Note: this is a repost from my original, personal Posterous blog, many years ago. I’ve directed hundreds of people to this post over the years when they asked for career search advice. When Posterous shut down, I wanted to preserve this post, but didn’t want to post it at my professional blog, Transforming Sales Results, so I created this blog and posted it here.
My 59-Day Career Search Advice
A good friend and a handful of networking contacts suggested that I write this post to help others. It feels a little awkward, since this isn’t my primary field of expertise, but multiple people have asked and encouraged me to spread the word, so I agreed and here I am. I hope it helps someone.
By way of background, my first experience with downsizing (or more specifically, being downsized myself) was in March of 2007, when my position was eliminated as a result of the subprime mortgage industry crash. At that time, an entire division at my company was closed, impacting a lot of people. Because of the size of the closure, the Federal WARN act was invoked and we received a notice of 60 days. After an intense search, I started my new job on day 59, moving my family from Ohio to Texas in the process.
A few years later, the department I was leading merged with four others and as a result, over a several-month period, about 50% of the management positions were eliminated, including mine. Yes, the second downsizing in a little over three years. The company handled it well and there was a severance package. Regardless, I again conducted an even more intense search (we truly did not want to relocate the kids – or ourselves – again), and from initial notification date to new start date…. you guessed it… 59 days, exactly.
I swear that I looked over my shoulder to see if Rod Serling was standing there. It gave me goosebumps when I figured that out.
On this second round, here are some other stats:
- Total elapsed time from notice date to start date was 59 days, as mentioned.
- I took a few days off to breathe and collect my thoughts, after my notification.
- Total elapsed time from starting my search to my first offer: 37 days. (From initial notification: 40 days).
- Total elapsed time from starting my search to my second offer: 38 days. (And 41 from notification).
- At the end, I had 15 opportunities in the pipeline, had networked into 9 (neither number include my former employer, where I eventually found two opportunities to discuss that were a great fit), and had interviewed with 6. I had two competing job offers, and 2 other companies that were close to making an offer and were disappointed when I accepted one of the others. Since accepting, three other companies have called to interview me, one of which said I was their top candidate.
In the end, I felt grateful, somewhat vindicated (hey, I’m human), and exhausted.
SO, WHAT DID I DO?
I will disclaim that I received outplacement services from Lee Hecht Harrison and Right Management. My coaches were sharp business and career professionals, no doubt. And their materials and recommendations were solid and their systems are certainly well-oiled and proven effective. But any consultant, no matter how good, can provide advice, but only you can execute it and make things happen. Or, as a friend of mine says, “Luck favors the prepared mind.” I also did quite a few things beyond their recommendations, especially treating the entire search process as a sales job, which it basically is.
Some great advice I used:
In the above link from Career DFW, it mentions Dirk Spencer. His resume advice is golden. Find him on LinkedIn, connect with him, and download his KOD (Resume Kiss Of Death) document from his profile (Update: no longer there, apparently, but you can find versions on SlideShare, and he’s now published a book that’s available on Amazon.) Follow his counsel. I got better results when I edited my resume deeply and followed Dirk’s advice. I will admit that I used a twist… I created my Word (.docx) resume and a Notepad (.txt) text version and used them to apply, based on his exact suggestions, with minimal formatting for Word. But I also kept a highly-formatted PDF version of my resume, to send to recruiters and hiring managers directly. One company President with whom I interviewed, during my interview, commented on how much he liked my resume, which was formatted for human consumption rather than for recruiting systems (the ATS or Applicant Tracking System). That’s why having different versions makes sense to me. The content is the same; I edited brutally based on Dirk’s advice. But the formatting was certainly different – (.docx – specially-formatted per Dirk – and .txt versions for importing into recruiting systems with the .pdf version, more visually formatted, for people).
Today, I’d add that you need to “flip the script” and think like your recruiter and hiring manager. They are trying to solve a problem ad find the best person to do it. Forgo flowery phrases about how wonderful you are, your personality traits or mindsets, and how many years of experience you are. Focus on the problems you solve, the results and outcomes you deliver, and the value that you can deliver for your new employer. Ask questions to understand what matters most to them, and show them how you can make it happen.
