The Summer Rant

I hear it multiple times every year from clients and students, at both the beginning of the summer, and at Thanksgiving. 

“What’s the point of continuing my transition process?  Everyone’s on vacation, not much is going on, so I think I’ll take the time off myself and reconvene in September (or January).”

Big mistake.  Aside from the fact that both August and January tend to be high volume hiring months, abandoning a search leaves the field to your competition.  Just because some businesses slow up during holiday/vacation times, doesn’t mean that building relationships stops. 

Your competition will be lying on the beach on the Vineyard, visualizing their energetic return to action in September.  By the way, September is frequently a tougher time to get things going.  Not to mention the loss of momentum involved, which makes things even more emotionally draining than job search usually is.  I’m not suggesting that taking a break during a search is a bad thing – it’s actually a great idea – but to lose a whole season when everyone else is taking time off is not smart. 

As a matter of fact, reaching people you want to meet might be easier than usual.  Things do slow up, but there’s a good likelihood it could work to your advantage. 

Yes, some organizations do get slow during December or late August, especially in financial services, but does that mean companies are closed?  Of course not.  Someone is keeping the place open, right?  There is some business going on.  And there will be, therefore, valuable contacts to be made.

It’s also easier to get people to spend some time with you at these times; the overall pace is usually slower.  Many would rather talk with you than work!  And talking leads to business relationships, which leads to effective networking, which…

Just in case your relationship-building does slow down a bit during these times, it is also a perfect time to do your basic research, stay knowledgeable in your field, utilize the somewhat empty business libraries (in New York City, for example, SIBL), re-think your e-mail writing campaign, organize your resources and records, and get a lot done.  We’re now in the period following Memorial Day.  It’s time to step it up. 

Out of Left Field: The Usually Forgotten Benefit of Networking

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Most job seekers learn, at some point, that relationship building (otherwise known as “networking”) is the way to go. There are so many reasons, the best being that every statistical survey shows that it’s by far the best methodology. Most of the numbers I’ve seen point to a range of around 75-80% market penetration from relationship building, compared to, say, around 5-6% from postings. Those same single digit numbers also apply to using external recruiters (executive search, employment agencies, etc.). Of course, these numbers vary according to whatever metrics and categories the surveys use, but the main point stays fairly consistent.

The best reason for building relationships, aside from the numbers, is that making direct contact with decision makers initially, instead of Human Resources professionals or external recruiters, almost always will have a greater opportunity for success. HR and recruiters are frequently just screens (mostly screen outs). Reaching the decision makers is also usually the benefit of personal contact, rather than ending up as a piece of paper in a huge pile on a desk. A piece of paper can’t talk; you can.

My standard definition of networking is “building relationships, over a period of time, so that when people hear of appropriate opportunities, they will think of you.” This is an indirect approach, as opposed to the idea of asking everyone you meet if they know “anyone” or know of any open jobs. That’s a surefire way of not building a relationship; rather it’s a great method for convincing people to avoid you. (Much more about all of this on my website, ellischase.com, in the blogs and videos sections.)

There is another distinct benefit from relationship building, which is frequently overlooked – getting unexpected information. One technique for getting some unexpected information is to ask how that person got to where they are now in their career. Everyone loves to talk about him or herself, and you never know what you’re going to hear that might be a good new idea.

Or…your contact, if you’re lucky, will have some interesting observations or suggestions. I’m not referring to suggestion #459 about fixing your resume (almost always useless advice) or negative comments, like perhaps you should stay where you are; you just don’t know how lucky you are. (And you decided to do all this networking for fun, right?)

What if a suggestion is made that you hadn’t heard or paid attention to, and is an interesting one that you hadn’t thought of?  

Many years ago, I had a terrific job in technology staffing at a major bank, but it was in a culture where I didn’t fit. I even had an excellent manager. But I was, after five years of giving it a strong try, determined to leave and find a culture where I’d be more comfortable.  

My search took too long. In retrospect, I think it was because I was inflexible about my targets, and wasn’t able to hear some good suggestions about types of organizations other than the ones I was researching. (Active listening is a topic for another blog.) In other words, I hadn’t paid attention to one of those hidden benefits of building relationships on a job search. I was only zeroing in on building the relationship, getting some market information, and expanding my network. Those are good objectives, but I was missing a critical one.  

I met with a woman at one of the large banks, who seemed to listen to my story quite intently. At the end of it, she said, “You seem to be more interested in the career mobility aspects of your job, helping employees move from one area to another, or how they can get promotions, or how they might deal with difficult situations. Am I correct?” I admitted that was my favorite part of the job, but I did like the whole job and was learning a great deal from it. She suggested that I consider working in outplacement consulting.

Since the organization I worked for did their outplacement internally, I had to admit I didn’t know much about the field (like almost nothing). She told me about it, and something just clicked, which ended up turning my career completely around. She was correct in her assessment and recommendation, and my next job was in one of those consulting firms. A perfect cultural fit, and a career direction that would last for the duration of my career. It may have taken too long to figure all this out, but the outcome, due to this one suggestion, resonated in the strongest possible way.  

I’m always sorry that I don’t remember the woman’s name, because I would definitely have dedicated this blog to her.  

Don’t ignore the fact that your relationship building/networking is more than just the mechanics of meeting new people, following up several times, and asking good marketing and business questions. It should be listening for new ideas, as well.  

