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Are you refining your networking skills? Trying to find a way into that company you’d love to work for? I’m here to tell you to avoid Human Resources. Seriously. This may seem hypocritical seeing that I’m an experienced HR professional, but it’s true, especially in this economy. While HR is normally heavily involved with the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process, it is not this department’s job to help you as a candidate. In fact, HR personnel can often be part of the “wall” standing between you and the hiring manager. They will screen your resume (or these days, an automated screening application will do this) to determine if it makes the cut to get into the hands of the hiring manager. You need to get straight to the hiring manager, or a reliable information source that can shed some light on what issues the company or that department has been dealing with. This will help you structure your resume and cover letter to show how you’ve handled similar situations.
So how do you get to the hiring manager?
Utilize social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites are all very useful. Many of these sites have specialized job search capabilities. Ideally you want to connect with people you know who work or have worked at your desired company. But what if you don’t think you know anyone like that? How about posting the question, “Who do you know at XYZ Company…?” on these sites and see what comes up? This can be “six degrees of separation” at it’s finest, and you would be surprised how this simple question can land great results! But remember, it’s not about what they can do for you, it’s initially about what you can do for them. You need to establish a relationship first. Congratulate them on a recent promotion. Tell them you want to interview them to gather more information about their company or department. These suggestions yield more response than asking for an introduction from the get-go.
No one is insignificant. Of course, get the word out to friends and family that you are targeting a certain company or position. But, there are less thought about people you can tell, like your dentist, doctor, vet, cleaners, etc. It may seem silly, but if these are people you see or talk to regularly, you already have an established relationship with them. Why not mention you are looking? I have heard countless stories of people talking to unlikely contacts and getting their foot in the door that way. For example, I had a client mention to her hair stylist that she was looking for a new marketing position. The hair stylist’s brother happened to be a recruiter for a well known company, who was looking to hire additional sales and marketing staff. A bit of luck, yes, but the connection never would have happened had my client not shared with her stylist that she was looking!
Use your college alumni association and career services center. No matter how long ago you graduated. I’ve had clients that utilized their alma mater’s career services years after graduating and it directly led to their next big opportunity. Staff in these departments often have good contacts at many notable organizations around the country, and are also the ones that set up career fairs throughout the year. Utilize this often forgotten resource and you will be ahead of the game.
It’s not how many contacts you have, it’s the quality of the contacts. It doesn’t matter if you have 500 contacts that know your name, having 10 quality contacts is far more productive. So make a point to stay in touch with your most promising leads. You don’t want to be intrusive or a stalker, but it’s a good idea to make contact at least once every 3-4 months. What do you say? Ask how business is going. If you know them personally, ask how their family is doing, kids, even pets. Invite them to dinner, or coffee, to catch up. Do you have sports in common? Connect on that. The idea is to keep the connection there so they think of you if an opportunity presents itself. You can always mention casually that you are still looking in case they hear of anything, just as a reminder.
Don’t let people tell you that networking is easy. It’s not, it takes a lot of work. But with these tips, you will find yourself better able to uncover that next big opportunity. Happy networking!
I love how a personal story can really bring a cover letter to life. In working with clients on cover letters, I’m always looking for that teaser to grab the reader’s attention. Similar to an interesting fact, news story or piece of information that sparks a lively conversation with colleagues or friends (tasteful and appropriate, of course), I want to know something about you or your experiences that will make me want to learn more. Recently I wrote a cover letter for a client looking to take a new step in her career. After learning more about her background, both personally and professionally, the “aha moment” struck me as she talked about her visit to the Olympic games, two different times. Not only was this timely with the Summer Olympics in London, it was a unique experience that set her apart from thousands of other candidates, and no doubt an interesting fact that would pique a reader’s interest. I was excited to use this in her cover letter, and it allowed me to further highlight her passion and commitment for continuous improvement. She loved the results and happily reported that it helped get her foot in the door.
What does this mean for you? Many job seekers forego the cover letter thinking it won’t help them. I disagree. In my experience, I do think traditional cover letters are often ignored. But, find that conversation piece in your work experience or personal life that you can relate to your career or skills, and a cover letter can easily be like a good book that grabs the reader’s attention in the first few words or sentence. They don’t want to put it down! My cover letter motto: unique, conversational, and short. Dangle the carrot for the company recruiter, VP, or department manager so they just have to learn more about you. And if your resume is equally as compelling, you will be one step closer to your next career opportunity.