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Contacts in your personal network may be your most valuable asset in your job search. These are people who either are hiring, know people who are or who can give you valuable information about a career or specific job you are interested in.

So ideally you actually have people in your network - acquaintances such as former colleagues, customers, friends, golf buddies etc that you think would remember you if you call them up or email them. IF you don’t have such a network, don’t despair – I will write a post another day covering how to build a network.

Now how do you leverage that network in your job search?

You want to plan how to use the network – you cannot go back to the well endlessly so you need to get your approach right and then tap into them quickly.

Spell our your objectives

So what do you want to get out of the network? Spell out what your goals are, examples include

  • Learn more about a specific company, job, career etc.
  • Get specific data points you need in your decision making process, e.g. typical salaries etc.
  • Get specific leads for job openings, companies that might be hiring etc
  • Extend your network by asking for introductions to other relevant people

By having a firm understanding of what you want to get out of the exercise you will improve efficiency and avoid burning too much good faith in the process.

Map out who can best help you fill each objective

So now that you know what you want, you should map out your network – I suggest actually making a list on a piece of paper – and determine who can help you with which objective. If someone can’t help you, they should fall off the list for the time being.

Determine what format is appropriate to interact with a specific individual

Depending on what you are going to ask of them, how well you know them, where they are located and when you last spoke to them you will want to interact with each individual differently. Touchy, sensitive discussions are best done in person, or at least by phone, whereas quick cursory requests can be done by email etc. Also, if you haven’t talked to them in a long time, going in person is often better than just firing off a quick email. If it is really important it might be worthwhile to travel to see the person if they are further away. So if you want to see them in person, you need to chose the right format – invite them for lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks or just ask for a meeting? I usually found inviting people for a quick lunch the most effective – everyone needs to eat so they have time reserved for that anyway and people rarely turn down free lunch. Drinks might be more appropriate if you are friends with person or you know them socially.

Pre-groom the network

Next, you may need to prime the charge. If you are like me, and don’t take the time to keep up with everyone in your network and want to talk to someone you have neglected in the past, you may need to prepare them. In those cases, I might find an innocent reason to say hi a couple of weeks or months before I need to reach to them, e.g., by sending an email, forwarding an article, giving them a call to say hi, etc just to remind them that I am still alive and still remember them. It is important that this seems natural and not odd or hokey. If you can avoid that, then don’t do this step. But I personally feel sheepish asking for a favor (which is what you are essentially doing by leveraging the network) without having talked to the person in eons, so this technique allows me to break the ice before hitting them with the real request.

Reach out and work the network

Now when you know who to reach out to, what you want from them and how you want to engage them, you go on the offensive. Call, email or drop by the people you want to leverage and ask them outright want you want of them or ask them to schedule time for a brief call / lunch / dinner whatever you decided the best format is.

If you are scheduling time with them, you will need to tell them what this is for, for example “just catching up” or “I wanted to pick your brain about topic XYZ”.

When you actually talk to them, use the sandwich approach – spend some time on pleasantries, social gossip etc, then ask the meaty questions you have on your mind, and then after you have gotten what you needed from the conversation, switch back to small talk.

How to ask difficult questions

Sometimes you will want to ask your contact a difficult questions, for example whether they are hiring (or want to hire you), or something similarly awkward. In those situations, I find it easier to ask them indirectly.  E.g., instead of “I am looking for a job, do you want to hire me?”, I would say “I am looking for a job, would you know someone who might be interested in hiring me?”. By asking them for advice rather than a job, I still leave the window open for them to say “Hey, we are actually looking for someone now” while also allowing them to refer to someone else if they are not interested themselves.

Ask for other people talk to

Finally, at the end of the converstation you should always be asking something along the lines of:

“Thanks, this was very helpful – is there anyone else I should talk to about this? Anyone else who might be able to help me with my job search / need for information / etc?”

You should do this especially if you did not get what you wanted. Its an old sales technique – “OK, if you don’t want to buy from me, can you please give the names of a couple of people who would?”

Keep grooming the network

As you should at all times, but especially if your job search is still ongoing or recently concluded, you should keep your network well groomed: update them of your progress, have friendly conversations over time – not necessarily related to your job search – and most importantly, offer them help. In the end, you get much out of your network if you invest into it – show that you are thoughtful and helpful – and don’t chicken out even it requires effort.

Good luck!

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This is the second post in our short series on developing your hiring pitch. The first post explained what the hiring pitch is and what you need it for: a short, succinct summary of the most critical points of your candidacy that address the must-have and nice-have issues faced by the hiring manager.

