How to Gain Control Of Your Job Search

Only 25% of all positions are found through published and defined markets, such as employment ads, placement agencies and recruiting firms. Unfortunately, job seekers favor these markets even though they face less competition for the remaining 75% of jobs found through networking and direct unsolicited contact with employers.

Here’s how I used direct contact to outsmart the pack for an advertised opening:

We’d just relocated to a new city, and I was looking for a position as a credit manager. I was reading the business section of the Sunday newspaper when I found a job announcement that was such a perfect match it seemed as though the ad was written just for me. I prepared a resume and wrote and sent a cover letter that was tailored to match the job requirements. I told my husband that if I didn’t get an interview for this job, I’d never find a job.

A few days later, I received a rejection letter stating the incumbent had decided not to resign after all. I was disappointed, but since I knew exactly the type of position I wanted, I decided to research potential organizations and apply to them directly. The local library had wonderful resources and after establishing my criteria, I located 15 prospective employers, their addresses and the names of their senior officers.

Back home, I modified that first cover letter and prepared customized mailings. The company that sent the rejection letter was on my list. It was one of the largest in the area, and I thought I should write to it again in case another division had a similar opening.

The second letter to that same company generated a positive response, and I was invited to an interview. Two days later, I met with four different managers over a four-hour period. By the end of the day, I knew the job they were considering me for was the one for which I’d previously been rejected.

I was offered and accepted the position. On my first day of work, I learned that my hunch was right; the incumbent initially had rescinded his resignation. However, my first letter and resume never made it past personnel, and when he changed his mind again, my correspondence remained in the rejection file.

But I bypassed personnel with my second letter, which I had mailed to the highest-level senior manager overseeing the division. He wrote in the margin, “Call her, she looks good,” and sent it to the hiring manager. The hiring manager then contacted me for the interview.

Taking Charge

That was 24 years ago. I’ve since become a job-search consultant. Through my experience and others I’ve coached, I’ve learned that a self-directed approach puts you in charge of your search. Instead of waiting for the telephone to ring, you select and contact potential employers based on your established criteria. Here’s how to do it:

  • Identify the type of organization you’d like to work for and its desired characteristics: Is it bureaucratic or a start-up? In the public or private sector? A nonprofit or academic? In the retail, pharmaceutical, banking, construction or other industry? Located in a city or the suburbs?
  • Read business and local periodicals to locate declining and growing industries and learn about organizational changes, mergers, acquisitions, recent moves and new contract awards.
  • Generate a list of employment possibilities. It should include the name, address and telephone number of the organization and the names and titles of senior staff members and, if possible, their e-mail addresses.
  • Conduct research to learn the appropriate hiring manager to contact in those companies. Use Web sites and other Internet resources, talk with networking contacts or call the organization directly.
  • Create an enticing letter of not more than four to five paragraphs that will pique interest in your unique qualifications. Since employers get lots of unsolicited mail, prepare a catchy opening paragraph that grabs attention. Follow this with a summary of your experience and accomplishments, clearly demonstrating what you have to offer by way of credentials, skills and successes. Make sure your most recent experience parallels the job requirements of the position you seek.
  • Close your letter on a positive note, clearly indicating your interest in meeting company representatives and your intent to follow up to schedule an interview. Make your letter more personal by repeating the contact’s name in the closing paragraph.
  • Mail your letters in a group and send one to yourself. When you receive your letter, wait five days to make your follow-up calls.
  • Telephone each contact to follow up on your correspondence and set up an interview. If the contact isn’t interested, ask if there’s anyone else he or she thinks you might contact. This will build your network and search momentum.

Job-search success hinges not on luck but on persistence and timing. Your letter may arrive just as someone tenders a resignation or receives approval to hire.

By Robbie Miller Kaplan

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