Friday, March 6, 2009

I hear you knocking, but I'm pretty comfortable right now. So, come back later.

I am amazed at the speed with which the employment world has adapted to the digital world. Likewise, I am amused at the number of job candidates who are using tactics that are hold-overs from the pre-digital universe. Anyone following the job search etiquette of 1998 will be roller skating in a buffalo herd. Heck, for that matter, anyone following the job search etiquette of 2004 will be noticeably out of sync as well. Why do I bring this up? Well, this morning one of my "digital friends" sent me a Email or a TXT, hmm... maybe it was an IM. I don't remember, but he contacted me the way many 21st Century job seekers do with the following query.
So, I'm sending out resumes...What next? In the business world, it's not like I'd just send out a proposal when I see some company has an RFP out there, and just never follow up. I'd network, cold call before the RFP, talk to those who are reviewing competitors, get to know as much about what the person is looking for beyond the minimums, etc.

What's the etiquette for direct contact? And when you think about it, it's almost like HR departments are set up as buffers to keep you from doing that. I mean there's a reason that HR depts actually have telephones that accept inbound phone calls right?

I understand pro-activity is always best, but what level of pro-activity are we talking about here? When does pro-activity become obnoxious? When does aggressive become creepy?
Taking the questions one at a time, today's entry will be: How to harass, harangue, and harry hiring managers without crossing over into the "Stalker Zone."

I tried to call, but I kept getting a busy signal.
I really wish there was a science to follow up, but there just isn't. I will share what I usually tell students, but it is based on a very unscientific method, which is most of the people that I know that have used it have gotten jobs. Bear in mind, this does not account for their qualifications or the hiring manager's need. So, maybe they would have gotten the job without follow up. Anyway, here are the guidelines.
  • Follow instructions. If the job announcement says, "Position open until 8/12/09" do not call on 08/05/09 or 08/06/09 or 08/07/09. My general rule of thumb is to allow about two weeks before inquiring and with the slow economy, three weeks is not outrageous. If you contact someone and they say that the manager or committee will be looking at applications in about two weeks, don't call in about three days. Be patient. Take up crossword puzzles or XBox or something.

  • Create wiggle room. Contact as directly as you can, but leave folks space to hem and haw. My friend's supposition about HR people being a buffer is correct, so you don't really have to give them room. Don't get cheeky with them but you can be fairly pushy about when interviews are happening and stuff. With hiring managers you should really allow them the courtesy to ignore you. Back in the day, before email and text messages, if I were curious about a recruitment and I knew the manager's phone number, I would call after hours. This way I could be pretty certain that they would not be there and leave a voice mail that was less intrusive, giving them more control over a delicate situation. Email now replaces that late night call. A simple email inquiry that says something like: "Hello. I was curious about the timeline for your recruitment process. I am planning a trip out of town and wanted to be available should you need to speak with me during the next couple of weeks."

  • Frequency. This is a more difficult one. It is the Stalker/Active Job Seeker dichotomy and while an exact answer if hard to craft, I can tell you that daily is too much. Weekly is probably too much. I was speaking with a student about this the other day and what I told her was that it is possible to follow-up too little and it is possible to follow-up too much. When in doubt err on the side of too much follow-up.

  • Read the tea leaves. I realize that there are those of you out there that have difficulty with the nuances of human behavior. I think that a two minute rule will help you out here. If you do somehow manage to talk to a hiring manager directly, you really do not want to take more than two minutes of their time. I know that two minutes does not seem to be a long time, but try holding your breath for two minutes... it can be an eternity. Get in. Make your pitch. Get out. Accept the answer that they give you and thank them.

  • Let them control their schedule. I have hired a couple hundred people over the years, so I have read a couple thousand cover letters and emails. One thing that turns me off completely is this paragraph at the end of a communique. "I appreciate your looking at my resume and qualifications. I will be calling you in next few days to discuss this further." I generally say to myself. "You might be calling, but I won't be answering." Much more appropriate is: "I appreciate your looking at my resume and qualifications. I hope you will find them of enough interest to contact me to discuss this further." I am not a very busy or important person, but I like to maintain the illusion that I am.
I know you are in there. I can see you moving around.
Here's the deal. If the fulcrum to your job search teeter-totter is the realization that the economy stinks, it will be hard for you to sally forth everyday. Remember that it's hard for everybody, and the fact that a prospective employer is not calling you probably has less to do with you than it does the stinking economy thing. Anytime you don't hear from an application, it is depressing. It is more depressing when somebody says, "We'll call you one way or the other in about a week," and you haven't heard from them in four weeks. The catch 22 is that an active job search is most likely to help you score a job, but an active job search will clearly expose you to more disappointments and disappointment tends to make you less inclined to search actively.

At some level, you have to hit the "Start Over" button everyday. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, do it on the weekends... seriously. You're more likely to find answers during the week than on a weekend. Find ways to continue to pursue jobs and opportunities without feeling like you have been reduced to begging for a chance.

Dignity is pretty hard to come by when times are good... it really stands out when times are bad.

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