How to develop the talking points in your pitch

So what should you talk about in your pitch? We think there are two things you should do here. First, you should make a long list of talking points, together with hard-hitting proof-points. Then, as we will explain in part 3you should assemble a specific pitch from the long list of talking points. This post will discuss how to develop and flesh out the long list of talking points.

Figure out what topics are most typically asked

Your pitch needs to cater to the needs of the hiring managers you want to convince, so you should start by laying out what you think they are looking for in a candidate.

Hiring managers will likely have expectations around the following topics:

  • Education & training
  • Skills & talent
  • Experience & knowledge
  • Relationships & networks

Try to establish what the hiring managers you want to cater to will specifically be looking for. Be as specific as possible and as comprehensive as possible. Some expectations can easily be gleaned from looking at job descriptions and postings, but others require common sense (if you were the hiring manager, what would you look for), and others you may only learn by talking to people currently in the field or at a specific company. Worst-case you will have to ask someone at HR or the hiring manager prior to the interview – “So what are you looking for in candidates?” Next, you should spell out all these requirements in a list. Mark those that you think that are must-haves clearly

Here is an example of a hiring manager’s needs for a tech sales opening:

  • College degree from a Top 50 school, ideally in business
  • At least 4 years of sales experience, ideally in the technology space
  • Strong sales tool-kit: winning personality, ability to handle pressure, strong interpersonal skills, excellent communication skills etc
  • Strong team skills: ability to work seamlessly in a large team, proven ability to deal with conflict, good leadership skills
  • Technical knowledge: knowledge of computer system xyz

Brainstorm your strengths

Next, for each of the hiring manager’s needs, develop your list of strengths. This is a brainstorming process that may take a while. Involve your family and friends in figuring out how you match against the needs – rack your brains to come up with examples from work, personal life, college years etc. Start a list on a piece of paper and keep adding to it until you have enough to work with. Remember to stay honest with yourself – it is OK to emphasize and call out skills, experiences and other assets that you truly have, it is not OK to invent, or grossly embellish and exaggerate. Use this test – if you would feel comfortable sharing this point with your current boss, best friend, teacher etc without being embarrassed, it is good. If you would feel embarrassed, it is not.

Try to make the list specific, e.g. not just say you have strong interpersonal skills, but that you are very easy to get along with, work well with abrasive people, are able to smooth over weird and aggressive situations with your humor and charm etc.

In the end you should have a long list of strengths that address all of the key needs / requirements of the hiring manager. Now clean it up – merge points that are too similar or repetitive, delete points that are contradictory, sort by importance and write on a clean sheet of paper.

What if you have a gap?

What if at the end of the day you come up short on one of the important hiring needs? For example, the job requires a college degree, but you left college without a degree. Then what? Well if you think this makes the whole thing a non-starter, move on. Don’t waste your time; look for a career or job that fits better with what you have to offer. However, if you think that you candidacy is so strong on many other points that you could overcome that gap, go for it. Articulate why this gap should not diminish your application and why your strengths on other points more than make up for it. Make sure to include this issue in your pitch. It is better to address such a point early on in your job application or interview rather than for the hiring manager to overlook something and then ding you when the issue is noticed – without you being able to speak to it.

Develop proof points

Next, for each of your strengths that you have brainstormed, develop one or two hard hitting proof points: little stories and anecdotes that prove out your strengths. Ideally these should be from within the last few years and if possible from a professional context, but it is fine to weave in experience from college, personal life or the more distant path, as long as the other proof points you use are more recent and applicable. Think of a very simple way of conveying the story or anecdote that quickly emphasizes your strength while offering enough detail to make it seem real and substantial enough to act as proof. Typically, I find that you should be able to tell such anecdotes in less than a minute. If the interviewer asks you for more details you should be able to talk up to 5 minutes on the story, but for your 1st pass 1 minute should be sufficient. Often building in a little humor or using more active body language is very effective.

Hone & polish

Finally, you should spell out your talking points including proof points. Write them out just the way you would speak about them, and then practice them out loud – alone or in front of your family. See what works, what needs to be refined and in particular work to make each point as short and sweet as possible – cut out as much words as you can without changing the message. In the end you should be able to talk about each strength in about 30 seconds, and have a 60 second anecdote or two to support each strength. Remember, you will not use all of these points in every interview or conversation – you will need to customize your pitch for every discussion.

