Job search tip #9: Knock on companies’ doors with approach letters

In the last entry we looked at making your company list. Today we’ll examine knocking on companies’ doors by using approach letters.

The other day during a résumé critique one of my customers told me how he had been networking. Something was in the works with a company as a result of him being proactive and knocking on the company’s door. Not literally; although, that’s a viable option. He had sent an approach letter to one of the directors at the company asking for an informational meeting, which then lead to further consideration.

Of course a phone call might have been quicker for my customer than sending a letter, but he felt sending an approach letter was right for him. (By the way, using LinkedIn’s Search Companies feature is a great way to find people at companies.)

For you jobseekers who lean more toward introversion, an approach letter may also feel more comfortable than calling a director, VP, or an individual contributor. There’s more to an approach letter, though, than simply sending an e-mail telling the person that you’d like to get together with her to meet for a short meeting.

With the approach letter, first you’ll research the company so you can write intelligently about why you’d like to meet. You’ll write highly of the company, selling the company to the recipient of your letter. This will show your enthusiasm. It will also show you took the time to visit the company’s website, read articles in the newspaper, and used other methods to research the company. This is the first step you’ll take to impress the recipient.

Next you’ll throw in some kudos about yourself. What makes it worth her while to meet with you? You gained some valuable skills when you worked at the medical device company in their marketing department. You’ll write about the accomplishments you had, like authoring press releases that drew the attention of many of the media, spearheading a direct mail campaign that garnered new business beyond what the company had achieved.

Don’t forget to indicate that you’ll call the recipient. Set a date and exact time. If the person picks up the phone or you have to leave a voice-mail, be ready to explain why you’d like to meet with her. You would like some information on a position you’re pursuing. You’d also like to share some knowledge of competitors or the industry.

What follows could be a networking meeting or maybe good timing on your part—there may actually be a job the company’s trying to fill, unbeknownst to other jobseekers searching the Internet for advertised positions. This is precisely why you don’t want to simply send an e-mail without laying out your skills that make you ideal for a possible job in the company.

The only thing left to do is picking up the phone and asking the recipient if she received your letter. Following up is the last component of sending an approach letter. Even if talking on the phone terrifies the heck out of you, at least you have gotten in your message without having to deliver it cold. You’re compelling writing has wooed the recipient into wanting to know more about you.

In the next article, we’ll look at using LinkedIn to network on line.

5 possible reasons why you didn’t get the job

The process of getting a job at a company for which you’d like to work can be grueling, cruel, and full of questions and uncertainties; but I don’t need to tell you this if you’ve been conducting a rigorous job search.

A jobseeker who attended a number of my workshops and sat with me for a mock interview and a résumé critique recently got a job. I was extremely happy to hear of his success, but it wasn’t an easy process for him. He worked diligently to land his job, while suffering through multiple rejections.

He and I knew he was qualified for the positions for which he applied. He made it to many last-round interviews only to find out he wasn’t selected. Recruiters continued to knock on his door to set him up for more interviews; at least one a week. He was becoming despondent, and I was trying to be supportive. His story ended positively.

Sandra McCartt writes in her article, It’s Not Your Fault—It’s a Negative Flawed Process. Deal with It Positively, jobseekers who enlist the help of recruiters often don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes during the hiring process; what goes terribly wrong when jobseekers think they have the job wrapped up.

You may have not considered or want to accept this, but there are various reasons why employers erroneously hire who they do. “First, this process does not always result in the best candidate being selected. There are a whole host of good reasons for this to occur,” writes Ms. McCartt. There are also as many poor reasons for why candidates aren’t hired.

