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"I'VE TRIED EVERYTHING!" An Advanced Course in Job Seeking

By Marty Nemko


I often get letters from job seekers who say they’ve followed everything I’ve recommended: “I’ve networked. I’ve cold called. I’ve answered ads. And I’m still unemployed!”

There’s a difference between doing those things and doing them well.

For example, done well, cold-contacting employers—whether or not they have a job opening-- can give you the inside track on a job opening, or get a position or project created for you. Done wrong, however, cold contacting will fail.

If you’ve cold-contacted dozens of potential employers and everyone’s saying no or are ignoring you, it usually means one or more of the following:

n You haven’t been assertive enough in making each contact. Send a brief, human email saying you’ll call to follow up. Then, if necessary, leave pleasantly persistent voicemails. For lower level jobs, consider walking in to your target workplaces. It’s a lot easier for an employer to ignore a voicemail than to ignore a person sitting in his or her office’s reception area.

n You haven’t demonstrated that your skills, intellect, or personality are impressive enough. Prepare PAR stories: problems you’ve faced, how you’ve approached them, and the positive resolution. IMPORTANT: Videotape yourself in a mock interview with a friend or career counselor. Would YOU hire you?

n You’ve been contacting employers in a declining field. I received an email from someone whose most recent job was in microelectronics. He wanted another job in that industry. It took him 1,400 inquiries to get the message that the semiconductor industry in the U.S. is dead—it has almost completely been moved to Asia. If you make ten inquiries and everyone says no one’s hiring, expand your geographic boundaries or change your target field.

n You haven’t made enough contacts. Rule of thumb: A serious job search requires you to cold-contact 50-100 people with the power to hire you. That’s usually not the human resources person.

n According to the 5 O’ Clock Club, a nationwide career counseling service, the key question to ask is: "If you DID have an opening, would you consider having someone like me on board?" If the answer is "yes," then ask, "Would you mind if I stayed in touch?" Then, stay in touch. When they decide to hire, you want to be on the TOP of their list.

Regarding networking:

n If you’re an immediately likeable and impressive person, go to conventions, professional meetings, and parties. Or throw a party. Need your house painted, weeded, or cleaned out? Invite some friends; serve pizza. The sense of camaraderie can leave you with job leads as well as a spruced-up home. Alamo resident Hal Bailey’s job search got a boost from producing professional events such as a technology showcase and a research forum.

n If you don’t make a good first impression, focus on people you already know. Or do an ongoing group project so people will get the chance to know you. Examples:

-- Volunteer to serve on the board of a small company or nonprofit.

-- Join the program committee of your professional association.

-- Become active in a users group or online discussion group.

-- Volunteer for a political campaign, Habitat for Humanity, community theater, or at a religious organization.

-- Join an online discussion group.

n Don’t ask for help until you have built a relationship. The person must know you, like you, and believe you’re competent. Occasionally, that happens fast, but it can take months or even years. That’s why networking to land a job works best if it’s something you’ve been doing all along.

n See if there’s a way you can help the person before asking the person to help you.

n You’re on track if at least 50 people in your extended personal network have promised to let you know if they hear of a job lead.

n If your networking contact is willing to tout you to someone, see if you can get him or her to set up a meeting or conference call among the three of you. That is often the best way to convert a networking relationship into a job offer.

If you’ve responded to dozens of employment ads and gotten fewer than one interview for every 10 applications, you’re applying for positions for which you aren’t qualified, your resume or cover letter don’t convey that you’re qualified, or you’re applying for positions so competitive that you need to be a superstar (or the boss’s cousin) to land the job.

Especially if you’re not great at cold-contacting nor do you have much of a network, consider applying for lower-level or less desirable jobs. After you’re in the organization, do your best and be visible. Many organizations promote from within.

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