Every once in a while, I receive an RFP (Request for Proposal) from a government agency or private-sector organization, asking if I want to bid on delivering outplacement and career coaching services to their departing employees.  And if all I did was respond to these RFPs and hope I landed one of them every once in while, trust me, my company would have gone broke long ago!

Not only do my services fail to meet the exacting requirements of many of these proposals, despite many years of success I’ve had assisting people with the exact issues in question, but I’ve also been around the block long enough to know that a certain percentage of these proposals are rigged from the start — and/or that my odds of success would be extremely low, given that I’d be going up against dozens of much larger competitors also chasing these same projects.  So I don’t fight this battle very often.  Instead, I’ve diversified my marketing plan to include a much broader mix of activities such as networking, blogging, public speaking, newsletter distribution, and other methods to get the word out there about my capabilities.

The parallel, if you’re in job search mode?  I’m guessing it’s pretty obvious.  If your main self-promotional activity still consists largely of firing off resumes to published advertisements, which is the “RFP” equivalent of the employment world, it’s likely your efforts also aren’t diversified enough — and that you’ll end up banging your head against the exact same limitations and challenges I’ve faced, over the years.

So if you’ve been out searching for a while without much success, perhaps it’s time to “diversify your marketing portfolio” and try some creative new approaches.  There are tons of possibilities out there, many of which have been described in depth both in my blog, as well as almost every job hunting book written in the past ten years.  Mixing up your routine will also make your life a lot more interesting, too, since few things are as soul-numbing as spending hours cranking out job applications, day after day, knowing that the majority of your submissions will likely tumble into the black hole.

Take one of my current clients, for example.  This woman, let’s call her Susan, is a graphic designer who spent a number of months filling out on-line job applications with very little to show for it.  Then one day she attended one of my events, featuring “friend of the firm” Mark Hovind of JobBait.com, a national expert/proponent around the idea that job hunters should apply classical direct marketing techniques to the process of finding work.  Inspired by Mark’s statistics (available on his website) and eager to change her luck, she attended one of Mark’s regular free workshops and started following his advice.

Here is a breakdown of her efforts to date, and the results she’s seeing, both of which she’s been kind enough to allow me to share:

“Matt:  I wanted to let you know that I’ve been following Mark’s advice and using a value proposition letter for three weeks now and have been experiencing some action in response.  I send out 3 letters per day, Monday through Friday, and make follow-up calls about three days after sending. I’ve sent out 66 letters so far, and have my second interview today with a Seattle seafood company where they have a contract position that could turn to direct hire.  I also had an interview with an Eastside supply chain technology firm, where they desperately need an art director with branding expertise.  So this strategy is already working better (for me) than networking or job apps.  Here’s a breakdown of what I’m doing:

Three letters sent per day, which includes a follow-up call to each firm on the date specified in letter; this quantity was determined by how many calls can I think I can handle emotionally every day

I find companies on LinkedIn, Spoke.com, Jigsaw.com, and major mailing lists.  I find that my own research gleans more accuracy, however.  Even company websites publish bios of executives that haven’t been with the company for 6 months, so be prepared to be flexible and ask who the best person might be if possible

The letters I send are printed on an ink-jet printer in small batches on 32# Crane 100% cotton paper, enclosed in a hand-addressed Monarch envelope with a hand-affixed stampMy letter is customized from the JobBait sample with two bullet items and no reference to salary.

Targeting & Follow-up
I target the letters to hiring managers or their directors, as well as the occasional CEO or COO.  I then follow up on the phone, usually receiving the person’s voicemail, and if they tell me they prefer e-mail (on their outgoing VM message) I then send a follow-up e-mail, instead.

Results To Date
This strategy has landed me two interviews in two weeks, with one resulting in a part-time contract that starts on 3/21!  In terms of other results, one executive thanked me for the letter and voluntarily gave me his direct line and the name of the hiring manager to contact.  Another executive shared he was impressed with the fact that I called when I said I would, and we laughed about how rare that is.   Yet another executive commented: “I appreciate your gumption.  The personalized letter was a nice touch – no one does that anymore” and another said “Thanks for your letter, I went to your website, I think we need to meet.” To date, I’ve only gotten two people who seemed stressed or curt with me.

Thanks again “Susan” for allowing me to share your story with others!

The takeaway of it all?  I encounter dozens of job hunters, each week, who complain about the lack of jobs out there and who feel their inability to land interviews — and job offers — is inexorably due to factors such as the recession, age discrimination, or some profound problem with how they’ve constructed their resume.  My belief?  These challenges are even more typically the result of (or at least greatly exacerbated by) a one-dimensional marketing plan and near-total reliance on responding to online advertisements, versus engaging in alternative ways to get the word out about their capabilities.

So focus on creating opportunities, not just chasing leads.  After all, few of us are going to win the “RFP” game on a regular basis these days, given the competition out there.  Mix things up and employ other creative strategies, such as direct marketing, to communicate with employers about the value you can bring to them.  You’d swear these other methods couldn’t possibly work, but in Susan’s case, she finally stopped questioning them and decided to actually try them.  And now she’s got some a few good opportunities brewing, as a result!