Almost every week, I lead workshops for laid-off professionals. Their new job is to get a job, and I give them two performance benchmarks for success: These job seekers should be having five to six job-search related conversations every day and speaking to two or three hiring managers every week.
Job seekers generally understand the importance of that first task, but the second causes eyes to roll. "Sure, I'm going to have two to three interviews a week, in this economy. Right!"
That's when I correct their interpretation. "‘Did I say "interviews"? No. I said, "Speak to two or three hiring managers every week." That simply means have a conversation with them.'"
How can you get the attention of hiring managers who may be able to help you later? Offer them something of value, without demonstrating blatant expectations for a job. To get more participation and better results from hiring managers, become an "information broker." Instead of coming to them with your need for a job, approach them for an exchange of information - preferably, based on information that you can give them.
Someone fixated on approaching a job search through the front door can't understand this approach. "Why would a hiring manager speak to me unless it's an interview?" If the only reason you're speaking to the hiring manager is because you need a job, I agree: It won't happen. But if you can find creative reasons to speak with hiring managers - or anyone, for that matter - for reasons other than your need for a job, you can and will have many conversations that will advance that goal.
Nowadays, one surefire way to ensure that you won't have those productive conversations is to wear the fact that you need a job on your shirt sleeve. Crying about your employment situation is depressing, and it will drive away people who could help - not because they're uninterested but because they definitely don't want to come up short if they can't help you. It's easier just to avoid engaging with you.
Here are some key points for positive information brokerage:
1) You can never have too much information. Have you ever had a job you wished you'd understood better in advance? Odds are you have. But in your rush to get the job, you skipped some homework on the way. Let's change that. Beginning today, seek information from folks about the direction your job search is headed; perhaps that means asking questions about an industry, a trend, a new field you're exploring or some other information that can help you become a better-educated candidate. Not only will you be able to give the people you approach the satisfaction of demonstrating their expertise, but you'll gain the tools to make better decisions about your next job.
2) You don't need to tell people you need a job. People aren't stupid. If you come up with good enough "research projects" that touch on your areas of interest and simply start conversing with people on those areas, they'll know that you're interested in pursuing opportunities in that direction. If you build and nurture those relationships over time, they will think of you when they hear about opportunities that might interest you. By seeking information - and treating the person you approach like the only person on the face of the planet that can give it to you - you will cultivate a bigger circle of influence than you will wearing a sandwich board saying, "Out of Work!"
3) Knowledge and information are power. Hiring managers rarely have time to follow everything going on at the cutting edge of their industries; after all, they're busy with their daily tasks. You, on the other hand, have plenty of time to research trends and industry news, and you can parlay that research into information that makes you a valuable information broker, connector and conversation partner. If people in your professional network - especially hiring managers - can benefit from talking to you, they will. Increase frequency, and you've got yourself on the radar.
What does an information broker look like?
In his book "What Color is Your Parachute," author Richard Bolles shows the concept of the information broker in action. He tells the story of a gentleman who wanted to get into the petrochemical industry - a field he knew nothing about but was fascinated by. So, he set up meetings with companies in the business and used the informational interviews to conduct research on the industry.
His initial meetings simply allowed him to learn the terms, issues and workings of the field. As he progresses, he exited each interview with a better understanding of the business. Before long he was able to hold meaningful discussions about the industry. During his fifth such interview, his hosts asked if he would like to view a video they had just compiled about the state of the industry and gave him a copy to take home.
On his sixth and subsequent meetings with various petrochemical companies, the gentleman would bring the video with him and used it to launch a discussion of his research. By then, he was collecting and sharing information about an industry that he had known nothing about just a few weeks earlier. He'd become a thought leader, an information broker and, thus, someone worth hiring without ever asking.