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How To Get Interviews Without Cold Calling

An unemployed banker peddles on the street for a job. Photo by Spencer Platt via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos is an expert on how to get a job. We ran into him while doing a story on the relative futility of Internet job boards and asked him to post his own job search secrets. It became a palpable hit, so we asked Nick if he wouldn’t mind taking some questions from our readers. It turns out that in addition to giving interviews to PBS, Nick hosts a website called asktheheadhunter.com, and publishes a free weekly — the Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter.

Kyle Mox: I moved to Chicago to take a great job, but my wife is stuck cold-calling. We don’t really know anyone or have any contacts that we can leverage. So how does she “hang out with people who do the work you want to do” and “get referred by someone the manager trusts” if she doesn’t know anyone?

It would seem rather strange to start stalking people who work in admissions offices at various universities (her previous line of work). It seems like this advice works well in the finance or IT sector, but what about the rest of us?

Nick Corcodilos: Your wife doesn’t have to stalk anyone. While she’s applying for jobs the traditional way, she should also be meeting new people who do the kind of work she wants to do. There are many universities in Chicago, and their administrators attend all sorts of professional events and training programs. She needs to find out who runs these events, and then sign up.

It’s a good way to hone her skills and expertise, but it’s also a good way to meet people in university administration who invest in their own careers. Your wife will meet insiders from many schools at such events. If she’s got a particular expertise, she should contact the events coordinators and offer to do a presentation, participate in a panel discussion, or help with the events themselves.

There’s always plenty of time to mingle during such programs, and it’s easy to introduce herself and explain she’s new to Chicago. “I want to get to know all about the great universities in Chicago.” She need not say more. Others will ask her about herself and the work she does, then it’s off to the races. In today’s world of digital job applications, “face time” counts enormously because it makes a person stand out.

The next step after “hang out with people who do the work you want to do” is “talk shop.” And the step after that is to ask for “advice and insight” about the administrative operations at a particular school. “Is there someone you’d recommend in the administration office who might give me more insight about the school’s operations?”

Believe it or not, the best way to get a job lead is to avoid asking for one. I discuss this in more detail in this article: “Say NO to job leads.”

People love to talk about their work. Be friendly, be curious, ask honest questions about the work others do, and you’ll find that’s where introductions and referrals to jobs come from. This approach works in virtually any field or line of work, and no stalking is required!

Jim — Crystal Lake, Ill.: I’m about five years away from traditional retirement, and currently working for a company that provides IT services. The work is project-based, so when my work on a project is done, I have a certain amount of time on the bench to look for another project.

So far, I’ve been able to jump into another project before my bench time is done and I’m out the door, but it’s been very close at times. Do you have any special tips for an older worker like me who is always walking the employment cliff praying he doesn’t fall into the unemployment abyss?

Nick Corcodilos: You’re nervous because each time a project ends, there’s no certainty that you will get another assignment. That’s understandable, but keep in mind that people in virtually any kind of work worry about the same thing. People in regular jobs know their jobs could be eliminated altogether. Consultants like you worry that the job they’re on may be the last. Self-employed people and business owners worry they may lose their customers.

I encourage you to step back and look at the company you work for. Information technology (IT) consulting firms like yours provide project-based workers like you to their clients. When a project ends, it’s up to the consulting firm to find another project for you. That’s their job. Your job is to make the client so happy with your work that your firm has good references to use when it pursues another project for you. What I’m saying is, your future depends on how good your firm’s reputation is. That’s what you should be thinking about — how good is your own firm?

So far, it sounds like your firm is doing a pretty good job of keeping you busy. If you’re worried, go talk to your management. Ask them to share their business projections. Explain that you want to make clients so happy with your work that they will give the firm more business. Find out what else you can do to help promote the business, which in turn may give you a bit more job security.

Ask what challenges the firm faces, and consider how you can help. Get information that will either help you relax a bit, or lead you to start looking for another employer.

If your management makes you feel positive about the future, make it clear to your bosses that you view yourself as a partner in the business. They’re more likely to be candid with you about the firm’s future prospects, and they may encourage you to help with new business development.

Either way, you’ll be able to judge whether you should keep the faith and do your job, or start looking for another IT firm to work for. Keep in mind that most people in any kind of job have the same feelings and concerns you do. But the more you know what management is thinking, the better you’ll be able to plan your own future.

This article may help you reassess your attitude about how you fit into this business: “Journeyman Or Partner?

Michael: Nick, my one-man professional services business has gone bust after many years. Obviously, people eventually recover from such things but my immediate practical problem is, I have to look for work in the IT field. I feel I have no way to prove current IT skills to an employer, I have no references, and, most of all, I don’t know how to explain on a resume what I’ve been doing all these years.

Nick Corcodilos: As I suggested to Kyle Mox in my advice above, the best way to get to employers is to meet them where they hang out. The method I outlined can work for you, too. Start by finding some IT-related professional and training events, then join and attend. There’s a good chance you’ll meet your next boss and coworkers.

I think you’re looking at references the wrong way. They don’t have to come from a traditional former employer. Your former customers are all references, and I suggest you review them carefully and choose ones that are relevant to the specific IT department you apply to work in.

Too often, people define three references in a “one size fits all” fashion. That’s just kooky. Use different references for different jobs. This also takes the burden off each reference because they won’t have to talk to every employer you share their names with.

It helps to spend a few minutes with each reference discussing the work you did for them. Get them to recount their experiences with you. This programs their brains with what to say when they are called, so they’re not fishing for memories awkwardly.

As for your resume, if you’ve read my other advice you know I’m not a fan of resumes. You’re the perfect example for why resumes are a weak way to search for a job. Until you know exactly what an employer needs help with, what does it matter what work you’ve done the past 10 years? What matters is what you can do for the employer in question.

Here’s my suggestion, which you can learn more about in this article: “How Does The Working Resume Work?” When you pick an IT department you want to work for, make a short list of the kinds of tasks and technologies you’d need to work on. Then think about your experience and skills. On your new, customized resume written just for that employer, list what you did, where you did it, and when — but discuss only topics relevant to that employer. End each section with, “Additional information provided on request.”

In your interviews, you can take that resume approach a lot further by demonstrating what you can do for the employer. You’ll find lots more advice about this in my PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?,” available on my website.

Your situation is a bit unusual. So take a smart but unusual approach to getting your next job.

I started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade — and I’m glad to share what I know with you. I offer no guarantees — but I’ll do my best to offer you useful advice — so please feel free to post your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. I am the author of three “how to” PDF books, available on my website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?,” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Questions will be collected from here and we’ll post my advice in a series of Ask The Headhunter columns on Making Sen$e. You’ll also find my comments sprinkled throughout this discussion forum about various topics. Thanks for participating!

Copyright© 2012 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask The Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown– NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.

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