Welcome to SixFigureStart®

Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

When Is It Okay To Ask For A Job Lead?

After a workshop I led, an attendee connected to me via LinkedIn.  Shortly thereafter, she asked me for an introduction to a few of my contacts.  I recommended that she find connections who might know her work better than I.  She then responded with a very good question that I bet is on the minds of many:  a lot of the advice out there promotes networking as a way to access those jobs and companies you want, but as you meet more and more people how do you know when it’s okay to ask for referrals?

Kudos to this jobseeker for a number of things: 

1)       She expands her network.  We connected (as it happened via LinkedIn but you can also use email or other social network);

2)       She stays in touch.  Some people stop after one contact;

3)       She doesn’t stop at No.  She didn’t push back on my hesitation for a referral but she did ask for more information (she asked why).  So while she didn’t get exactly what she asked for, she got more information and that will help her search.

You can’t expand your network if you always only focus on people you already know.  You have to take a chance, like this person did, and reach out to people.  Attend social events, go to conferences, take classes, participate in community activities, and then actually reach out to the people you meet.

You also have to follow up because even if you do manage to introduce yourself and get this person in your LinkedIn network or on your email list, if you don’t correspond further, it doesn’t really matter. 

But, the follow up stage is a long stage.  The best follow up is non-committal.  You focus on the other person – just saying hi or giving an article, a recommendation for a good book, a holiday greeting.  Give something that is welcome and doesn’t require a response.  This way, you build familiarity and rapport without bothering the person.  Then, when you have established familiarity and rapport, you might try asking for something.

A connection/ referral to someone else is a big favor.  When you make a referral for a job or even an informational meeting, it is a reflection on you, so you want to make sure that before you refer someone you know them.  Likewise, asking someone else to refer you is a risk for them.  They need to know that you will reflect on them well, so don’t jump the gun to ask your network for this.

Asking for information is less of a favor, so if you’re not sure where you stand with a contact, ask your connection for information on a company or type of job.  The contact may offer on their own to introduce you to someone they know at the company or to pass on your resume for that type of job.  This way, you have put yourself out there, made your aspirations known, but also not imposed too much on the other person.

People have different comfort levels for sharing contacts and referrals.  So when you are expanding your network and not quite sure where people stand, be conservative and assume that you need to know the person very well.  Then be generous and patient with your network so it becomes connections you know very well.

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SixFigureStart Quoted In Yahoo Finance On “6 summer job options for college students”

SixFigureStart is mentioned in the section on Work Study Jobs:

“If you’re smart about picking a work-study job, it can actually give you more real-world experience than a summer retail job,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and founder of SixFigureStart consulting in New York City.

Read Christina Couch’s full article, “6 summer job options for college students” with several tips and strategies for college students:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/6-summer-job-options-for-brn-2314699084.html?x=0

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When Is It Okay To Ask For A Job Lead

After a workshop I led, an attendee connected to me via LinkedIn.  Shortly thereafter, she asked me for an introduction to a few of my contacts.  I recommended that she find connections who might know her work better than I.  She then responded with a very good question that I bet is on the minds of many:  a lot of the advice out there promotes networking as a way to access those jobs and companies you want, but as you meet more and more people how do you know when it’s okay to ask for referrals?

Kudos to this jobseeker for a number of things: 

1)       She expands her network.  We connected (as it happened via LinkedIn but you can also use email or other social network);

2)       She stays in touch.  Some people stop after one contact;

3)       She doesn’t stop at No.  She didn’t push back on my hesitation for a referral but she did ask for more information (she asked why).  So while she didn’t get exactly what she asked for, she got more information and that will help her search.

You can’t expand your network if you always only focus on people you already know.  You have to take a chance, like this person did, and reach out to people.  Attend social events, go to conferences, take classes, participate in community activities, and then actually reach out to the people you meet.

You also have to follow up because even if you do manage to introduce yourself and get this person in your LinkedIn network or on your email list, if you don’t correspond further, it doesn’t really matter. 

