Research is the first step in your quest for an interview

I tell jobseekers in all my workshops that research is key to their job search. I’m being redundant, but it’s true and worth repeating. Whether you’re writing a résumé or cover letter, or preparing for an interview or a networking event, the time you put into research is a tremendous return on investment. This time well spent precedes submitting your résumé and being interviewed for positions advertised or not. Let’s look at the five steps you must take before you earn a seat at mid-court, the interview.

Step One: Candace Barr of Strategic Executive Connections writes that discovering which companies are growing the fastest is the start of the job search. “The very first step in your career transition, or executive job search should be research. So many people skip over this step quickly and do not take the time to really dig deep, consider their skill set as well as economic conditions when choosing target companies.”

An excellent source of the Fastest Growing Companies is Inc.5000. Here you can find a list of 5,000 companies that showed the fastest growth rate in 2010. This would be a great place to start your research, as Candace Barr suggests.

Step Two: Once you’ve located the companies you’d like to researched and decided which companies are the ones for which you would like to work, you should dedicate a great deal of your computer time visiting their websites.

Study what’s happening at your chosen companies. Read pages on their products or services, their press releases (if it’s a public company), biographies of the companies’ principals, and any other information that will increase your knowledge of said companies. Your goal is to eventually make contact and meet with people at your target companies, so it makes sense to know about the companies before you engage in conversation. This research will also help when composing your résumé and cover letter and, of course, it will come into play at the interview.

Step Three: If you don’t have familiar contacts at your favorite companies, you’ll have to identify new potential contacts. You might be successful ferreting them out by calling reception, but chances are you’ll have more success by utilizing LinkedIn’s Companies feature. This feature of LinkedIn’s is something my jobseekers have used to successfully make contact with people at their desired companies. Again, research is key in identifying the proper people with whom to speak.

Most likely you’ll have first degree contacts that know the people you’d like to contact—contacts who could send an introduction to someone in the company. These contacts could include hiring managers, Human Resources, and directors of departments. If, on the other hand, you have a first degree contact at a company, she could initiate personal correspondence with the appropriate persons.

Step Four: Begin initial contact with those who you’ve identified as viable contacts. Your job is to become known to your desired companies. Will you be as well known as internal candidates? Probably not, but you’ll be better known than the schmucks who apply cold for the advertised positions—the 20% of the jobs that thousands of other people are applying for. Let’s face it; going through the process of applying for jobs on the major job boards is like being one of many casting your fishing line into a pool where one job exists. Instead spend your time on researching the companies so you’ll have illuminating questions to ask.

So, how do you draw the attention of potential employers?

  • Send your résumé directly to someone you’ve contacted at the company and ask that it be considered or passed on to other companies. The risk in doing this is to be considered presumptuous. As well, your résumé will most likely be generic and unable to address the employer’s immediate needs.
  • Contact someone via the phone and ask for an informational meeting. This is more acceptable than sending your résumé, for the reason mentioned above, but takes a great deal of courage. People these days are often busy and, despite wanting to speak with you, don’t have a great deal of time to sit with you and provide you with the information you seek. So don’t be disappointed if you don’t get an enthusiastic reply.
  • Send a trusted and one-of-the-best-kept-secrets approach letter. The approach letter is similar to making a cold call to someone at a company, but it is in writing and, therefore, less bold. Employers are more likely to read an approach letter than return your call. Unfortunately, it’s a slower process and doesn’t yield immediate results.
  • A meeting with the hiring manager or even someone who does what you do continues your research efforts. You will ask illuminating questions that provoke informative conversation and ideally leads to meetings with other people in the company. At this point you’re not asking for job, you’re asking for advice and information.

Step Five: Sealing the deal. Follow up with everyone you contact at your selected companies. Send a brief e-mail or hard copy letter asking if they received your résumé or initial introductory letter. If you’ve met with them, thank them for their time and valuable information they’ve imparted. Send your inquiry no later than a week after first contact. For encouragement, I suggest you read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It’s probably the most recommended book in history and for good reason. Ferrazzi goes into great detail about his methods of building relationships through networking, while emphasizing the importance of constantly following up with valued contacts.

People in the career development industry never said finding a rewarding job is easy. In fact, the harder you work and more proactive you are, the greater the rewards will be. Take your job search into your own hands and don’t rely on coming across your ideal job on,, or any of the other overused job boards. Your job is to secure an interview leading to the final prize, a job offer. But your researching skills are essential to finding the companies for which you’d like to work, identifying contacts within those companies, and getting yourself well-known by important decision makers.

I apologize to the young adult workers

Because the majority of the jobseekers who attend my workshops are mature workers—40 years and older—I spend a great deal of time talking about the benefits they offer perspective employers. We’re easily spotted with hair that is graying or has gone completely white. We dress conservatively and usually appropriately for the job search. We prefer to talk on the phone as opposed to texting–imaging that.

I harp on how dependable we are, our extensive job-related knowledge and excellent interpersonal skills. I impress that we want to work and put in a day’s work, earn our dollar. Our ability to handle difficult situations or accept loss is second nature, as we’ve lost (people, jobs, finances, etc.) in the past.

But I have to apologize. What I have been neglecting are the growing number of young adult workers who are slowly but surely occupying seats in my workshop rooms. They’re attentive and respectful of my and others’ opinions. In a sense, they have matured in a very short period of time. To say they’re apathetic about their job search is incorrect. From what I see, they’re putting as much effort into their job search as the mature workers.

I’m apologizing to these folks who are among the 18% plus unemployed, who face a daunting task of finding work in a competitive work environment, who question their abilities to fit in with the 30 somethings and Baby Boomers. These are young bucks, wide-eyed and hesitant, not knowing what to expect after graduating form college or high school.

It makes me sad to have to apologize to these deserving folks. Why? Because they should be working. All my customers should be working. But now I’m presented with people who dress differently–not entirely professionally like my older workers, more Abercrombie, The Gap, Red Sox paraphernalia. They don’t yet have the workplace lingo, don’t quite understand how to show their dependability. They may not understand how to interact with the highest of upper management.

More to the point, I need to develop a vocabulary for “younger workers” and intersperse it with my mature-worker speak, so the younger workers can feel part of the workshops and see themselves as valuable additions to the workforce. I’ll be working on it in the future and pay attention to the college career advisors who have a way of marketing their customers, who have no become my customers.