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Cold Contacting Made Easier

By Marty Nemko

What’s the most effective job search strategy? Most people think it’s to use your personal network. They’re wrong.

According to a survey of successful job seekers by the 5 O’ Clock Club, a nationwide job-search coaching firm, the most effective job search strategy is to cold-contact potential employers, even if they’re not advertising a position. My own clients have had similar experiences.

Yes, I know cold contact is intimidating, but if you learn how to do it right, it will be less so—and you’ll land a job faster.

  • Identify at least 20 target employers: right industry, right location. Online resources such as linksv and can help.
  • Contact your personal network to see if they know someone in any of those organizations.
  • Use the employer’s website, telephone operator, HR department, or company mailroom, to find the name and email address of the person(s) in that organization you’d want, if hired, to report to.
  • Write that person a letter. If using e-mail, use a subject line such as: “Query from a neighbor, (insert your recipient’s first name)”

Dear (Insert potential hirer’s name),

(If you or someone in your personal network knows Mr. X or someone else in the organization, start with:

XXXX (the name of your personal contact) suggested I contact you.)

Whether or not you have a personal contact, continue with:

If my worklife has one common thread, it’s that I’ve really helped my bosses. Having just been downsized as part of a large layoff at Ace Pharmaceutical, I’m looking for my next opportunity to help another boss, either on a permanent or project basis.

I’m particularly helpful in taking charge of a project. My only significant limitation is that I’m not very technical. Yes, I use Microsoft Office applications comfortably and can quickly learn most other applications, but if you’re looking for someone to run a technocentric project, I’m not your person.

I’d welcome the opportunity to get together and play consultant with you to see if there’s a need you have that I might fill. As a result of my questions, you might even discover a need you weren’t aware of but that you’d be glad for me to fill—for example, something that’s taking up a lot of your time that I could do, or developing approaches to increasing your group’s profitability.

I’m not writing to you at random. I picked you because I want to stay in the health care field—I believe health care is among society’s most important endeavors. I also was attracted to your company because your website said XXXX. A final and less lofty reason I'd like to work for you is that I live just a few minutes from your office.

If you think it might be of value for us to meet, I’d welcome a call. My phone number is 415-123-4567.


  • When you land such a meeting, take charge. After thanking the person for agreeing to meet with you, say, “I’d like to start by taking a minute or two to tell you a bit about myself, and then ask you a few questions to get a better idea of if and how I might be of help to you. Is that okay?” After giving a one-to-two minute description of your accomplishments, say, “Well, that’s a bit about me. To try to learn about you and your needs, can I ask, ‘Is there something you wish could get done or done better in your workplace?’” Listen very carefully and ask appropriate follow-up questions until you get a sense of how you might be of help. Then say, “I’m wondering, “Might it be of value to you if I did (Insert what you propose to do)?” If the employer expresses interest, ask, “Can you see a way of making that happen?”
  • After a week, phone the non-respondents to your letter. Use an approach such as this: “I’m the former IBMer who wrote to you about getting together to see if there’s a need of yours I might address. I haven’t heard from you, so I assume you’re not interested, but I know how things can fall between the cracks so I’m taking the liberty of calling to follow up. If you’d like to talk, I’d welcome a call. My number is 415-123-4567. That’s 415-123-4567.”

Combine that approach with carefully answering a few dozen on-target want ads, and you’ll likely land a job quickly.

* * * * *

The Bureau of Labor Statistics just published its predictions for where the jobs will be through 2012. The 10 occupations to employ the most people: registered nurses, college teachers (mostly part-time, I suspect), retail salespersons, customer service reps, food preparers, cashiers, janitors, managers, waiters, and nursing aides. The fastest-growing occupations: medical assistants (like aides and orderlies), network systems specialists, physician assistants, social and human service assistants, medical records techs, physical therapy aides, computer software engineers (I fear many of these will be offshored), and physical therapy assistants.

Most of those jobs are menial and/or do not pay a middle-class wage. What is going to happen to this country?

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