  1. Legitimate reasons. Ms. McCartt mentions legitimate reasons such as relocation, compensation, or other financial issues. Hiring a candidate is a business transaction, so if you’re going to put too much of a dent into the company’s pocketbook, there’s only one solution—the company ends the business transaction. Or you just don’t make the grade, whether it’s because you lack the technical skills or you don’t have the personality for the work environment–no fault of yours.
  2. They went with someone inside. It’s not uncommon for a company to advertise a position even when they have an internal hire in mind. But the company wants to make certain that they hire the best possible person, so they test the water and conduct a traditional search. You’re better qualified but not as well known as their internal candidate. As well, the company is fostering good will among its employees.
  3. You’re too good. Many jobseekers have told me that the hiring manager who interviewed them was less knowledgeable; that they could do the HM’s job. Understandably the HM felt insecure, harboring “you’ll-take-my-job” feelings and decided to go with a safer, less qualified candidate. Perhaps one of the other candidates the recruiter sent to them for consideration.
  4. Hiring managers are sometimes incompetent interviewers. Many HMs aren’t trained to conduct interviews to capture the most complete candidate. Their priority is usually hiring someone who has the best technical qualifications. In finding someone who can handle the responsibilities in their sleep, HMs neglect another important aspect of the job—the personal fit. Great interviewers realize an interview that involves a combination of traditional and behavioral-based questions is the most effect way to find the best overall candidate, you.
  5. Unfortunately hiring managers make decisions based on personal biases. Nepotism is one blatant reason why people are hired for a position. One of my customers was told she was being let go so the owner could hire his cousin. He actually admitted it to her. And there’s always a candidate’s appearance, attractive or not, that may come in play. “Am I going to tell a less than attractive candidate that they didn’t get the job because the hiring manager thought they were butt ugly?” writes Ms. McCartt. “Of course not, they can’t do anything about it. The next hiring manager may be double dog ugly and think that candidate is a doll.”

What we’re left with after a candidate isn’t hired for one, or many, of these reasons mentioned above is a disheartened jobseeker; a recruiter who won’t receive her bonus; and an HM who hopes he has hired the ideal person for the job. There’s only one winner out of the possible hundreds of candidates in the process. I’m not stupid enough to believe telling you the reasons why you didn’t get the job will provide you any solace, but hopefully you’ll understand that you’re not to blame.

Unfair as this seems, it’s a fact of life that the hiring process is flawed. What should you do in the face of such adversity? “Accept the rejection as just that, the result of a flawed process with vague outcomes,” Ms. McCartt advises. And never take it personally.

4 reasons why your LinkedIn profile needs a strong Media section

recruiters (1)This article marks the third of making your LinkedIn profile stronger. The previous two talked about your Summary and Experience sections.

Before you read any further, I’d like you to take a moment to read one of the most comprehensive articles on LinkedIn’s Media feature. It’s an article written by my colleague and valued LinkedIn connection, Sabrina Woods, in which she describes 18 different ways to use this feature. Eighteen different ways! Boy, did she do her homework.

With at least 18 ways to use LinkedIn’s Media section, this gives you plenty of options to show off your goods. So why not take advantage of it? You can use it in your Summary, each in your Employment section, and in your Education. Here are four major reasons why you should utilize Media on your LinkedIn profile.

It’s your online portfolio. This is what I tell my LinkedIn workshop attendees when I describe Media. Similar to when you bring examples of your work to an interview, you have the opportunity to show the world your best work. As Sabrina writes, there are at least 18 ways to use this feature.

Everyone can find a reason to use it. And they should. For example, I lead workshops where I use PowerPoint presentations—please no heckling from the true presentation purists out there. I use Media to show off three of my PowerPoint presentations.

An engineer may use this feature to illustrate his work on wind turbines by using YouTube. One of my customers who’s a graphic artist highlights her graphics in Media. Neal Schaffer, an expert on social media for business and author of Maximize Your Social, uses YouTube to share with the world his interview by Kooger in London. Check it out.

It fits your communication style. Some people are visual communicators as opposed to written communicators. They have the knack for making people see the value in their graphic design or photos or architecture…but can’t express it as eloquently in words. One of my customers expressed it nicely when she said some people express their thoughts with words, while she expresses her thoughts through images.

The options are numerous. While you’re given the option of adding a link or downloading a file, the number of providers is mind boggling.

  • Image providers: 12, including Twitter and ow.ly
  • Video providers: Approximately 70, including ABC News, CBS News, YouTube
  • Audio providers: 13, including Mixcloud, Spotify
  • Presentation and document providers: 3, including PowerPoint and Prezi
  • Other: 4, including Behance and Kickstarter

Two of the more common documents displayed in Media are Word and PDF documents, which would be ideal for posting your résumé for employers to see, or a whitepaper you’re particularly proud of.

To see some of the media used by LinkedIn members go to Sabrina’s article where there are samples of various types of media. I think you’ll be impressed. I was.