P.S. Does anyone know what the picture here is? Just curious. Let me know.  

Don’t Stop Until the Door Slams (or Opens)

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Private clients, business school students, and corporate clients have frequently asked a basic question about executing a successful career transition:  How many times do I contact someone I want to meet until I get a response?  Or, how many times do I call or email before I can get an answer, any answer, about the job I interviewed for?  

My standard answer is “Until the door slams.”  In other words, until there’s a firm “no.”  Or, we hope, the door opens: “We want to make you an offer,” or “I’d be glad to meet with you; sorry it took me so long to get back to you.”  We want that door to do something.  There are exceptions, as when you start to feel that it’s pointless or that the situation isn’t important enough to keep putting yourself out there.  Or that the job wasn’t that great to begin with, and the non-response is telling you something about the organization’s culture.  Career transition is tough enough, right?  Maybe you just are tired of going after that one situation, without any response, after you’ve tried so many times.

Many think all this persistence is standard sales technique.  In many ways, it is.

A View from Within the Organization

A while back, when I was a staffing officer with what was then called The Chase Manhattan Bank (employees referred to it frequently as “Mother Chase,” since in those days you could count on lifetime employment in many departments), I dealt with many external recruiters. 350 of them when I first started; no exaggeration.   

This was in an era of the brand new fax machine – the one that created an odor throughout the entire 22nd floor of 1 New York Plaza, which used a slick, oily paper roll feed.  The resumes from recruiters literally flew out of that machine.  And, unfortunately, the phone never stopped. No answering machines allowed in the office in those days.  They were considered impolite and possibly a missed business opportunity.  Needless, to say, no pc’s on individual desks yet (and, of course, no email).  

By the time I left “The Chase” after five years, I had learned an amazing amount about corporate hiring practices, i.e., networking, ads, internal referrals, logistics of setting up interviews, how to make which referrals to whom in the organization – and, most interestingly, how the utilization of executive search/recruiters works.   The recruiters exhibited a wide range of behaviors – relentlessness, dishonesty, misrepresentation of clients via doctored-up resumes, high quality clients, factory-produced candidates who may or may not have matched specifications, bribery of astonishing breadth (that’s a whole other article, but I must mention the word “kickbacks” here), and both excellent and terrible social intelligence.   

The most important thing I learned was that the relentlessness part was the characteristic that was most successful, in presenting candidates for open positions, whether or not we liked the recruiter. After the incessant phoning, the key was presenting quality candidates.   Some of the most successful recruiters were… obnoxious.  

I certainly wouldn’t suggest to people I advise that they become as relentless as the recruiters with whom I worked .  Unlike career transition, the chemistry between them and me or others on our staff wasn’t all that important.  I figured that out by the time I was about to leave the bank, and was training my successor.  He was surprised to hear that our “core” list of recruiters didn’t necessarily consist of people we liked; he was even more surprised that I couldn’t stand spending time with about 7 out of the 10 I worked with most.  I mostly cared about their presenting quality candidates for open positions.  Of course, that latter proportion is not appropriate for what we’re looking for in a career transition, where chemistry and fit are critical.  

A Recent Client Example

I’ve been working with a client recently who has a combination of strong presentation and impressive credentials.  She’s what I call a “walking unique selling proposition.”  Unfortunately, she is hitting her market at a time where the politics of her geographic area are having a profoundly negative effect on opportunities in her profession.  This means a rapidly shrinking market for her unique skills.  

She’s been relentless.  Not like the recruiters mentioned above, but in very subtle, sometimes indirect, always intelligent ways, which will work far better than the hard sell techniques I discussed when talking about recruiters working with The Chase Manhattan Bank.  

She was introduced to a major figure in her field, a man who could open many doors for her, not to mention that he ran an organization of great interest to her.    

The meeting went poorly.  Something was off, and my client couldn’t figure out what.  But the dynamic just wasn’t there, and the conversation went nowhere.  Of course, this happens frequently in any career transition, and you never know what happened.  Maybe the other person had a migraine?  Or just wasn’t in the mood for an informational meeting?  Too many variables to fully understand, unless you might’ve said something that you knew was off the mark.  My client had no idea what the problem had been.

I told her not to beat herself up, that bad meetings in this process happen sometimes, with no clear reason.  One of the hardest things in career transition is that it’s so isolating, and people end up ruminating about every aspect over and over again, which frequently ends up like an exercise in reading tea leaves.  Some introspection is good for a job search, but there have to be limits.  Otherwise, the whole exercise becomes self-defeating, and a job seeker becomes reluctant to risk making mistakes.  That fear, of course, could easily create a diminished search. 

My client continued her relationship building (otherwise known as networking), and oddly, two of the next people she met suggested she meet the man with whom she had had the bad meeting.  She was reluctant to follow up on their suggestions to contact him; I thought she had nothing to lose, and maybe he had forgotten the first meeting.  Her two contacts also mentioned that he was hiring for his own organization.  This was too tempting to pass up.  To hell with ego and fear of rejection.  

She contacted him and arranged a meeting.  This time was an entirely different story.  He did remember her, but the conversation flowed, and she now has a job interview with his organization set up.  She couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong in the first meeting, but it didn’t matter!  

Her persistence paid off in getting an interview for a job she really wanted.  Her key was to keep going until that door, in her case, actually did open.