Job Hunting: The Screenplay

Scene:  It’s a drizzly Thursday afternoon in a picturesque, mid-sized metropolitan U.S. city, and somewhere within the cozy confines of a professional-but-not-too-plush office, a career counselor and his client sit down together for an overdue chat…

Client: “Coach, I don’t know what to do.  I’ve been searching for work for months now, am barely getting any interviews, and am thinking I’ve got no choice but to change careers…or try my luck relocating to a new city…or invest in this flashy new ‘career marketing’ service I came across that costs thousands of dollars, but sounds pretty promising…”

Coach: “Well, it’s understandable you’d  be thinking these things.  The market’s still pretty tight out there, for sure, and tons of talented professionals are having a tough go of it.  But before you do anything drastic, can you fill me in a bit on what you’ve been doing these past few months to market yourself and find work?”

Client: “Sure.  I pretty much send out 3-4 resumes a week, to meet my unemployment requirements, and then I might also bump into a few friends and see if they’ve heard of anything.  Oh yeah, and I went to a job fair last week, too.  It was pretty lame and it seemed like there were hundreds of people standing around, waiting to talk to a small handful of nervous-looking recruiters…”

Coach: “Yeah, I don’t really recommend the job fair route very often.  But is that pretty much it?  Is that the extent of what you’ve been doing to sell yourself out there?”

Client: “Yep, that pretty much covers it, I think.  Aside from spending a day or two tinkering with my resume again, since I just had this one recruiter tell me that these documents really should be limited to one page these days for best results.  This seemed kind of funny, though, because the LAST expert I talked to told me that one page wasn’t nearly long enough to sell myself effectively…”

Coach: “Is it this resume here you brought in?  (scans it)  Looks good to me.  All the facts of your background appear to be clearly spelled out, looks like you’ve got most of the right keywords in there, and I don’t see any typos.  But then again, the version you showed me months ago looked just fine, too.  I don’t think that’s your problem.  Do you remember what we talked about when we first met a while back?  About the fact that job hunting today is largely a ‘numbers game’ and that serious professionals need to make at least 5 outbound contacts a day to relevant contacts, or companies, in order to be successful?”

Client: “Yeah, I remember you saying something along those lines, but I don’t think that really applies in my case.  I’ve been combing the job boards religiously, every day, and there aren’t even close to five job leads a day being posted in my field.”

Coach: “I didn’t say you needed to apply to five job leads.  I said you needed to make at least five contacts a day to relevant people and organizations who work in your field — or who work in some capacity related to your target industries.”

Client: “Where I would look for that kind of stuff?  The yellow pages?  The library?  And honestly, I don’t know where I’d even start, since I’m open to pretty much anything at this point and don’t really want to limit myself in any way.  I’m not a biochemist or a court reporter, after all.  My management skills should be pretty transferable.”

Coach: “C’mon, you’re smarter than that.  Aren’t you on LinkedIn?  And didn’t we talk about some of the amazing free websites out there like Zoominfo, Dun & Bradstreet, and Google Maps that make finding that kind of data a snap these days?  And even if your skills are pretty transferable, don’t you have at least SOME preference in terms of the companies and industries that would interest you most?  Or at the very least, wouldn’t you prefer a short commute to a longer one?  Why not start with some relevant firms close to your home?”

Client: “Well, I guess so.  But honestly, I did check out a few company websites a few weeks ago that kind of interested me, but not a single one of them was advertising a job in my field right now.”

Coach: “So?”

Client: “What do you mean ‘so’?”

Coach: “I mean so what?  Is the only way you’ve ever gotten hired through a published job advertisement?”

Client: “Well (thinks about it for a second) I guess not.  The last time it was actually through a friend of mine, and the time before that I hooked up with an old co-worker who passed my resume along to a guy he knew who was starting a new company.”

Coach: “And in each organization you’ve worked for to date, has every job at the company always been publicly advertised?”

Client: “Well, no, a lot of times people would just refer their friends along or colleagues they’ve worked with before.”

Coach: “Right.  And have you ever been with a company that would sometimes advertise jobs, for legal compliance reasons, but who already pretty much knew who they were going to hire?”

Client: “Yeah (laughs) that went on a lot at my last company, I must admit.  Those poor suckers we interviewed never had a chance, especially when the boss wanted us to hire his cousin or his old college buddy or something.”

Coach: “Okay, so in spite of all this evidence to the contrary, even in your own career, why do you suddenly think the only way people ever get hired is through sending out resumes to published job ads?”

Client: “Gee, when you put it that way…”

Coach: “And with most published ads these days receiving 200-300 resumes or more, within 48 hours after they’ve been posted on the web, are you really that confident your credentials are going to be in the top 5% of that stack — and make the cut?”

Client: “Well, I’m definitely no slouch.  I mean, I think I’m pretty good at what I do, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m more qualified than 300 other people…”

Coach: “And even if you did get lucky and make the cut, once in every 50 times or so, how many weeks of searching would it likely take for you to land an interview, statistically, if you’re only sending out 3-5 resumes a week?”