 

So you didn’t get the job; ask yourself 3 questions

So you didn’t get the job you wanted. You nailed the interview, had rapport with the interviewers, they loved you and said you’re in consideration for the job. But your recruiter said they went with someone who was a better fit. Does this sound familiar?

In my Interview workshops I ask people if they’ve been on interviews lately. Some raise their hand, so I ask them how the interviews went. Their typical response, “Not so well. I didn’t get the job.”

To assuage their disappointment by explaining they may have done perfectly well at the interview but didn’t have one of the three components employers’ look for—they didn’t meet the technical requirements for the job. Having the other two components, willing to do the job and being a good fit, just didn’t cut it. Too bad.

Let’s face it, recruiters, HR, and hiring managers are foremost concerned about your ability to handle the task assigned to you. The other two components are important, but the first priority is meeting the job specifics. This may be wrong according to Mike Michalowicz ‘s article in WSJ.com called The Best Recruits May Not Be Who You Think, but many employers don’t realize the value of the variable. He writes:

“When hiring new employees, most recruiters consider qualifications first – and last. They’re looking for someone with the best education, the most experience and the most impressive skills. This is a mistake because you can teach employees what you want them to know, you can give them the experience you want them to have, but you can’t change who they are on a fundamental level. Their attitude, values, willingness and work ethic are all ingrained in them.”

Let’s take a marketing specialist position that lists the following requirements:

  1. Familiarity with data storage software.
  2. Write copy for direct mail and electronic distribution, including web content.
  3. Manage relations with appropriate departments.
  4. Coordinate projects with outside vendors.
  5. Speaking with media, partners, and customers.
  6. Research competitors’ websites and reporting activity.
  7. Coordinate trade shows.
  8. Photo shoots/animation development, webinars, product launch planning.
  9. Willingness to travel 25%.
  10. Plus a Master’s Degree in Marketing preferred.

Now, if the other candidates have all the technical ingredients for the job, and you’re lacking webinar production experience and coordinating projects with outside vendors, have limited experience speaking with the media; the decision of whether you advance to the next round may be based on your lack of experience.

You may be perceived as someone who is motivated to work at the company, because you express enthusiasm for the duties and challenges presented; and come across as a great personality fit, because you demonstrate adaptability to any environment and management style. But these components usually aren’t weighed as heavily by the interviewers.

The fact is that most hiring authorities must be assured that you can hit the ground running. They want to hire someone who has 80%-100% of the requirements under their belt. You can’t beat yourself up for not getting the job, despite shining in every other way.

CareerCenterToolBox.com published an article called 5 Things You Need to do After the Interview, in which one of the things suggested was to evaluate your performance. It says: “Right after the interview, recall what happened. You need to start by asking yourself these three vital questions:

  1. What went wrong?
  2. What went right?
  3. What can be improved?

As I tell my workshop attendees, “What went wrong?” was probably the fact that another candidate presented him/herself as more qualified for the position based on his/her experience. Or there are other reasons that were out of your control. Here are five possible reasons:

  1. Legitimate reasons like costs to the company.
  2. They went with someone inside.
  3. You’re too good.
  4. Hiring managers are sometimes incompetent interviewers.
  5. Unfortunately hiring managers make decisions based on personal biases.

What went right? You stood up to the pressure of an interview and presented an articulate, thoughtful, and personable candidate. You answered all their questions with confidence and poise, maintained eye contact. When asked about direct experience, you highlighted transferable skills that would make the transition seamless. You learned more about what is expected at an interview.

What can improve? Ideally you’ll apply for jobs where you have 80%-100% of the job-related requirements; but don’t shy away from jobs where you only meet 75% of the requirements, because occasionally employers see other qualities in you other than the alphabet soup. Please don’t throw in the towel yet. Keep fighting the good fight!

Job search tip #8: Make your company list

Last week we looked at creating a contact list and starting to network. Now we’ll look at making a list of companies for which you’d like to work.

When you buy a pair of athletic shoes, do you research the brands, consider where you’ll buy them, and decide on an acceptable price? Or do you go into any store and buy the first pair of shoes you see at any price? If you’re a smart shopper, you’ll plan before you act.

The same attitude of a smart shopper applies to a smart jobseeker. One important step you must take is to research companies for which you’d like to work. I often ask my jobseekers if they have a list of companies they’re researching and if they’re taking action.

Let’s examine the steps you need to take and why it’s important to make your company list.

