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Break the ice blocking your job search

You’ve updated your resume, practiced your interviewing skills, and have a solid job search strategy. However, you’re getting little response to your applications. The few responses you’ve had are from recruiters trying to filter you out via a tech screen. If you’re lucky enough to interview, you end up disliking them, or they dislike you, or both. You followed all the standard advice and submitted your resume on the most relevant job sites, so what’s gone wrong?

Here’s what’s wrong: You’re an experienced professional using an entry-level job strategy. Applying via job sites is for entry-level candidates without contacts. Yes, you can get a mid-level or high-level job through a job site, but the odds are bleak (particularly at well-known companies). You’d be competing against applicants who’ve already engaged the hiring manager, and that hiring manager is already leaning toward one of those candidates. Experienced professionals use their network and relationships to get jobs.

You probably understand that people get jobs through networking, and you’ve probably contacted a few friends for referrals. However, those didn’t pan out, so you applied online. Wrong. You can’t rely on your network to do your job search for you (they’re busy). Instead, you must contact hiring managers directly at your target employers, using people in your network as references. Since your resume and interview skills are up to date, the only thing holding you back is your reluctance to cold contact hiring managers. Let’s break that ice together.

Eric Aside

For writing a great resume, read Supercharged resume attached.

It’s who you know

First, you must expand your network. You may not think you’ve got a big network, but you do. You just haven’t recognized everyone in it (and connected with them on LinkedIn). People often think their professional network is restricted to folks in their industry who can vouch for their expertise. That may be ideal, but the only practical criteria for someone to be in your network is that they know you and think you’re a decent human being. That’s it. Hiring managers typically don’t trust other people’s opinion on abilities, they only need references to confirm you aren’t toxic.

Connect on LinkedIn with anyone from previous jobs whom you didn’t infuriate, including jobs at fast food joints, retail stores, or camps. If you’re friendly with family members, including extended family, connect with them. If you’ve stayed in touch with school friends, professors, IT folks, or janitors, connect with them. If you’ve made friends through hobbies or special interests, connect with them, including bandmates, cosplayers, and rec league teammates. Connect on LinkedIn with anyone who knows you and thinks you’re a good person. For your Connect message, say, “Hi <first name>, I hope you’re doing well. I’m expanding my network with good people who know me. Thanks for connecting, <your first name>” Do it today.

Eric Aside

For more on professional networking, read Get yourself connected.

If you’re in the principal band or above, you can also use a headhunter to connect you with employers seeking high-level candidates. Headhunters are paid by the employers, so choose those associated with employers you are interested in.

Look it up

Once you’ve connected with plenty of folks on LinkedIn, you’ll want to message prospective hiring managers at employers who interest you. To find those employers, write down a list of your minimum requirements and personal passions. Minimum requirements might include remote work or a particular location, management who cares and shares your values, and being mission driven. Personal passions might include music, hiking, sports, theater, fashion, gaming, family, military, sustainable climate, social justice, healthcare, hobbies, or open source.

LinkedIn and other job sites, along with, Blind, and Glassdoor, can help determine which employers meet your minimum requirements. Internet searches can help find employers who match your passions. Between these two approaches, you can narrow down your list of employers to 5–25 favorites.

Determining employers who meet your minimum requirements is obvious, but why only focus on employers who match your passions? Because you’ll work harder for them (you’ll love it), which makes you more valuable and more likely to succeed. In addition, as a candidate, you’ll stand out as a perfect match that will probably accept a reasonable offer and stay a while. That’s an enormous advantage, as we’ll soon see.

Okay, you’ve got your 5–25 favorite employers. Now, launch LinkedIn and search for each employer. Naturally, you’ll check the Job search to see what’s available and a description of the roles, but we’re going to focus on the People search (even if there are no job postings). Select People, set the Connections filter to 1st and 2nd, and set the Current company filter to the employer you’re interested in. LinkedIn will show you a list of people working there who know you or someone you know. (LinkedIn lists the connections under each search result.) Now you can message people at your favorite employers directly once we get you over your unwillingness to cold contact them.

Eric Aside

To prepare for interviews and understand the importance of showing your passions, read The interview.