I found Jeffrey Fox’s book “How to Land Your Dream Job” to be helpful, especially his “resu-letter” advice. It’s worth $1,500 and costs $15. If the cover letter sings, the phone rings. I combined Fox’s advice with the highly recommended T-Letter (http://www.techwr-l.com/articles/employment/tletter). It worked. I was getting a 25% conversion rate at first (I was contacted by one-in-four recruiters after submitting my resume and cover letter). After these changes, my overall conversion was around 60% and in one streak, I actually went 10 for 10. The same “other-centric” advice above about how to position yourself in your resume, also applies to your cover letter. You’ll get what you want (the right job) by showing them how you’ll help them get what they want (the outcomes, results, and metrics that matter most).
Marketing Plan (Career Search Profile)
Create one. This includes things like your professional objective, preferred work functions, positioning statement, competency list, target market, geographic location, size of organization, industry or type of organization, and possibly even organizational culture. This is the one I used last: http://bit.ly/MK2012CSP. It’s clarifying for sure, to do this, but also make sure your plan (not your document) includes…
…your target companies. It’s hard to hit a target you can’t see. What companies do you want to work for, ideally, and what type and size company, in general? In DFW, where I lived at the time I wrote this post, Tom Jackson’s website was an invaluable resource: http://www.thomasjackson.info/sale-fish-marketing.html. And even though his list and data on target companies is localized for DFW, the rest of his advice is timeless, priceless and not limited to a single geographical area. You can use the same resources he does to create a list of Target Companies in your area. (Crain’s or the Business Journal’s annual “Book of Lists” is another nice resource for this, as well.) Today, LinkedIn excels for this, and for doing research on our target companies and employees.
Basic stuff. Once it’s edited and “Dirk’d,” get it out there. There are a bazillion career sites, but Monster and Careerbuilder remain leaders. This tactic didn’t yield much for me outside of “opportunities” (franchise opps, other self-employment, insurance sales, MLM, etc.), but there were a few companies and recruiters who did contact me based on my resume postings. I received a far greater amount of approaches due to my LinkedIn presence and profile.
Finding Posted Positions
SimplyHired.com, Indeed.com, and Juju.com are great resources and save you a lot of time. Set up job alerts and have them emailed to you. The better you understand Boolean search parameters and search strings, the more you will be able to scour the Internet for jobs that are a good fit for you. I primarily set up title searches, for all the titles that were applicable to me. The other site I visited regularly to check for job postings was LinkedIn, since they didn’t allow you to set up job alerts at that time. Now, you can save searches and set up alerts there, as well. Do that. If there are trade associations that you belong to or are relevant, they often have job boards, as well.
Do ‘em as time allows. http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/infointerviews/a/infointerview.htm. I think this would be especially effective if your pipeline is light. I didn’t have much time for this, fortunately, but I’ve heard it’s been very helpful for others (and provides interviewing practice).
Networking (and the Hidden Job Market)
- Networking Groups – Find your local networking meetings. Sometimes, networking groups will get job leads a few weeks prior to the positions being posted openly (hidden job market). In the DFW area, see http://careerdfw.org/J/groups.html. I’m sure there are meetings like this near you… many are church ministries. Seek them out. Attend. Help others. Volunteer. Attend Meetup groups. Join Toastmasters and hone your speaking skills and network at meetings. In general, network like crazy.
- LinkedIn – get on it (if you’re not), start connecting (if you’re not already well connected), and use it as a research tool to learn about everyone you’ll talk to or interview with, before you meet them. Also use it to network into companies where you’ve applied or would like to work. After you land, continue to build your network. It’s always smart advice to dig your well before you’re thirsty.
- Centers of Influence – who do you know? Who do they know? You need to be telling everyone about your search.
- Pay It Forward – ask how you can help others (and then do it). You’ll feel good about yourself (it helps) and it comes back to you.
Here’s how I put it all together:
- For 40 days, I literally worked about 12-16 hours a day, every day. If I wasn’t at a networking meeting, I was searching online, networking online, interviewing, following up or calling people. Then I went to bed, got up, went to a morning networking meeting and started again. On weekends I attended other events or worked online.