Google it. As a jobseeker, you understand the necessity of a search engine. First decide what market/s you’d like to pursue. I googled Data Storage in the Boston, Massachusetts, area and came up with 22 companies within a 25 mile radius. EMC, Dell, HP, Genzyme, Iron Mountain, TJX, and other big boys were some of the companies that popped up.

Check your local business journal. The Boston Business Journal is a wealth of information on up-and-coming companies. Large corporations, as well as start-ups, are mentioned in this publication. You’ll read good news along with not so good news. Pay attention to the companies that are showing growth and add them to your list. Your local journal will also have a People Section that will give you insight as to promotions, departures, and, of course, possible hiring opportunities.

Use your network. One of your best resources may be the Mavens who attend networking events and sit in the corner, where they shout out leads to companies that are hiring. From those contacts you’ll learn of other companies that are hiring or in the process of hiring. Your list of bona fide companies will grow longer and longer as time goes on.

Expand your list. Start small and grow your list. Five is a good number to begin with, and continue to grow your list by five every week. While you’re growing your list you’ll spend more time at your computer researching your companies. Of course you’ll check out the career section of each company, but some of your most valuable information will come from press releases, annual reports, stock news, etc.

Why is creating your list and researching companies important?

You’re being proactive and penetrating the hidden job market. Instead of spending countless hours on the Internet searching for advertised positions, you’re taking steps to penetrate the hidden job market. Experts assert that 80% of all jobs are hidden, so identifying companies that are showing growth will confirm that they’ll be hiring in the near future. And who will they want to hire? That’s right, the people who work there or referrals from the people who work there. Trust is a powerful thing.

You’re on your way to being known by your targeted companies. At this point you’re an unknown, a stranger coming off the street. Making connections at your companies won’t be easy (certainly not as easy as blasting off hundreds of cookie-cutter résumés) but the rewards will be great and you’ll benefit from the connections you’ve made for the rest of your career. You’ll become a known commodity.

You’ll be seen as someone who takes initiative. Does a smile spread across your face when the neighborhood kid comes to your door asking if he can shovel your driveway? He’s showing initiative. Your initiative will come in the form of knocking on companies’ doors, just like the neighborhood kid. You may be the extraverted type who will call companies and ask for an informational meeting, or you may be more introverted and prefer writing approach letters, professional profile sheets, and sending them to hiring authorities.

Next Friday we’ll look at knocking at companies’ doors using an approach letter.

 

3 reasons why you need a strong LinkedIn Experience section

recruitersWhile I’m amazed that some people don’t have a LinkedIn Summary, I’m just as befuddled by folks who don’t see the value of a strong LinkedIn Experience section. When employers and visitors see a profile that lacks details in this vital section, the letdown is like air escaping a balloon.

Here’s the thing, a stunning Summary is great, but when your Experience section comprises of bare essentials, such as your titles, company names, and dates of employment, you’re LinkedIn profile lacks the punch that propels you to the top of the list.

Many believe the Experience section is the most important part of your profile, as it includes your years of experience, accomplishments, a story of what you did for each position, and keywords for search engine optimization (SEO). So here are three reasons why you need a strong LinkedIn Experience section.

Your experience section needs to tell a better story. A quick fix of copying the content of your résumé to your profile is the first step in building your Experience section; however, you’re not done yet. You still have to modify your profile to make it more of a networking document. This means your point of view should be first person and, of course, include quantified results.

Take, for example, an accomplishment statement from a résumé I recently read: Trained 5 office staff on new computer software, increasing production by 75%. It has the action statement and a quantified result, but it lacks excitement, the excitement you get from a LinkedIn profile.

Instead: I extended my end-user expertise by volunteering to train 5 office staff on our new database software. All members of the team were more productive as a result of my patient training style, increasing the team’s output by 75%.

Your position doesn’t tell it all.  You’re a director, CEO, or CFO, so you think that says it all. Wrong! Executive Resume Writer, Laura Smith-Proulx believes the more relevant information, the better; particularly when you’re trying to differentiate yourself from other executives. She writes: 

“The key to a strategic message in your CFO résumé is to do MORE with the details – taking the hard facts of budgets managed, teams directed, or cost savings achieved to fold in personal brand messages.”