Do me a favor

It is so awkward to cold contact someone you don’t know. What if your note just ends up in junk mail? What if you come off as annoying or desperate? Why would they want to engage with you anyway? Great questions.

Here’s a secret: Hiring managers desperately want to hear from you because they hate dealing with hiring. Ask any hiring manager, and they’ll confirm this is true. That’s because there is no “hiring manager” job title. Hiring isn’t a full-time role; instead, it’s a ton of extra work. That’s why hiring managers take so long to get back to you and seem so disorganized. It’s not their regular job. As important as it is to you, it’s just an exhausting extra burden to them.

So, do hiring managers a favor and introduce yourself. Be brief. Show your specific interest in them (no generic spam). And solve their hiring issue without them exerting any additional effort. They will love you for it.

Eric Aside

For more on writing for your audience, read Writing for readers.

Allow me to introduce myself

Hiring managers are incredibly busy, so make sure your introduction is a quick and amazing gift. “Hi <hiring manager first name>, I know you through <mutual acquaintance>. I’m a <desired role> who loves <related personal passion> and wants to work at <employer>. Can we talk this week?” If you send it as a free Connect message, LinkedIn will associate it with your profile, so you don’t need to add a signature or resume.

That introduction is short and sweet (fits under the 200-character Connect message limit). It’s personal, provides a reference, states your qualifications (automatically linking to your LinkedIn profile), shows your passion, indicates you’d probably accept a decent offer (unburdening the hiring manager), and provides an expected timeframe (which drives action). If you can access the person’s email, send the same message with your resume attached and a link to your LinkedIn profile under your signature.

If your connections at a favorite employer aren’t hiring managers, send the same message (it’s not specific to hiring managers, but be sure to update the name and mutual acquaintance). Send it to as many as five people there. They’ll forward it around. If a hiring manager gets multiple referrals to you, that’s a great thing. If you have no connections at a favorite employer, skip it or Connect with more folks.

Keep notes or a spreadsheet of who you’ve contacted at which employers. Write back to each one every couple of weeks until you get a reply. That’s a long enough interval to seem interested without seeming desperate.

Notice that none of these actions requires your favorite employers to have job postings. The number of unfilled jobs is always far larger than the number of posted positions. Several of your 5–25 favorite employers will open job postings soon, and you’ll be the preferred candidate first in line. Oh yeah.

Eric Aside

Why are there more unfilled jobs than posted positions? Because job postings are typically required to have budgeted positions associated with them. That way, filling all the open positions doesn’t bankrupt the employer. Since job descriptions must be fairly specific, employers can’t afford to list every unfilled role. Instead, only the most pressing needs get a job posting. However, hiring managers are busy with regular work, leaving positions open for extended periods. Those positions can (and will) be yanked back if there’s a great candidate ready to fill a different role.

Break through

Networking and personal relationships are how experienced professionals get jobs. Applying online and interviewing are important logistical steps after the hiring manager already likes you. You first need to build your network and get over your trepidation to cold contact hiring managers.

Connect on LinkedIn with everyone you’ve ever met who knows you and would say you’re a decent person, regardless of their understanding of what you do. Then list your minimum job requirements and your personal passions (all of them), and use that list to search the internet and find 5–25 favorite employers who meet your requirements and share one or more of your passions. Use LinkedIn’s People search to find folks who work at your favorite employers who know someone you know. Introduce yourself with a free, short LinkedIn Connect message that provides a reference and shows you’re a great fit willing to accept a reasonable offer, thereby unburdening the hiring manager (who will so appreciate it). Follow up every couple of weeks as needed, and you’ll be first in line for their next open position.

Life is hard. Do hiring managers a favor by finding them and being the perfect match for a role they need filled. Saving them time and effort will make their month and get you a job you love.

Eric Aside

Special thanks to James Waletzky and Jason Zions for reviewing the first draft of this month’s column.

Want personalized coaching on this topic or any other challenge? Schedule a free, confidential call. I provide one-on-one career coaching with an emphasis on underrepresented, midcareer software professionals. Find out more at Ally for Onlys in Tech.

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