- I set up job alerts at Indeed, SimplyHired and Juju and scoured the networking group postings. I checked LinkedIn daily for new postings.
- For each application I submitted, I networked at meetings and on LinkedIn heavily to find an inside connection and an internal advocate.
- I also reached out to friends to ask them to connect me to people they knew at good companies where there were no jobs open at the time, but so I could do an informational interview there (http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/infointerviews/a/infointerview.htm). I only did a few of those, personally, but each led somewhere positive.
- I offered to help others as much as possible, and then did whatever I could to help. I connected others, networked them, introduced them and sent job leads around. I tried really hard to Help One Person Every day (HOPE) and to Pay It Forward as much as I could. I shared what was working for me, like I’m doing now with you.
- In almost every case where I interviewed for a posted job, I had found an internal connection first who helped me get past the clutter. Reinforcing the importance of that, in every case where I didn’t hear anything back, I had no connections inside.
- I asked everyone I talked to or connected with on LinkedIn, whether they knew anyone at the top 3-4 companies I wanted to network into, but hadn’t yet. That worked really well for me.
- I tracked my efforts, especially every job post I submitted/applied, and tracked results, to see how my approaches were working.
- I did practice, practice, and practice my elevator speech and interview answers.
And on that final note, I will share this thought transparently: I was both surprised and often deeply saddened by the large number of people I met while networking, who simply did not represent themselves well. In many cases, their appearance was not professional, their elevator speeches were confusing or poorly delivered (or worse, cutesy), they couldn’t answer friendly yet direct questions about what value they offered, what they did, or even what companies they hoped to work for. Many of the resumes I saw violated the bulk of Dirk’s advice. As a hiring manager myself, it was painfully evident why some of these people were unemployed and would remain that way for some time.
For those of you who don’t know me well, that may sound harsh, but that doesn’t change the facts and you’ll never know how much it affected me. I tried to help several folks, especially those who were open to the feedback and did something with it, but I simply had to focus on what I needed to accomplish. Once I settle into my new job, get some things moving and orchestrate some early wins, I hope that I might be able to give back to others even more through participation in networking groups, even if it has to be in the evenings or on weekends. (Note: I have been sharing this post and speaking locally at career networking groups.)
Anyway, that’s it for this post. I hope it helps someone. If you think it’s worth it, and know someone who is unemployed, please feel free to pass this post along.
Update: As fate would have it, I was downsized one other time after publishing this original post. That time, I received a 6-month package and landed in 5 months. I took a little more time off after being notified and before starting my search, but then applied the exact same approach, as above, with one addition — I commented on a lot of blogs, especially on the blogs of my target companies (when they had them). This round it took longer than 59 days — closer to 120 for the actual search process — but in the end, I was targeting one very specific company heavily, while still working my normal pipeline, and did reject one offer, which didn’t seem like a good culture fit. By the way, for my primary target company, based on my blog comments, an executive emailed me to ask if I was willing to speak with him about sales training strategy. That led to a phone call, during which, I learned the company was hiring for a role that wasn’t posted, and the executive learned I was in the market. (Peanut butter, meet chocolate.) It took a while, due to the hiring manager’s busy schedule, but I eventually landed that role. MK
Thanks for sharing! It is a great article!!
Thanks a lot for your generosity in sharing your experience and insights!! Bravo and wishing you more success!!
Excellent advice! I am executing on it as we speak. I think targeting companies, helping others, and practicing how to present yourself are the most valuable pieces of information and the tasks we are often reluctant to complete. Thank you for sharing Mike!
Great post, Mike. When I first moved to DFW, I had lunch with Dirk. To say he’s intense would be an understatement, and damn if he doesn’t know what it takes to put together a resume. And yes, yes, yes to practicing, practicing, practicing those elevator pitches, being sure to blend in a value proposition which includes an appeal to the person’s WIIFM. Career hunting is sales, and there are few offerings you should know better than yourself – we just never take the time to figure out how to correctly present ourselves. Cheers, all – Bob
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