February 28, 2012
Job hunters: Get the word out, early and often
Who do you think is more likely to find a job faster: a great job candidate with an average network, or an average job candidate with a great network?
Based on what I've witnessed for the past 20 years, I'd bet on the average job candidate every time. If this sounds unfair or unreasonable, well, it probably is in a philosophical sense. The reality, however, is that self-promotion counts.
The job market isn't any more of a meritocracy than the consumer marketplace at large, where inferior products trounce much better products every day of the week assuming they are advertised, marketed, packaged and promoted more effectively than the competition.
So as a starting point, serious job hunters today need to get comfortable with the idea that they are now a "product" whose availability needs to be promoted, far and wide, in order to maximize the chances of an opportunity materializing. Most important, people need to spread word about their availability to everybody and anybody they can. In fact, if you want a quick and reliable way to gauge the likely success of any individual seeking work, simply ask: "So how many people are actively aware you're looking for a new job?"
This question isn't as easy to answer as it appears. The key component is the actively aware part. It takes far more than a single communication for any given individual to become a useful, ongoing advocate for you in your career quest. Just as with any successful corporate product, you have to drip, drip, drip on your customers multiple times so that your name is on the tip of their tongue when the time comes and a potential lead arises.
By way of analogy, consider GEICO Insurance. From what I was able to glean on the web, GEICO now spends over $900 million each year bombarding us all with geckos, cavemen and googly-eyed-stack-of-money advertisements. It's pretty annoying, actually.
But the results speak for themselves. GEICO is now the envy of the industry, having become one of the most recognized brands in America and captured billions of dollars of business away from the competition. In fact, one of GEICO's chief backers, Warren Buffett, said he would spend $2 billion on GEICO ads if he could, given the success of the company's high-frequency advertising strategy.
Networking works in exactly the same way. Frequency of communication is a huge factor in achieving success.
Let's say you started your job search three months ago, and at that time, you reached out to a dozen of your friends and told them to keep their eyes open for opportunities on your behalf. Was this your last communication with them?
If so, there's a good chance these people have either completely forgotten about your situation or, at the very least, gotten fuzzy on the types of positions you're seeking. Perhaps they've even assumed you've already landed somewhere, given that they haven't heard anything to the contrary.
To really get people fired up about your job search, you need to be systematic about your outreach efforts. Don't focus entirely on meeting new people; carve time out to keep communicating with the folks who are already aware of your search.
I routinely encourage my clients, for example, to touch base with each of their friends, contacts and business acquaintances roughly once each month to keep them in the loop. This doesn't necessarily mean grabbing lunch or coffee with each person. It just means finding some quick way to interact with them, even if just online or over the phone, so that they remain aware that you're looking and apprised of your target job profile.
This is a different strategy, I realize, than many people are accustomed to following. Some out-of-work professionals feel embarrassed to talk about their employment status so openly, while others fear that they're pestering people too much. Again, though, if you can fight these fears and boost your contact frequency, the time-tested laws of marketing are guaranteed to start working in your favor.
Last week I encouraged one of my clients to email everybody in her network, letting them know she was still seeking work and clarifying some areas in which she could use additional help. She hemmed. She hawed. But she finally got the guts to do it, admitting that she "stared at the send button for an hour" before she actually summoned up the courage to launch the message.
The result? She wrote me back to report, "I've had 16 replies already, as well as 3 LinkedIn invites, and it's only been 2 hours!"
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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