But, the follow up stage is a long stage.  The best follow up is non-committal.  You focus on the other person – just saying hi or giving an article, a recommendation for a good book, a holiday greeting.  Give something that is welcome and doesn’t require a response.  This way, you build familiarity and rapport without bothering the person.  Then, when you have established familiarity and rapport, you might try asking for something.

A connection/ referral to someone else is a big favor.  When you make a referral for a job or even an informational meeting, it is a reflection on you, so you want to make sure that before you refer someone you know them.  Likewise, asking someone else to refer you is a risk for them.  They need to know that you will reflect on them well, so don’t jump the gun to ask your network for this.

Asking for information is less of a favor, so if you’re not sure where you stand with a contact, ask your connection for information on a company or type of job.  The contact may offer on their own to introduce you to someone they know at the company or to pass on your resume for that type of job.  This way, you have put yourself out there, made your aspirations known, but also not imposed too much on the other person.

People have different comfort levels for sharing contacts and referrals.  So when you are expanding your network and not quite sure where people stand, be conservative and assume that you need to know the person very well.  Then be generous and patient with your network so it becomes connections you know very well.

Filed under: career coaching, , ,

Job Search Success Stories: What Works In This Market

In the last few weeks, a flurry of our coaching clients have gotten jobs.  There is no industry connection — financial services, media, digital strategy, healthcare, academia.  There is no functional connection – the roles have been entry-level to executive and spanning sales, HR, marketing, research, and communications.  So what do these success stories have in common?

Tenacity.  Our clients did not apply for one job and magically get hired.  They had lists and lists of targets – different companies, several names within each company, networking contacts inside and outside the targets.  Some of these leads never materialized.  Some leads seemed promising and then fell through unexpectedly.  (One of our clients had two jobs that were rescinded due to budget constraints before having this final one stick!).  Some leads turned out to be the wrong fit.  But through it all, these successful jobseekers are joining the ranks of the employed because they tenaciously stayed with their networking meetings and interviews until the timing clicked.

Differentiation.  All of our clients struggled to follow our advice on cold calling, avoiding recruiters, and narrowing their search rather than casting too wide a net.  Yet, differentiating your search tactics is what is going to get you results that other jobseekers miss.  The masses will do what is easy, and therefore they will tap into the most competitive markets.  When you differentiate your job search, you stand out and you retain control of your search.

Support.  Good support systems include specific days and time blocks set aside for job search activities, a job search buddy or group to meet with regularly and maintain accountability, a mentor or coach that knows the job search process and can keep you from getting into a rut or repeating mistakes.  Some jobseekers are paralyzed by a seemingly endless to do list.  Some jobseekers stay busy, but do the wrong things or do things in the wrong way.  Some jobseekers start and stop their search and never get traction towards getting hired.  Without support you risk falling into any or all of these traps and derail your job search.

Will you stick to it despite the ups and downs?  Can you stand out and do the nuanced difficult work that other jobseekers will not do?  Do you have support in place to move you forward?  The market is picking up, and now is the time to ensure that your job search skills are competitive.

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Positioning Yourself for Big Versus Small Companies

One reader asked:  What are the differences between hiring objectives of a small (startup) company versus a bigger corporation?

The job search does differ when you are targeting start-ups versus established firms. Getting information on and networking into smaller, newer firms requires deeper research and more resourcefulness. You probably have just one chance at the hiring manager in a small firm, while at a larger firm, there are more potential points of entry. Finally, as this questioner mentions, the hiring objectives and practices of a start-up will differ from a bigger corporation, and you will need to adjust your search accordingly.

Your role will be different depending on the size of the firm, even for the same functional area. Your team size, budget, and other resources will vary, and therefore you need to position your skills specifically against what your target requires. For the start-up, you may want to highlight your flexibility and resourcefulness. For the corporation, you may want to elaborate on your relationship-building skills.

