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.

Advertisements

Filed under: career coaching, ,

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.

Filed under: career coaching, ,

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.

Filed under: career coaching, , , ,

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.

Filed under: career coaching, , ,

Career Success Requires Quantity, As Well As Quality

Recently, I heard from someone who was frustrated that, despite following all of the recommended career advancement strategies (networking, following up, working on her pitch), she was not moving forward. As an example, she referenced a few leads that had grown cold. What is the problem?

Now it could very well be that she is not networking, following up, or positioning herself as well as she says. But even if she is doing all of the steps right, and the quality of activity is there, a handful of leads not working out is not surprising. You also need quantity of activity in your job search and career plans.

Any one lead may not work out regardless of anything you do. There may be no promotion budget any longer. The management opportunity changes in a restructuring. Your company gets bought, and all of your allies and stakeholders get tossed when new management steps in.

Just like your financial investments should be diversified, so should your career investments.

Network inside and outside the company, at different levels, in different industries and functional areas. Follow up is not just about networking contacts but also about following up on different opportunities. Are you considering lateral moves, entrepreneurship (or employee status if you’re an entrepreneur), consulting v. in-house, nascent industries you may not know much about yet? When you position yourself, is it just to a small group of insiders who already know you? Are you blogging, speaking at conferences, getting quoted or publishing?

It is very easy to get swept up in the day-to-day of your job, especially in these times where resources are already stretched thin. But if you focus exclusively on quality of work and don’t expand your reach to a wide enough quantity of audience, you are leaving your career vulnerable. Get yourself out there and not just at the margins but with 100+ networking contacts. If you are in active job search mode, aim for 10+ target companies in play at any one time. If you are in career development mode, have several possibilities outside of your current company that you can move on at all times. Focus on quality, of course, but quantity also matters.

Filed under: career coaching, , , ,

When Networking Doesn’t Lead To The Hidden Job Market

I often hear from people who think that networking means spending lots of time discussing their job search with family and friends.  Then when they have exhausted their contacts’ patience and still don’t have a job, they wonder why they haven’t been able to crack this hidden job market everybody alludes to.

The hidden job market does exist and is significant since 80% or more of jobs are filled outside of job postings and recruiters.  But the hidden job market is not about employers hiring friends and family.  Your BFF’s won’t get you a job.  The reality is that the winning leads are more likely to be 3 or 4 connections removed.  So when you network, in order to tap that hidden market, you need to move out from your comfort zone.  If your friends could help you, they would have already.  For career changers, friends are especially dangerous b/c they probably have a set way of seeing who you are and what you do and therefore wouldn’t be able to help, however well-intentioned. 

Instead, focus on strangers and build rapport by getting to know their companies, their business problems and how you can solve them.  In this way, it’s still very much about who and what you know.  The best candidates, especially in competitive markets, get to know the decision-makers and are perceived as experts and problem-solvers.

So do this quick check-up on your networking:

Are the people in your immediate network actually hiring for jobs you want? 

If so, keep deepening these connections.  If not, get to the hiring managers;

Do you know what you want specifically enough (company, department, job title) that you can find the hiring managers and can research the issues they care about? 

If so, approach them.  If not, do this research;

Are you meeting wit hiring managers on a regular basis – 5 or more meetings per week for a full-time search? 

Job search is a numbers game and if you’re not matching quality with quantity your search will lag or stall;

If you are not doing this level of targeted, high-impact networking, what is stopping you? 

Get a job search buddy, a mentor or a coach, depending on the level of support you need, but get the help that will move you forward.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out March 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

Filed under: career coaching, , ,

How To Stay In Touch With Prospective Employers

A former coaching client reached out with this question:  Is it okay to connect to a prospective employer on LinkedIn?

The short answer is, “Of course!”  LinkedIn is a professional networking site, and your contact at the prospective employer is a burgeoning professional relationship.  However, this client shows reluctance similar to what I hear from other jobseekers around staying in touch with prospective employers.  There is the fear of appearing too aggressive, too desperate or too forward.  Whether to connect on LinkedIn is part of a broader question around the best way to stay connected to prospective employers without being a pest.

