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What Really Works (Cool Careers for Dummies Excerpt)

By Marty Nemko

The following excerpt is from the book "Cool Careers for Dummies: Second Edition" by Dr. Marty Nemko.

Chapter 9:
What Really Works

In This Chapter

  • A more pleasant way to land a job
  • A little realism
  • Eight Faster (Really) Ways to Land a Job

Conventional wisdom says that the following is the right way to land a job. Can you picture yourself doing this?

Sally is ready to start phoning prospective employers and networking contacts at 8 a.m. because that's when they are most likely to be at their desks without gatekeepers. She checks her list of contacts, which she maintains using contact-tracking software, and begins:

  • "Hello, this is Sally Jones. May I speak with Harry Hirer?"
  • "Hello, this is Sally Jones. May I speak with Margie? We were roommates back in college."
  • "Hello, this is Sally Jones. May I speak with the person in charge of marketing?"
  • "Hello, this is Sally Jones. I'd like to find out more about your industry. Can we get together?"

Sally cajoles and prods gatekeepers; she leaves tantalizing voice mail messages, and diligently follows up on unreturned phone calls. Day and night, Sally is networking: "I'm looking to use my skills in planning, management, and communication. Do you know anyone in a position to hire someone with my background?"

I ask again. Can you picture yourself doing that? Although many career guides ask you to follow that regimen, I find that many people don't stay with it long enough to succeed, no matter how much they are coached and prodded.

A Better Way to Land a Job

This entire part of the book is devoted to showing you my not-too-difficult, not-pushy-person's custom-tailored approach to landing a job. Here's an overview.

  • Create a good-enough resume. After the first few hours, tweaking a resume rarely makes enough difference to justify the effort. Job seekers put only so much effort into a job search. I want you to put your effort where it counts.

Next, from the following approaches, simply pick the ones likely to work best for you I show you how to predict which ones will. And after you see which approaches are working best for you, de-emphasize the others. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised.

  • Find on-target want ads. Yes, check the Sunday newspaper, but also search the Internet. One of the Internet's tools is automated job scouts that screen literally millions of jobs on the Net 24/7 to find openings on-target for you and deliver them right to your e-mailbox. The Net offers a lazy person's approach to landing a job. If it doesn't work for you, forget about it on to other methods. You haven't wasted much time.
  • Identify a handful of dream employers. I show how to find your dream employers in Chapter 14. Write to them honestly, humanly, and without overselling yourself. E-mail often works best. Gently follow up with a phone call. If they don't return the call, the heck with them.
  • Identify a small number of people in your personal network who may know someone who could hire you for the sort of job you're looking for. If these people don't have any leads, ask them to keep their antennae out and call you if they hear of anything you just recruited a scout. If you don't hear from your scouts, call them back once. If they don't return the call, the heck with them.
  • E-Network. No personal network? Too shy to use it? Try e-networking. The Net offers low-stress ways to make connections in your target field and no one ever has to see that you're in your sweatpants.
  • Write to a few search firms that specialize in your field. If you don't hear back, the heck with them.
  • Attend one or more job fairs. You'll find dozens of employers in one place, all of whom are eager to talk with job seekers.
  • Convert your job interviews from interrogations to first dates. I show you how in Chapter 16.

Many people job-search more effectively if they have others' support. Perhaps it's just a daily check-in with a friend. If you prefer group support, the well-regarded 5 O'Clock Club groups ( have branches in major cities. Your local unemployment office can tell you about other options.

That's it. No one-size-fits-all regimen, no excessive pushiness, no massive networking, no sleaze required. And with moderate effort, it works, even if you're not an aggressive person. In the following chapters, I show you the best and simplest approach to each of those steps. I understand that you have things you'd rather be doing than looking for a job.

When you're self-employed, you don't have to land a job, but you do have to land customers or clients. For advice aimed specifically at the self-employed, see Chapters 20 and 24.

Be Real

Many likeable people suddenly become too formal when they become job seekers. Imagine that you're an employer and an applicant says, "I believe I'm well-suited to the position." Or "I'm seeking an opportunity with a dynamic company." Ugh. Instead of donning this phony, job-seeker persona, talk and write humanly, honestly, even playfully in every step of your job search. Consider this excerpt from a letter to a headhunter:

I knew I shouldn't have left New York for Knoxville. I love big-city life, from Scribners to Chinatown, but it was so tempting: sales manager for the Home & Garden Network in its crucial start-up phase. I figured that I could be happy anywhere, so I moved myself and my dog to Knoxville. But culture in Knoxville is the Star Spangled Banner at the University of Tennessee football game. After two years in the old South, it would be great to come home. Do you know anyone in New York who might throw a life preserver to an overboard sales manager?

