With thousands of Americans vying for every job opening, it's hard to get noticed, let alone land an interview. Gordon Curtis -- an executive transition coach and author of Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships -- says that if you approach the right person the right way, you'll increase your odds of getting in the door. Here are his four tips:
Fine-tune your search
Sending out resumes to job listings and building up your network at websites like LinkedIn and Plaxo can be helpful. However, increase your chances of success even more by being more focused with your search. Break down your main objective into micro objectives. This in turn can help you form a plan of attack.
For example, you want to work for a start-up. Well, what does that mean? Dig a little deeper and maybe you'll realize your ambition is to work for one that is in between seed and B-round funding. You may also only be interested in a specific sector and geographical location like the East Coast.
"The hardest part is not to succumb to a false sense of security from spreading yourself too thinly – that the more resumes you send out, the better your chances," warned Curtis. "These days, especially in this economy, it's important to differentiate yourself, especially in the referral, in order to get penetration."
That means coming up with about 10 companies to pursue. Look at everyone associated with each company and think six degrees of separation. How are you connected with this person? Who do you know who can introduce you to the person who can help you get a meeting with the "decision maker," the person with the power to hire?
Connections are key
Once you've identified that critical enabler, the person who can help you convince the decision maker to hire you, reduce the level of your request and simply ask if you can use her name, recommended Curtis. "No one can sell you like you. All they will do is send the resume to the decision maker and say, 'Here's someone I happen to know.' You're then subject to the exclusionary process of elimination that screeners are forced to take. By simply asking for the ability to use their name, you have the ticket to getting the door open."
Not only do you reduce the critical enabler's burden and wariness of giving a referral, you can more easily ask information that can help you better sell your skills and experience.
Insider information isn't always bad
If you've identified the right critical enablers and used the right approach, you should be able to glean important information that could help you impress the decision maker. With that extra tidbit, you've wowed the decision maker, forcing him to rethink your application.
"Demonstrate interest – that is the number one reason why employers hire people," said Curtis. Other traits that employers look for that aren't clearly stated on your resume but demonstrated with that inside bit of knowledge: initiative, resourcefulness, ability to problem-solve, and uniqueness.
Reciprocity tips the scales
Relying on personal connections may not be enough to get that critical enabler to help you. Even reducing the burden of the recommendation may not tip the scales. To further ensure that you get the help you need, make the referral request as much about how you can help the critical enabler as it is about how he can help you. Curtis calls it "progressive reciprocity."
"The reciprocal gesture all too often comes across as an obligatory afterthought," he explained. "There is not a level of genuineness. They may be obligated but there may be a little amount of information that they are withholding because they are not motivated. But shifting the message to 'I know you can help me but I feel uncomfortable asking for help unless I make a sincere attempt to help you,' is really differentiating and refreshing to people who get hit up all the time. Those who get hit on all the time have to have a high bar."
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