The Value of Second Effort

We’ve all heard the saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

Have you heard the alternate version, attributed to WC Fields? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Personally, I’d submit there’s a third version needed for the job hunting process:

“If at first you first don’t succeed…or hear back on your resume submissions…or get the runaround from a recruiter…or have an interviewer suddenly ‘go dark’ on you…or have a friend fail to follow through on a promise…etc, etc…try again.”

What I’m driving at here is the reality that in the job hunting process today, many — perhaps even most — of your initial communication attempts are going to, quite frankly, disappear into the void.  Expect this.  Anticipate it.  Recognize the fact that the business world today is a chaotic, depersonalized place and that a healthy percentage of your efforts to reach out to somebody (especially without a personal referral) are going to be initially rebuffed.  You’ll hear crickets chirping and all that.

So while you, yourself, might pride yourself on responsiveness and follow-through, this standard isn’t nearly as common as it used to be.  Many of the folks you’ll be targeting in your efforts will turn out to be pretty flaky (see my article here) in terms of how they handle various communications.  They either don’t care about getting back to everybody who contacts them or in many cases, may simply not have the time.  So don’t take this phenomenon personally.  Nearly everybody I talk with reports it.  And it’s a phenomenon that’s not likely going away any time soon given the vast array of new communications channels (e.g. e-mail, social media) individuals and employers have to contend with.

And yet, there’s a trick to working around this problem that I’ve found works surprisingly well.  If your first effort to communicate with somebody hits a brick wall, here’s what I’d receommend.  Try contacting the person a second time.

Yep, it’s really that simple.

I know you think I’m crazy, but I’ve routinely seen people create outstanding developments for themselves through repeated follow-up, accepting that their first attempt to contact somebody will more than likely falter.  Here’s why:

•  E-mail notes can be accidentally deleted or routed into a person’s junk mail folder
•  Voicemail messages can be garbled or again, deleted inadvertently
•  The recipient might have misplaced your name, phone number, or contact info
•  The recipient might have been swamped the first time around, but has time free now
•  The recipient might have been waiting on some needed information to arrive
•  The recipient might have been distracted the first time around
•  The recipient might have been indisposed (e.g. vacation) and is just now catching up
•  Circumstances might have changed (e.g. another top candidate fell through)
•  The recipient might be testing a person to see if they’re really serious

And then, there’s the explanation that I truly think accounts for most of the “lack of responsiveness” out there…

• The person you’re trying to reach is frantically prioritizing all the stuff on their plate, doesn’t quite get around to contacting you the first time around, but realizes how serious you are the second time around — or feels associated guilt pangs — and calls you back

An example of these principles in action?  I have a client who recently reached out with a “connection” request (and personalized note of introduction) to about 100 relevant recruiters around the country via LinkedIn.  About 2/3 of them automatically accepted the connection request, but very few wrote him back with any direct thoughts, leads, or suggestions of the kind he’d requested.  About a week later, however, we sent a second note to all of these same recruiters, following up and stating, yet again, what his background was and the type of help he was seeking.  This time around, over half of all the recruiters responded, some offering very useful advice and introductions.

Had we not made the second effort, in other words, the initial outreach effort would have been a total bust.  It took a second polite “ping” to really stand out and make it clear what my client wanted — restating his credentials and mentioning some quick, specific things he was hoping to get some assistance around.

Given this recent example, and many others I could share from over the years, I’d urge professionals to think in terms of “multiple contact attempts” when going about the job search process today.  Assume you’ll need to reach out to certain people and organizations at least twice to give yourselves reasonable odds of success.  While it’s easy to take an initial lack of response personally, it’s counterproductive to stop your efforts at a single attempt.  Let your competitors be the ones who give up, while you go the extra mile…

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3 Responses to “The Value of Second Effort”

  1. Great advice – and those of us who do follow-ups – we have already set ourselves apart!

  2. I think you are on to something Matt! (Seriously). Having been on both sides of this predicament, I think your advice is perfect. I know I frequently get e-mails from people I know I need to reach back to and then other priorities, emergencies or just plain clutter “bury” the original e-mail. If I get a nudge days or even a week later, I will jump on it and am happy for the pleasant (and non-judgmental) reminder. Great blog – good advice.

  3. Great post!

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