Your career path will vary. When you talk about your ambitions, you want to position them to match what is available. For a start-up, there may be no clear path, or it will likely include lateral and cross-functional moves. For an established firm, there may be a well-defined path and clear rules of engagement for next career steps.

The differences in culture and opportunity presented by big versus small firm require you to be clear about your motivations. Why do you want to work at an untested, lesser known, possibly volatile start-up? Why do you want to work at a staid, Fortune 500 bureaucracy? When I recruited for start-ups, I was suspicious of candidates who didn’t know my client because they seemed to be chasing any start-up rather than my client specifically. Likewise, when I recruited for Fortune 500 companies, I was suspicious that candidates who couldn’t articulate clear reasons for wanting my client were just chasing the brand.

Size does matter in your job search. The skills you highlight, the plans you share, and the preferences you reveal all position for companies of a specific size and history. It’s okay to pursue both targets. Just remember to adjust your messaging accordingly.

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Cold Calling For Your Job Search

As a former recruiter, I will be the first person to recommend against cold calling a recruiter.  In addition, those job postings say, “No phone calls, please” for a reason – calling to follow up on your application is not a good use of time.  However, does that mean you should never cold call in your job search?  Not at all — I am a big advocate of cold calling prospective employers in your job search for the right reasons and with the right technique. 

Cold calling covers more ground:  finding a personal introduction for a “warm” call might be impossible for certain firms where you just don’t have a lead.  Cold calling is faster:  when you rely on someone else to make an introduction you are hostage to their timetable (and no one will have the same urgency about your search as you will).  Cold calling keeps the ball in your court:  you know exactly how you’re going to pitch a cold call, but you can’t control how someone talks about you when they refer you, regardless of how well-intentioned they are.

But cold call hiring managers, not recruiters.  My job as a recruiter was to find the best match for my client, not help you with your job search.  It was rare that an unsolicited call was from a candidate with the exact fit – if you have the exact fit to an open job, the recruiter will likely find you.  The irony is that, as a recruiter I had the perspective to often see how someone without the exact background or experience could do the job, but I was not in a position to advocate for that person.  A recruiter’s role is to make the exact match and keep everyone else out.  Hiring managers, on the other hand, are the decision-makers for the actual job and don’t need to focus on keeping people out, just getting the right person in.  You want to cold call the hiring manager.  This means you need to identify who is the decision-maker for that job. 

Your cold call to the hiring manager needs to demonstrate that you are that right person for their job.  A lot of jobseekers focus their pitch on who they are – where they worked, what they did.  The prospective employer cares about how their new hire will work for them and what they will do for them.  Frame everything you did in terms of benefit to the hiring manager.  It’s not just about having done extensive market research for Old Company A.  It’s about being able to research this Market-You-Care-About for Target Company B.  This means you need to know your target intimately – what they are working on, what keeps them up at night – so you can position yourself as the answer to their prayers.

Identifying the right people and positioning yourself in a way that gets noticed is hard work.  But it’s the difference between the average jobseeker with little to no results and the star candidate with multiple offers (yes, people are getting multiple offers in this market).  Identifying hiring managers and pitching yourself well, while difficult, are skills that can be learned.  Many of my clients didn’t believe in cold calling till they did it and got jobs because of it.  So get the support you need to do it right and cold call away.  Cold calling is an effective job search strategy.

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The Downside To Ditching Your Job Search To Start A Business

In my May 4 post, I outlined several advantages to starting your own business in lieu of a job search.  But it’s not easy to start a business, and there are disadvantages to taking time off your search to try entrepreneurship.

Every entrepreneur has to master a variety of important skills but they may not be the skill set that helps you stay current in your field.  Sales, marketing, PR, and accounting are just some of the things an entrepreneur must do, in addition to whatever technical skill is the focus of the business.  An accountant client of mine thought that starting his own firm was for him till he realized he’d likely do more sales and other business-building activities and less actual accounting as he built his practice.  (He opted for traditional employment.)

