Wayne Gretzky, widely considered the best hockey player of all time, famously once remarked “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
In truth, this mantra doesn’t just apply to the athletics arena. It’s also not a bad philosophy to adopt for one’s entire life, as well, and has a particularly strong application within the job hunting arena — since when you’re looking for work, there are going to be a lot of cases where you’re “not sure” of exactly how to pursue a contact or company and can easily become paralyzed by indecision, as a result.
Simply put, when you need to find a new role, an action-oriented bias is critical. After all, when you break down a job search into its component parts, the fundamental thing needing to happen is for you (the job seeker, the product) to reach out to as many potential customers (employers, the customers) who might have a need for the solutions you provide. And since the majority of jobs never actually see the light of day in published form, and are filled behind the scenes, you need to get comfortable with the idea of reaching out to organizations regardless of whether the organization is advertising a current role that fits your skills. If the timing is right, or you make just the right connection with somebody, that might be all it takes to land a new assignment and put the job hunting challenge behind you.
On that note, while I’ve written many times in this blog about the importance of building a list of appropriate target companies, and have suggested numerous resources for finding them, one question continues to come up regularly: “Once I find a potential employer that interests me, what’s the best way to approach them?”
While there’s obviously no foolproof strategy for getting an employer to acknowledge you or grant you an audience, here’s a quick breakdown of the sequence of steps I’d usually recommend trying in such cases, listed in the order in which I’ve suggest attempting them:
1) Apply to an open job that fits you, if one exists. While again, many companies that interest you WON’T be hiring for your exact role, right this second, you’ll still want to double-check their career page in the off-chance they are actively seeking somebody with your skills. If so, obviously just go ahead and follow their recommended application process and see if that does the trick!
2) Try to land a conversation at the company via personal referral. The next “warmest” way to approach a given organization is to ask around in your network to see if anybody knows somebody there – in addition to jumping on LinkedIn and running a search on the company in question, looking for 1st or 2nd Degree contacts who work there. If you turn up a “friend of a friend” at the company, reach out to your mutual acquaintance with a short note, asking if they’d be comfortable putting you in touch with the individual in question since you have a few quick questions you’d love to get their take on regarding the firm’s culture, structure, and hiring process.
3) Approach a hiring manager at the company directly. If you’re not able to find a friend who is able to make a direct referral on your behalf, the next best thing is to track down (again, LinkedIn is a great resource) the manager at the organization who oversees your department or who would likely be your next boss. If you can find this individual, consider dropping them a quick “message” or “connect” request on LinkedIn – or via their e-mail, if you can find it – to introduce yourself, explain the relevance of your background, and ask whether they’d be willing to hold a brief meeting or call to discuss the company and the career possibilities there.
4) Contact a recruiter or human resource representative at the firm. Unable to track down a suitable hiring manager? If so, pivot your search efforts and use LinkedIn (and/or the company’s website) to identify an HR professional or recruiter who works there. Such folks are usually more open to conversations and LinkedIn “connect” requests than the average individual, so try reaching out to one or more of these folks to see if you can spark some interest in your qualifications.
5) See if the company hosts open houses or meet-and-greet events. Many companies, especially mid-to-large-size ones, hold regular recruiting events and similar functions where a motivated candidate can go learn more about the organization and mingle with people who work there. So don’t be shy about calling the front desk and just asking them if they have any upcoming events, open houses, or job fair appearances coming up that you might be able to attend.
6) Reach out to a blogger or social media influencer at the company. In many companies, there’s at least one outgoing individual who authors the corporate blog or posts company-related content on social media – or who might have their own personal blog where they share thought leadership on a given subject. If you can track down such people through Google and other sources, you’ll often find they’re pretty receptive to messages, since they usually love to get comments/feedback on their postings and might be willing to go the extra mile for somebody who shows sincere interest in their opinions and asks politely for advice.
7) Try fax or snail mail. It’s a long shot, for sure, but if all other methods above fail or don’t produce results, there’s always the option of sending some physical documents off to the company to see if you can generate a response. Paper documents are a bit harder to disregard than e-mail notes, after all, and you can at least assure that somebody is going to have to look at your materials and decide what to do with them! This being said, I wouldn’t go the route some career experts suggest of sending your resume to companies via FedEx or an overnight service. The cost of doing so would become a bit prohibitive, I think, considering the risk/reward ratio in play.
8) Pound the pavement and just show up! While this technique was a perfectly normal way to land a job, not all that long ago, it’s pretty much an endangered species these days as employers have adopted a more “standoffish” posture about applicants and have adopted card-readers and other security measures to deter unexpected drop-ins. This being said, though, if all of the other methods above haven’t borne fruit, it might be worth swinging by a company’s physical location just to say hello, mention you were in the area, and ask if the receptionist would be able to get a copy of your resume in the hands of the appropriate hiring manager.
Again, as Gretzky famously pointed out, if you don’t take “some sort of shot” at a particular company that interests you, there’s pretty much zero chance of a positive development occurring. So be brave, and once you’ve compiled a list of places you think are a fit with your skills and qualifications, try a mix of the methods above (typically, in the order I’ve presented them) until one of them results in a useful conversation and cracks the door open a bit. If you’re simply waiting around for advertisements to come out, like most people, your odds go way down, due to the intense competition factor — as well as the reality that many companies, especially smaller ones, don’t advertise the majority of their openings.