This is the second post in a short series of posts on the topic of developing your hiring pitch. The next posts will cover the following topics:

  • How to customize your pitch for a specific job
  • How to deliver your pitch in interviews and elsewhere

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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One of the most critical weapons in your arsenal during your job search is a well-crafted and well-executed hiring pitch: a clear, passionate and logically convincing argument why you should be the candidate to hire.

It is like when you gaze at stars. All the stars in the sky seem random until somebody points out a clear constellation – like the big dipper – that clicks in your mind and you immediately get it. The random stars were transformed into a vivid picture by just a few words, a short explanation.

Your pitch is exactly that type of explanation that allows a recruiter or influencer to put together random points from your education, experience, personality and talents. You point out how the points fit together until they are able to paint the picture in their own mind.

However, given the very little time you have to capture the attention of a recruiter, the pitch also needs to be very concise and to the point. It needs to paint to picture with only few words and in very little time.

Inherently, many hiring managers have a check-list that they want to fulfill. That list will have must-have points and nice-to-have points. Your job in developing your pitch will be to hit all the must-have points and as many of the nice-to-have points as possible while not wasting any precious time on issues irrelevant to the hiring manager. E.g., don’t waste time bragging about your French or German language skills when the job only requires you to deal with English speakers.

Further, you will need to tailor a slightly different picture for each different job you are shooting for. Your pitches will have a lot in common, but you may need to emphasize, add or adapt specific elements. For example, lets say you are interested in a career in sales. However one job opening requires a lot of travel and another sales job requires a lot of strategic deal making. While the overall profile you will try to convey in your pitch will be quite similar you should emphasize willingness to travel for the one job and experience in negotiating complex deals in the other.

Finally, your pitch should always contain “proof points”. It is easy to claim something, but much harder to convince a listener that your claim is valid. The best way to substantiate your claim is to offer proof points. For example, “I am very strong at managing complex projects” (the claim), “for example, in my last job a managed a budget of $1M and a team of 8 people  on a project that spanned three departments, and I was able to complete the project with my team in-time and under budget” (the proof).

This is the first in a short series of posts on the topic of developing your hiring pitch. The next posts will cover the following topics:

  • How to develop the points in your pitch
  • How to customize your pitch for a specific job
  • How to deliver your pitch in interviews and elsewhere

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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applyI spend some of my time at my day job interviewing candidates. After a typical interview, I write up my notes on the candidate.  I look for many things such as analytical ability, whether they seem like the genuine article or if they are all smoke and mirrors, whether they have proven drive and commitment in the past and their communication skills.

Looking through my notes, one of my most typical issues I get excited about in a candidate is when they have great energy.

What is personal “energy”?

Energy in this sense is the ability of a person to convey that they are keen to move to action, to get things going. Someone with high energy conveys that with the use of body language, speaking skills and messaging. They are attentive, contribute to the discussion, are friendly and outgoing. They are not slow, boring, lethargic, quiet, afraid, nervous etc.

Why is energy attractive in a candidate?

High energy candidates typically convey a sense of vitality and confidence. They are self confident movers and shakers. In careers that involve a lot of personal interaction, they will typically be more effective and likable in working with their peers or clients than people with low energy. They are more likely to excel at leadership and team work.

Low energy candidates are often rejected in the interview process as they likely will struggle in such interpersonal situations.

What can I do make sure I project high energy?

Be aware of your body language – sit upright, don’t slouch, don’t cross your arms, look your interviewer in they eye – especially when you are being asked tough questions; make good but not excessive use of your hands and arms when talking.

Talk loud and clear – increase your speaking volume until you are being heard loud and clear; don’t mumble or be so soft spoken that people have to ask you to repeat yourself; make sure you annunciate carefully; if you tend to talk fast, slow down a bit, if you talk slowly, kick it up a notch

Smile, laugh and enjoy yourself – nothing conveys high, positive energy than honest cheerfulness; try to be chipper without overdoing it; keep smiling – show your teeth; all of this is much easier if you are actually having fun, so try to enjoy it, go with the flow, cherish the challenge

Get going – get enough rest the night before, drink a coffee, exercise in the morning, listen to music, do whatever it takes to get yourself going

How can I tell if it is working?

People often mirror what they see across the table – if your interviewer seems lethargic and about to fall asleep, you likely are not projecting enough energy – amp it up! If your interviewer pushes away from you and seems a bit worried, you might be overdoing it. Practice having higher energy on your spouse, friends and family. See if it works for them. If they think you seem weird, you are overdoing it – learn how to dial it in just right and then use it in your interview.

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