The first step is to establish the reason to stay connected.  This is why it’s so important to focus the interview on establishing a relationship that will lead to more conversations, rather than trying to close on a specific job.  The strength of the relationship, even if it’s a starter relationship, gives the prospective employer the desire and the rationale for staying connected (via LinkedIn) or otherwise.  Did you give your contact good reason for wanting to stay in touch?

The second step is to understand the best way to stay connected.  Does your contact use LinkedIn?  If they are a recruiter, they most likely will be active and welcome a connection.  If they are a senior executive and many levels above you, their LinkedIn connections might be more privately held, and you might want to first connect via email and phone.  At the interview (or mixer or wherever you met), ask how best to stay in touch.  Ask explicitly if they’d like to connect via LinkedIn.

Finally, when you do connect, the third and subsequent steps are to follow up, follow up and follow up.  This is not about checking in on openings.  This is about expanding and deepening the relationship by focusing on their needs.  Ideas for business solutions.  Referrals to helpful people.  Congratulations when you hear good news about their company.  These are just some of the many connection-focused touches that demonstrate your expertise, reflect your generosity, and have the added bonus of allowing you to stay in touch.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out March 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

Filed under: career coaching, , , , ,

Book Review: Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi

Networking and relationship-building is the theme of “Who’s Got Your Back” by Keith Ferrazzi.  Ferrazzi is a networking expert and co-author of the earlier “Never Eat Alone”.  I am a big networking proponent but with “Never Eat Alone” even I found Ferrazzi’s strategies a bit intense.  With “Who’s Got Your Back” Ferrazzi dials down the tone and makes the subject more inviting.  There are solid tips, though not much new.

One thing I absolutely loved:  late in the book, he recommends that managers get 2 pieces of feedback:  1) what is one thing I am doing that I should stop doing; and 2) what is one thing I am not doing that I should start doing?  That is golden advice and applicable well beyond management relationships to goals in general.  If you are stuck, posing those 2 questions might provide a fresh insight.

Another great aspect of the book are the accompanying resources.  Ferrazzi offers goal-setting sheets and other handouts that enable you to start your own support network.  This prompted a friend of mine to create her own Greenlight group (Greenlight is the name of Ferrazzi’s consulting company), and I have participated in her group to very positive results.  So, if this book helps you to extend yourself, meet new people and deepen existing relationships, it is well worth the time to read.

Filed under: book review, career coaching, , , , , ,

The Right Way To Reconnect With Old Networking Contacts

When I ask jobseekers how they plan on reconnecting with old contacts, I usually hear this:  I will let them know I am no longer at company X, and I will ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for me.  Yikes!  How would you feel if someone you hadn’t spoken to in a while reached out and the first thing they did was ask for help?  Put upon?  Used?  Rushed? 

Yes, lots of people do this (but it’s still annoying).  Yes, this is a tough market, so it’s more understandable why people are asking for help (but it still feels intrusive).  The first time you reconnect, it cannot be about your job search.  You cannot ask for anything that first time, except how the other person is doing.  The point of reconnecting is to reestablish the relationship.  The other person is the focus and by listening to them and being interested, you actually help yourself because you will learn about what’s going on in the market and what people care about and you can act on this LATER.

This is why maintaining your network is so critical when you don’t need anything.  It takes the time pressure off of you to accomplish anything.  But if you’ve waited till you’re in need to work on your network, then you have to self-discipline yourself to still make those early contacts about your network and not about yourself.  One good exercise:  take 3-5 contacts per day and just say hello.  This gets you in the habit of regularly reaching out to your network, so that when you actually have a question to ask or even a favor, the request isn’t the only time you have reached out.

Another tip:  when using LinkedIn, remind people how you know each other.  Don’t use those template connection invitations.  Make it a personal message about where you met, when you last spoke, or something else that shows genuine interest.  Put an updated and professional-looking picture of yourself so that old connections who may have forgotten your name can recognize you visually.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out March 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

Filed under: career coaching, , ,

Follow us on Twitter