their help. Very often I’ve seen former colleagues go out of their way to recommend and help each other even if they weren’t on the best of terms when they worked together. I have some strong recommendations from people with whom I had rocky relationships when we were at the same employer and have received some great leads for jobs and consulting assignments from them as well.
Many people I know have found new jobs by building a large network of professional acquaintances and then working it hard for leads. Since many and maybe even most jobs come from personal networks, you are really missing out on some great opportunities if you don’t take this seriously and do it aggressively.
5. Be the Consultant You Didn’t Know You Are
Although I’ve been consulting for nearly six years now, I got into it by accident. After my last corporate role, I decided I would find some local company to buy and run myself. While I was looking into this, one of the people I’d worked with years ago called me and said, “Hey, I hear you’re not busy right now. Would you like to do some work for us?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“How much do you charge?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “I have no idea.”
We laughed, worked out an agreement and I did the project. I read some books on how to be a consultant so I wouldn’t do anything too stupid, but I wasn’t planning on making my living this way. However, when I finished that project, I began to get calls from other former co-workers and I never did get back to buying that company like I’d planned.
Many people I know who are looking for jobs could also do some consulting. It doesn’t take much money to get started and it’s a great way to network. Consulting assignments also lead to job offers, which has happened to me more than once. Besides, it sure beats sitting around between interviews.
In my case, consulting became a career for several years, but it’s so easy to get in and out of that it can also simply supplement your income while pursuing full-time gigs. There is no real “risk” other than the very modest time and money required to establish your practice. Besides, the very process of setting up a small business is highly educational and interesting.
Lots of people look for jobs. Aggressive people consult along the way.
6. Flaunt Your References Up Front
Using references is one area where I think the experts are wrong. Supposedly, you shouldn’t include references with your resume. In fact, nearly every resume I see ends with some boring statement like, “References provided upon request.” The truth is that no one requests your references until you already have the job, at which point they don’t do you much good because the game is already over.
I’m of the opinion that it’s a bone-headed use of a valuable resource, and here’s why: in the rare cases where someone attaches references to their resume, I absolutely cannot resist looking at them to see who they are. It’s like the “P.S.” on a letter — you feel like there must something interesting tucked away there and you don’t want to miss it.
I first noticed this phenomenon when I was a hiring executive. I received a resume with references attached and they appeared to be very successful and interesting people. I found myself thinking, “Wow, I should interview this guy so I can talk to these intriguing people who are recommending him.” And then I grinned and wondered if that was precisely what the individual had intended. If so, he was really onto something.
There are so many resumes in the marketplace right now that it’s very difficult to stand out. If you have interesting-sounding people as references, I think that reflects well on you and thus helps you differentiate yourself from other candidates. You may even find some gullible executive like me who wants to interview you just so he can talk to your references. I can’t imagine anyone would react negatively to this strategy, so it appears to me that there is no reason not to give it a try. Using references the conventional way is almost useless, and certainly not aggressive.
7. Ask the Illuminating and Critical Closing Question
In any situation where I am closing a deal, such as a job interview or while pitching a consulting project, I always end with a same question:
“Based on the specifications in the job description [or the consulting assignment], how do you feel my qualifications match up with what you are seeking?” This usually yields a slightly startled look, but people seem to like the question and they always open up and give you information you wouldn’t have otherwise.
I find this is useful in a couple of ways. Most importantly, it surfaces objections or reservations the other party is feeling about me or my company, which allows me to address them immediately. They’ll often say something like, “Well, overall, you appear to be very strong, but I’m not sure you have enough experience in segmentation.” This gives me an on-the-spot opportunity to address their concern and help them understand that, because of my experience, I am actually a highly accomplished expert at segmentation.
This question also helps you exhibit an appropriate amount of aggressiveness. You are unafraid to get into sensitive areas with tact and look for answers and resolution. You are the type to surface and deal with the tough issues. This conversation also helps you identify important areas for post-interview communications, like your follow-up letter.
So there you have it — some tips on marketing yourself more aggressively during your job search. If you have a chance to try them out, please let me know how they work for you. And, most importantly, happy hunting!