Your message to the market gets diluted.  If you’re thinking you can do both the business and the job search, will friends and family know to tell you about a great job or about a great prospective client?  What will you pitch to a company that could be a great employer and client – your resume or your business?  You need to know how to talk about yourself and how to divide your market targets.

If you decide to go back to traditional job search, prospective employers may be suspect of your time in entrepreneurship.  They may think you really want to start a business and are just looking at a job as a stop gap.  They may think you can’t work for anyone else since being your own boss.  They may think you are a dilettante or a quitter as you go from employee to business owner back to employee.

Starting a business can be a great alternative or complement to the job search.  But there are significant costs in time, energy and focus.  While both entail selling yourself, networking, and identifying your market value, these are separate pursuits and require separate strategies.  For the many people who do balance both successfully, there can be a great payoff but not without risks.

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SixFigureStart Interviewed On CBS Moneywatch

Jack Otter of CBS Moneywatch interviews Caroline Ceniza-Levine about the improving job market and what jobseekers need to do now to take advantage:

http://moneywatch.bnet.com/career-advice/video/where-to-find-your-next-job/422392/?tag=content;col1

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The Pros and Cons of Continuing Education Courses

As you plan your career, there are so many things you can invest your resources in – taking continuing education courses, working towards a certification or advanced degree, getting involved in a professional group, expanding your network, attending conferences, getting published, looking for better jobs. The decision on whether to choose a continuing education course needs to be weighed against all these other options. It will depend on what you want to get out of the course and your career overall.

Continuing education is good to expand your skill set without the commitment and expense of an all-out certification program or additional degree. You can pick and choose exactly what captures your interest or what you feel will most benefit you right now. Company tuition reimbursement plans are often capped, and continuing education courses can be selected to fall below the maximum. On the other hand, a course here and there will not have the weight of completing a certification or advanced degree. Many companies will reimburse only for full programs, not a select course.

Continuing education gives you perspective outside your current field. A quantitative analyst might exercise her right brain with a film studies course at night. An IT manager might build better appreciation for company strategy by taking some business courses. Don’t just think of continuing education as a smaller alternative to an all-out program. Use the flexibility of taking a course here and there to get introduced to things you might otherwise not because your work is so specialized.

Continuing education does not preclude other investments in your career. The people you meet at your class expand your network. Your class work might inspire an article to publish or a workshop for a conference. The skills you learn may enable you to lobby for space on a project outside your determine or a job with wider responsibilities. The benefits of continuing education don’t have to stop in the classroom or accrue only if you attach them to a terminal degree.

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The Upside To Ditching Your Job Search To Start A Business

For the unemployed trying to find a job, there are advantages to making your own job by starting your own business.

Your business opens immediately and might relieve immediate financial obligations.  If you pick a business with little upfront investment, such as freelancing or consulting, you can start earning right away.  In fact, for my clients with little severance or savings, I often advise taking paid projects to relieve the money anxiety, since a thorough job search can take several months or sometimes over a year.  One immediate client to pitch is your former employer – just because they don’t have the budget for a full-time employee doesn’t mean they can’t afford project help. 

Making decisions for your own business forces you to think about your unique market value.  When you draw that paycheck day in and day out, sometimes you don’t know exactly what you are doing that adds to the bottom line.  When you’re out on your own, you have to bring in the money so you’d better know.  Starting a business causes you to think about your skills and experience in a very tangible way.

Being in business for yourself enables to carve out exactly what you want to do.  Career changers, creatives, and others who are drawn to varied list of tasks often get frustrated with the traditional job search that often favors cookie-cutter job descriptions.  Starting a business enables you to pick and choose exactly what sector you’ll serve and what you’ll be doing.

However, it doesn’t have to be either/ or.  You can stay active in your job search while you also build a business on the side.  Launching the business gives you a great answer to those prospective employers when they ask you what you’ve been doing during your unemployment.  It also enables you to keep your skills and networking current.

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