Mightn't you consider helping this person if you could? The standard "I-believe-I-am-well-qualified-for-the-position" approach usually creates resistance; the human approach encourages connection.

Please don't oversell yourself. If you're just a basic good hard worker, describe yourself as just that. It is a mistake to try to pass yourself off as a star. The thought of having to do all that will stress you out and make you more likely to procrastinate in your search for work. You'll probably sound unnatural and therefore won't be successful. And if, against all odds, you manage to bamboozle someone into thinking you're stronger than you're likely to be, you risk failing on that job, and making you and your boss or customer miserable. So don't make a false impression. Sell who you really are. You'll enjoy your search for work more and be more likely to end up with work you'll do well. Besides although increasingly this quality is seen to be unimportant it's honest.

The Keys to a Fast Job Search

Even though I've tried to make the job-search process as fast as possible, to keep your expectations realistic, you need to know that fast is relative. Many people fail in their job searches because they give up too quickly. Yes, you may luck out and find your dream job in two weeks, but realistically, you can figure on spending a few hundred hours. Actually, that's not a lot of time only a few months to end up in a position that should keep you contented for years.

Here's the key to getting a job quickly. Successful job seekers spend only a modest amount of time on preparation. They don't need to clean their desks before beginning. They spend just a bit of time preparing for phone calls. They don't spend much time primping their resume or fussing over the design of their business cards. They spend almost all their job-hunting time directly contacting target employers by e-mail and phone, responding to ads on the Internet, and asking well-connected people for job leads. Kate Wendleton, president of the 5 O'Clock Club, the nation's largest small-group career counseling service, wisely says, "You know your job search is on track when you have six to ten warm leads at any one time."

A Computer Is A Virtual Must

Access to the Internet is key. If you don't have a computer or Web access, most libraries do, and librarians can help you get started. Commercial firms like Kinko's also rent computer time. But think about buying a PC you'll need it in every aspect of your job search (and the games are cool). Prices have dropped like a stone. Name-brand Compaq or Hewlett-Packard base-model computers, plenty fast enough, complete with printer and monitor, can now be had for $500 and companies offer free Web access and e-mail.

A Special Note

A number of the ideas in this part may be different from what you've heard or read before about how to land a job or get business on your own for example, I believe the want ads are an underrated job-search tool and that networking is overrated. I ask only that you read with an open mind. If you remain unconvinced, go back to the standard advice. But I have found that, especially with the sorts of people who use career guides, the approach you are about to read should yield you better work faster.

Eight faster (really) ways to land a job

The one-sentence solution

Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute?, reports that 69 percent of job hunters land jobs simply by opening their local Yellow Pages, calling employers in their favorite category, and asking if those companies are hiring for the position the seeker desires.

You can be fast and even playful: Susan called all the museums and aquariums in her Yellow Pages (sometimes she just dropped in!) and said, "Hi, I'm an experienced manager who loves museums. My company just downsized, so I'm looking for a job. I figured I'd go direct. Is there a nice person I could talk with who might need someone like me?"

It can also work if you're self-employed and looking for clients. Whenever public relations consultant Michael Cahlin needs business, he simply gets out the phone book and starts calling companies he would like to work with. He asks them if they're happy with their PR. Usually they aren't, and soon he has several new clients.

This simple, direct strategy works, but when dealing with a larger organization, it's usually smarter to visit their Web site and e-mail a senior person from there.

When you're still not sure what you want to be when you grow up

Sometimes, despite oodles of career exploration, you still remain open to lots of options. Not one of the career goals you've explored feels so good that you're ready to focus just on it. Standard career counseling advice tells you to go back and explore some more. But I've found that rarely works. A better approach is picking out some employers that seem desirable (close to home, having a good reputation, selling a product that sounds cool), and phoning or writing the CEO. Leave a voice mail if necessary: "My name is XXXX. I'm 25 and I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I've done a few things I'm proud of (insert two or three, each in just a phrase). Can you see a place for a person like me working for you?" (Insert reason you chose that company in other words, I live three blocks away). My phone number is (insert number.). Thanks

The old-fashioned job search (with a new twist)

The traditional job search meant poring over the want ads in Sunday's newspaper. Today's version includes one tiny difference You can sift through literally millions of want ads in seconds using the Internet. Visit major job search sites, enter your favorite search terms or geographic locations, or browse various categories of jobs you'll likely encounter plenty of interesting jobs you never would have thought about. While you're there, sign up for their job scouts. That way, whenever an on-target job opening hits their site, you'll be notified by e-mail. See a job you like? Don't make a federal case out of it just paste a plain-text version of your resume into an email preceded by a cover letter, explaining, item by item, how you meet the job requirements listed in the ad.

