On the Hunt: Be Active, Not Aggressive

Light up a room without burning a bridge

If you have ever been on the interviewing side of the table, you understand the basic differences between “active” candidates and “passive” candidates.

An active job seeker is looking for a job, whether he’s out of work or ready for a change; he’s posted resumes and is seeking opportunities, even if it’s confidential. A passive candidate isn’t actively looking but would consider a good opportunity. She has a job and probably isn’t posting resumes or scanning job openings.

Active job seekers are becoming more assertive than ever in a time where unemployment is soaring over 10 percent nationwide. But too much aggressive activity can be a turnoff to hiring managers already burdened by dozens, even thousands, of resumes.

Even if you’re on an active search, it’s wise to adopt some tactics that make passive candidates appealing to employers – and to make sure your activity doesn’t cross the line into aggression.

Consider the predicament of “Jeremy,” a very active job seeker:

“I answered every advertisement and called people back,” Jeremy said. “I stepped on a lot of toes along the way, but that’s how I’d sold my wares as a medical-software sales executive. After a recent layoff, I threw caution to the wind. I was going to let everyone and anyone know I was available.

“I suppose I did everything but stand with a sandwich board in midtown Manhattan to get myself out there and exposed. As a top salesperson, I wasn’t going to be passive at all. I guess I took active job seeking a little too seriously.”

The result? Bruised toes among potential employers and no real leads.

So what did he (and other super-aggressive job seekers) do to hurt their job search? Sell instead of brand.

Think about what kind of reputation you are building with those who may see you or your resume. How are you branding yourself? How are you known?

Categorize yourself by answering yes or no to these short statements first:

  • The Plasterer – I have plastered my resume all over the Internet and responded to just about every lead I can find that remotely matches my qualifications.
  • The Aggressor – I have sent many unsolicited resumes to companies and hiring personnel asking for an interview and letting them know about my talents.
  • The Seeker – I have posted the fact that I am looking for a job everywhere I can, including multiple postings on my LinkedIn account stating this fact.
  • The Raging Bull – If I know a company is hiring, I will call and try to talk to the hiring manager. I will get their name and get my resume into their hands somehow, some way even if it means offending a few people.
  • The Frustrated – I have made it clear to my references, to hiring authorities and even to people I don’t know that I am frustrated with the process of job search, especially if I don’t hear back from a lot of applications I have sent.

“I guess I was all those things,” Jeremy said. “But if you are too aggressive, you’ll probably turn a lot of people off along the way. When I slowed down and started branding versus selling myself, I did better. When I took a more quietly confident posture, it seemed like I got more interviews.”

Here’s how he describes the ways he cleaned up his act. Notice how much it sounds like the quiet confidence of a passive candidate.

“It’s like I started getting interviews, or at least more responses, when I started being more specific,” Jeremy said. “I sort of slowed myself down to speed myself up.

“I hired a career coach, had my resume professionally prepared and started asking myself some key questions about how I wanted to be perceived by hiring authorities and the marketplace. I just touted what I could do for companies and listened to their needs. I put relationships and their needs before mine.

“In short, I acted like I did when I was employed and a bit more confident.

“Believe me, I was still pushing it, but like a duck on water. I appeared confident and careful, but my feet were still paddling hard. This tactical change worked.”

Here are the new roles he played to land a job:

  • The Surgeon – Instead of blasting his resume out, Jeremy carefully and rather surgically posted his well-written and powerful new documents to key Web sites and catered each resume to the job requirements.
  • The Specifier – Never again did he send his resume without finding out whether it was OK. He only sent a resume if he had a name and at least some permission to send it.
  • The Brand – He concentrated on building value, helping other job seekers, and contributing his advice on professional sites through volunteer associations and to his employed and unemployed friends. In other words, he stopped selling and started branding. He stopped loudly proclaiming he was looking for a job on sites like LinkedIn.
  • The China Shop – He stopped wrecking potential contacts and burning bridges to put his materials into hiring manager’s hands. He stopped offending people and started treating them, including the hiring manager’s executive assistants, with kid gloves. No broken glass.
  • The Optimist – Despite his setback and worries about his job, the lousy macro headlines and unemployment numbers, he focused on contributing positive thoughts to his references, friends and hiring managers. Who wants to hire a negative person? It doesn’t work in sales, and it doesn’t work in selling yourself.

So what can we learn? If you desperately need something, resist the urge to do just about anything to get it.

Seemingly nonstop bad news about employment figures can get anyone down. It can drive job seekers into behavior and tactics that may be deemed too aggressive and inappropriate. Passive candidates can appear more attractive to a potential suitor not because they’re employed but because they’re pitching a softer sell.

As Jeremy put it, “I didn’t just run up to my wife-to-be when I met her in college and ask her if she would marry me. I barely got her to marry me anyway!”

Whether you are in an active search or not, take note of the lessons above to become more attractive to your potential suitor.