At the very least, your leadership as a director of an organization plays an essential role in its success. What is the scope of your authority? How have you helped the organization grow? Have you contributed to the community or charities? Have you turned around failing companies and made them more profitable? Remember, you’re representing the organization. Or perhaps you’re passively looking for another job.

The power of LinkedIn is greater than you think. LinkedIn’s search engine is extremely powerful. If you have the proper, and numerous, skills (keywords), your chances of being found are great. Don’t forget to emphasize the quantified accomplishments!

Businesses are looking to connect or employ people with expertise; and although you have what they need, without the skills listed your message isn’t crystal clear. An organization would like to pay you to talk about how you developed a fund-raising process that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars, but your Experience section is nothing more than a place mat. Lost opportunity.

Suppose you find yourself out of a job and suddenly need to connect with others who can help you in a big way. Rushing to create an Experience section that warrants the assistance you need is a bit late and will lengthen your job search.

These are three reasons why you require an Experience section that is strong and worthy of your greatness. Your Summary is a great start; now you need to follow it with an Experience section to support it.

Next read 4 reasons why your LinkedIn profile needs a strong Media section

4 reasons why you need a strong LinkedIn Summary

Would you go to an interview or business meeting without shoes? Of course not. So I wonder why people feel that a Summary statement on their LinkedIn profile is unnecessary. Having viewed hundreds profiles, I’ve seen many  that simply begin with the Experience section and have no Summary.

It’s the absence of this section of your profile that can greatly hurt your potential of capturing the attention of visitors, e.g., potential employers, networkers, and business associates.

I have three theories why people don’t include a Summary: 1) they don’t have the time or energy to write one; 2) they don’t know what to write; and 3) they follow advice of those who say, “Recruiters don’t read a Summary statement. You don’t need one.”

I can understand the first two reasons, although I don’t condone them, but the third one escapes me. Many pundits, recruiters included, say a Summary is necessary, as long as it adds value to the profile. So if you don’t have a Summary because you lack the energy or don’t know what to include, consider 4 reasons why the Summary is important:

It gives you a voice. You’re given more freedom of expression on LinkedIn than you have with your résumé; so use it! Be creative and make the employer want to read on. Your voice contributes to effective branding. It should be some of your best writing and can be written in first person voice or even third person.

Most pundits lean toward first person, as it expresses a more personal side of you. A Summary written in first person invites others into your life. Not many people pull off the third-person voice well; it can sound stilted. But if done right, it can also make a powerful branding impact. People who are established as leaders in their industry warrant a third-person Summary.

It tells a story. Perhaps you want people who would consider connecting with to know you on a more personal level. You have aspirations or philosophies to share; and it’s not about impressing people with your accomplishments in marketing in the nonprofit sector, for example, as much as the positive impact your work has had on the population you serve. You want people to connect because of a share common bond.

The Summary is also a clear example of how LinkedIn separates itself from the résumé. It’s a known fact that the majority of hiring authorities don’t enjoy reading a résumé, which is due, in part, because of its Summary. The Linked profile is more creative because it tells your story, your aspirations, and philosophies.

You can make an immediate impact. Stating accomplishment statements with quantified results are a real attention grabber. If a visitor is going to scan one section of your profile to determine if he’ll read on, make it be your Summary, and leave him with a positive image of you.

Here’s part of a Summary from Doug Caldwell, who calls himself a Facilitator Extraordinaire. (I told you I read a lot of profiles.)

MANUFACTURING COMPANY

✯ Improving unit output by 2,200% over a five-year period.
✯ Reduced manufacturing cycle time by 30%.
✯ Achieved cost saving in excess of $25,000 annually.

Read the rest of his Summary to feel it’s power and excitement.

It’s another place to include keywords. Keywords are the skills employers are looking for, and the more you have the closer you’ll be to the top of the first page. So don’t think “less is better.”  In this case, the more of the 2,000 characters you’re allotted, the more you should use. Please don’t use your Summary as a dumping ground for your keywords, though.

I tell my Advanced LinkedIn workshop attendees that excluding their profile Summary is like neglecting favorite pet. You shouldn’t do it. Find the energy to write one, figure out your story or unique selling proposition, and get to work writing an attention-grabbing Summary. By all means, don’t listen to naysayers who don’t believe in this very important part of your LinkedIn profile.

Coming up 3 reasons why you need a strong LinkedIn Experience section.

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