The biggest steak in Texas approach

Dan Kennedy, author of the No BS Marketing Newsletter, insists this is a sure-fire way to land a job. Target ten successful entrepreneurs or CEOs of small- to mid-sized growing companies in the field you want to work in. Research their lives and companies, perhaps by reviewing the Who's Who database (available online from many libraries) or with your favorite search engine, using the CEO's name as the keyword. Prepare individual letters to each of your targets, selling yourself adding, "Someone must have given you your first chance. . . " and offering to work for free. FedEx those letters. If you don't hear from them quickly, pursue them with phone calls, e-mails, ideas, anything you can think of to secure interviews. Kennedy says, "I'll bet you the biggest steak in Texas that within 30 days, you'll be working for one of those 10 leaders."

The One-Employer Strategy

Sometimes, you have a dream employer. Perhaps it's a world-famous expert you idolize, the organization whose cause you most believe in, or the company that makes the coolest product, or simply the well-regarded company that happens to be headquartered within walking distance of home. In these situations, it's worth launching a full-scale assault on that employer. Learn everything you can about the employer. Yes, look at the company's or person's Web site but also if it's a public company check it out at the Wall Street Research Net. In addition, tell Company Sleuth, what company you're tracking and it e-mails you every new news story about the company. If your target company is private, simply ask a salesperson to send you the packet of material that goes to prospective customers. Identify at least a few people in the organization with the power to hire you or recommend that you be hired and start a relationship with them use "The biggest steak in Texas approach." You may soon find yourself working for your dream employer.

The get-in-the-door solution

If you're pursuing a first job in a new field, the key is to get in the door. Don't worry so much if the first job is as an assistant or even as a receptionist. The key is making it known, early on, that you're smart, eager, and nice. Read what comes across your desk, ask questions, gently propose ideas, volunteer for projects that go beyond your entry-level duties. Tried-and-true career launchpads are:

  • Customer support.
  • Assistant to a professional whose job you aspire to. Yes, you may have to get coffee, make copies, even pick up his dry cleaning, but being at the elbow of a pro, especially if you work hard to learn what he's doing and why, is a great way to propel your career.

Often these jobs are not advertised for because they don't require previous experience the hirer usually knows someone who can do that job. So, don't be afraid to cold-call dream employers, explaining that you're looking for your first job in this field and asking if they need a motivated assistant or customer support person or even a volunteer to work for a day to help with an urgency or to do some task other employees hate. If you're really gutsy, walk in to your target employer. If there's a receptionist, explain that this is your dream employer and ask if she'd be nice enough to let you talk with a kind potential hirer. It works more often that you may think.

  • Temping. Even if your assignment is just a one-day clerical assignment, make the most of that one day and you may find yourself with a job. Tell people at the water cooler you're looking. Look at internal job postings. Impress your boss with your intelligence, energy, and good cheer. Offer to do more and higher-level things than you were hired for. Tell her you're looking for a permanent job.
  • Substantive volunteer positions. Volunteering to serve on the board of a small non-profit can be a great career move. Door-to-door fundraising less so.
  • Make 'em an offer they can't refuse. Target a dream employer. Learn about how you can help them. Then, if no job is forthcoming, offer to work for a few days or a week at no risk. At the end of the week, they can pay you whatever they want, including nothing. Even if you get zilch, and they don't go on to hire you, you can legitimately say you did a project for a respected employer.

Have someone sell you

One of the best ways to get a job is to have a respected third party call a headhunter or hirer on your behalf: "I've just heard that (insert your name) may be open to the possibility of leaving (insert your employer). He's terrific. You should get your hands on him while you can."

Walking in.

If someone phoned you asking if you wanted to adopt a baby, chances are you'd say "No." But if that same baby was dropped on your doorstep, you'd probably give it quite a bit of attention, and at least see if you could help get it adopted. The same holds true with walking in to an employer. Turning down a phone call is easy, but turning down a flesh-and-blood human being is much harder. So, if you have the guts, walk in, explain that this is a dream employer and you'd love to talk with someone who might be able to help you figure out how you could get hired.

You may want to try one of the above job-search methods first, and if it doesn't work, come back and read the rest of this part of the book.

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