The best way to get a job is to have your network of friends and colleagues get you one. When that falls short though, it’s up to you to sell yourself. Given that literally hundreds of candidates might apply for each open position, it’s not necessarily the most qualified candidate that will get the job, but the candidate with the best sales ability.
Sales (a term that I’ll interchange with job hunting) isn’t about fast talking your way into a position. It’s really about information exchange; you want to know if the company has jobs available that you are qualified for, and you want them to know that you’re qualified for those jobs. A sale, or job offer, should be mutually beneficial: you get paid and they get your labor.
Unfortunately, Human Resources is not a good place to exchange that information. HR may be able to do a general screening of candidates, but it’s unlikely they have the technical knowledge to truly know whether you’re qualified. Besides, it’s the manager of the business unit or group you’re trying to join that makes the real hiring decisions. Further, if you’re one of hundreds of applicants, the likelihood that you get meaningful feedback in a timely manner is slim.
So if your personal network is tapped out and HR won’t cut it, what is there to do? I was determined to get a new job, so I used everything I knew about sales to bust my butt and get my name out there. I’ll talk about sales funnels, identifying leads, making cold calls, inbound vs. outbound contacts, and try to work in examples from my own job hunt.
Getting a new job is really about selling yourself, so it helps to know a little bit of sales terminology. The sales “funnel” is really just a metaphor describing how you narrow down from the world of all possible jobs, to an actual job offer you accept.
Just as a funnel gets narrower as you get deeper into it, each further stage of the job hunt process has fewer and fewer potential sales. Of all potential job leads, only some will turn into phone screens. Of those, fewer still will turn into face to face interviews, and of those, even fewer still will end with offers.
The idea is to keep the funnel full, because most potential leads won’t pan out. That’s ok though! If an offer isn’t going to come through, you want to get that information as quickly as possible so you can move on to the next lead. If you have a full funnel, with leads at all the various stages, you will always have a steady stream of work to do.
Now for established businesses with full time sales staffs, they keep statistics and know the percentages that typically make it from one stage of the funnel to the next. This is how they make sales forecasts. For an individual job hunting, it’s a little different. You don’t have have a statistical basis to make job offer forecasts, and really all you need is one quality job offer, not a steady stream of them, but it gives you a good framework for thinking about the process.
Over the course of four months or so, I think I may have vetted 50 to 70 companies, decided to contact maybe 25 of them to enter them into my funnel, had follow up phone interviews with maybe 8 or 9 of those, which turned into 5 face to face interviews, and 2 job offers.
Now, I didn’t call all those companies at once, because that would be overwhelming. Each week, I would research companies and positions to cold call, make contact, and enter them into my funnel. As I was rejected or declined from companies at that point or at the interview stage, I used it as motivation to research more places.
Of course, when I say I made contact with 25 or so companies, I don’t mean I applied to HR departments 25 times. I was trying to find quality leads to enter into my funnel, real people, with information about the positions I wanted and the power to make hiring decisions.
I was trying to find quality leads to enter into my funnel, real people, with information about the positions I wanted and the power to make hiring decisions.
Again, your personal network of friends and colleagues is the best way to find these quality leads, but after that, there’s a little something out there called the internet.
First of all, you have to have some sort of scope. Are you looking for big companies? Small companies? A certain region? A certain industry? A certain position? It has to be something to limit the number of places to search. I'd find the company first, then started looking for people who worked there. I used Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Sometimes, I even used Google to search Facebook and LinkedIn.
For me, a high quality job lead was not a job posting on CareerBuilder.com (although that certainly helps), but the name of a person at the company I wanted to work at, preferably someone with a title like Director of Engineering, Lead Engineer, Engineering Manager, or a similar role. Once I had that, it as enough for me to make a cold call.
The Cold Call
Here’s the thing: with just a person's name, and the name of their company, you usually have enough information to get them on their work telephone. You simply call the front desk and ask for them. Usually they’ll put you right through. Many companies have an automated dial by name directory, which works just as well.
Occasionally, an operator will ask why you’re calling or who you are. If you say you’re calling because of a job, they will refer you to H.R. and you’ll be shot down. The best policy is not to lie, but just to deflect the question. I usually said I’m Sam, and the name of the company I was currently working at or I’d say I was referred to them.
That was generally enough. Rarely, you just won’t get through. Go back to your funnel and just move on.
Now the key, once you get your lead on the phone, is to waste no time. Don’t ask if they have five minutes to talk, don’t say you’re looking for a job, don’t ask permission, just launch into it and say who you are and what you can do, then ask if that’s of use to them.
I even had a script written beforehand so I’d know what to say. Ninety-five percent of the time, I got a personal e-mail address and was asked to send my resume, which is really all I could ask for.
Here’s how one of my calls went
secretary: Widgets of America Equipment Corp., how can I help you?
me: Can you connect me to Joe Schmoe Principal Engineer, please?
secretary: one moment...
Joe Schmoe: Joe Schmoe speaking
me: Hi, my name’s Sam Engineer. If I said I happened to know a mechanical engineer with 4 years mechanism design experience at a prestigious research and development lab, would that be of interest to you?
Joe Schmoe: Are you a head hunter?
me: Nope, that’s me!
JS: Are you job hunting?
JS: How did you get my name?
me: In sales, I think it’s called cold calling. I found you on LinkedIn
JS: laughs a little
me: Gutsy, wasn’t it?
JS: laughs again. Very. Well Sam, I admire your initiative.
me: Thank you.
JS: Since you showed such initiative, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background?
Typically, I’d get asked a few generic interview questions (do your research and be prepared!) and then I’d get asked to email my resume. This is basically mission accomplished, to get a real live person with some influence on the hiring process to look at my resume.
At this point, they are now in your sales funnel. They may call you back and bring you in (Hooray!), or you may also need to follow up in a few days with a phone call. Or they may say they don’t have a position open at this time, or you’re just not the best fit. That’s OK though. You have the information you need, you’re not waiting around for HR to send you a form rejection letter, and you can get back to working on filling your funnel.
Very important: The person you called is also a great source of information! Most people want to be helpful. If you ask them if they know of any open positions (even at other companies!) they are likely to give you half a dozen qualified leads to contact. Also, it’s important to thank them, because you may follow up with them in 1-3 months to see if a new position is opened. You’ll be on their radar and it’s great networking.
Inbound vs. Outbound
A final point or two to distinguish between inbound and outbound calls.
Working your network and cold calling to get on peoples radar is essential “outbound” work, because you’re calling other people. An “inbound” link, when someone calls you, is far more valuable. That’s because all the work you did to qualify leads in your sales funnel has essentially been done already, and an inbound link is like starting several stages in.
Inbound links come from places like Monster or your network of friends who have passed your resume around. They come less often, but when they do, they’re far more valuable. Be friendly when a stranger calls you!
Remember, this process is about information exchange: you finding a company with an open position, and you showing the company that you’re qualified.
The sales funnel gives you a way to analyze your progress. Instead of just saying “I can’t find a job”, there are now different stages of the funnel to analyze. If you’re not entering a lot of prospects into your funnel, maybe you need to broaden you criteria. If you’re not moving past the cold call, practice your technique with a friend.
Sales is very much a numbers game, about getting yourself out there, trying hard, and moving on to the next deal if things don’t work out. Sell, sell sell.
Sam Feller has accepted that at this point, it can no longer be described as an awkward "phase," it's just his natural state. A mechanical engineer by training, he also makes silly, functional things for www.awkwardengineer.com