Client: “Hmmm.  (does rough calculation in head) I guess maybe somewhere around 10 weeks, if I’m sending five things out a week.”

Coach: “Yeah, more or less.  Although to be fair, it wouldn’t have to take ten weeks, necessarily.  You could get a hit your first week or two, but then, if the statistics bore out, it would take eight or nine more weeks to land your next shot at something.  And remember, we’re only talking about landing an interview here — not necessarily walking away with an offer.”

Client: “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  Wow.  Nice pep talk, coach.  Now I’m really depressed.  What am I paying you for, again?”

Coach: “Ha ha — sorry, didn’t mean to depress you.  Just give you a reality check and help you find a way to beat the odds by going well beyond the bare minimum of ineffective stuff most job hunters are doing out there.  If finding work truly is your highest priority, and you really don’t want to relocate or get scammed by some outfit for a few thousand bucks, why don’t you get just make a pact with yourself to get your butt in gear — and actually start creating some opportunities for yourself, versus just mindlessly chasing leads like an automaton?”

Client: “You mean by just reaching out to a lot more people and companies in my field, and letting them know I’m available, even if I don’t necessarily know they have a need when I contact them?”

Coach: “Yep, that’s exactly what I mean.”

Client: “It’s that simple?”

Coach: “Yeah, it really is.  I’m not saying it’s fun, comfortable, or easy; but yes, the process really is that simple.”

Client: “How can you be so sure?”

Coach: “Well, for starters, I see this approach work almost every day with those people brave or enlightened enough to try it.  And secondly, all you have to do is watch people who do sales for a living.  Do you know anybody in the sales field?”

Client: “My son does retail sales down at Office Depot.”

Coach: “That doesn’t really count, since honestly, that’s more along the lines of order-taking and customer service for products that cost a couple of hundred bucks, at most.  I’m talking about capital equipment sales.  People who sell things like software, office machines, or consulting services that cost 80-100 thousand bucks a pop, similar to the salary you’re seeking.”

Client: “Actually, yes.  My neighbor sells high-end copiers and document processing equipment to companies.  Some of those orders definitely are in the six-figure range.”

Coach: “Perfect.  And does he just sit around all day waiting for the phone to ring?  Hoping somebody will call to place an order?”

Client: “No way.  This guy’s a machine.  He’s out on the road all day banging on doors, going to industry events, following up with former customers, that type of thing.  Oh yeah.  And he brags that he always makes 20 cold calls each morning before 10am.”

Coach: “Exactly.  Study him.  Follow him around.  He’s your new role model.  Every day he’s doing the stuff that hopefully, you only have to do every few years, if you’re lucky, during those times when you might find yourself between jobs.  And sorry to beat a dead horse here, but when he calls on all of these companies and goes to all these events, does he know in advance they want to buy a big order from him?”

Client: “Of course not.  He just calls the companies big enough to need the type of equipment he offers — and hopes that he catches them at a point where they’re looking to upgrade, or renegotiating their service contract, or just had a big meltdown with their equipment and their CEO is on the warpath, telling them they’d better fix the problem or heads will roll.  Once he finds the opening, he rides in to the rescue.”

Coach: “Yeah, that’s how it works.  It’s called sales and marketing.  And most job hunters may THINK they’re out selling themselves, but they really aren’t.  They’re just chasing leads, messing around with their collateral materials to make themselves feel busy, and hoping the chance comes up to do some order-taking before their savings gets wiped out.  They’re not being proactive.  They’re not trusting their own career experience to date, which reveals that most jobs never get advertised.  And they’re not embracing the statistical probability that if they just talk to enough relevant people, and relevant companies, they’re going to eventually stumble across a hidden need that hasn’t been published yet.  And then they’ll be in the driver’s seat.”

Client: “Wow.  When you put it that way, you’re right, I guess I’m barely scratching the surface of what I could be doing to find a new position.  And I probably should make more of an effort to sell myself before I pack up the whole family and move elsewhere, which we really don’t want to do, or before I abandon a line of work I’ve been in for years, enjoy quite a bit, and actually am pretty darn good at — if I do say so myself.  With all the people out of work these days, coach, why aren’t more people figuring this stuff out, do you think?”

Coach: “Beats me!”


One Response to “Job Hunting: The Screenplay”

  1. Andrew McAllister November 12, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Great advice it sounds exactly like me, down to a tee in fact. It makes perfect sense, everyone does this in some way or another everyday when they were working, whether it was pitching something to the boss or selling something to a customer we were always selling ourselves, so it is mind boggling how when we lose a job or decide to change the line of work we are in, we just sit back and wait for something to come to us.
    It is time to take the bull by the horns, or in this case the phone of the cradle, and get calling.
    Thanks for the blog Matt


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