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Career Connection: Job Search by Resume Distribution

by , MBA

People who conduct a job search by resume distribution are playing a losing game. They treat it like a numbers game, thinking that sending out 100 resumes by snail mail or blasting out 1,000 via an online service is better than making one solid contact. They couldn't be more wrong. This strategy provides the resume at the wrong point in the sales process (if you are looking for a job, you are trying to sell your services).

And because of the workload of pumping out so many resumes, resume distribution people develop one resume that will fit a large range of opportunities and change a few buzzwords in the cover letter they send out with it. This is a flawed, time-wasting strategy that keeps you from actually conducting a real job search. Are people looking for a generalist at this time? Probably not. Are people looking to add staff so they can grow, or are they seeking to grow and then adding staff as absolutely necessary?

With the economy in shambles (as it has been for quite some time), you can guess at how companies are looking at their money. The national debt is staggering to the US economy (total debt exceeds the annual economic output of all of the earth's nations combined), and getting worse to the tune of half a billion dollars a day. We know money doesn't grow on trees, therefore this debt is essentially our tax bill.

That load is staggering enough, but the regulatory load is also horrendous. The top 10 US banks spend an average of $83 million each last year to comply with a long list of pointless federal regulations (we know they are pointless, thanks to the 2008/9/10 banking fiascos). That one number is instructive for looking at business in general.

Against this backdrop, you are trying to convince a company to divert some of its very limited funds in your direction. For a company to do that, you have to give it compelling reasons. You have to identify a problem that company has and then identify yourself as the solution to it. And you have to communicate this to the right person.

This is not something you can do by sending out resumes to people who get hundreds of resumes a day. Your resume isn't going to open doors for you. Yes, a resume can be helpful in a job search, but nobody is going to pull yours out of a stack and get so excited that you will land an interview. It very seldom works out that way.

In the big resume shuffle played by HR departments, you do need to send a resume. And you might actually get hired that way. So how does this work? Most companies want to fill an immediate need with a one-trick dog, and then once they have that person onboard they expect a multi-talented person. Hmm.

Smart marketing

What the smart marketer does is identify his/her top strength--for example, "I am a C++ programmer." This is the one-trick dog the HR dept is looking for, when combing through resumes. You have to remember HR people are drones. When you do "generic job hunting" (sending out resumes, posting on job search sites), these are the people you are selling to. So, counting on this type of search (shot in the dark) as maybe 5% of your effort, you focus it on something very specific. Yeah, someone from HR might extract from your resume something they are looking for. This gets less and less likely with each passing year.

When you're in front of the hiring manager, who is perhaps looking at other C++ experts, you are in front of a person who thinks more strategically. He's thinking, "If only I had someone in house who do the coding. I'd like to get down to 12 hour days, at least on Sundays. So I really want someone who can admin this stuff as well. I have other projects coming up."

To get in front of that hiring manager, you have to do some digging. This is exactly what a sales engineer has to do when trying to sell a software solution. He doesn’t sit back and wait for responses to ads. He goes out and finds clients. Your next employer is the client you are trying to find. If you have no clue how to find clients, go to your local library and check out three or four sales books. Read them, return them, and check out three or four more. Read for at least an hour a day; it's the best use of an hour you can make at this point.

You aren't looking for an employer, you are looking for a client. The fact you would be on a W-2 instead of a 1099 means nothing, really--that's just a tax designation. The relationship is essentially the same. It's always going to be at the pleasure of the client, and it's always going to begin only if they need your specific services. They aren't actively out looking for you, so you have to go to them.

What you need to be doing is picking one company at a time and determining as much as you can about that company to see if it would have a need for what you do. Spending 10 minutes on Google doesn't cut it. You have to really dig. Look at their products, their markets, their key customers, etc. Your goal is to find a company that has a need you are very qualified to fill. If it takes you 60 hours to figure out one company, it takes you 60 hours. It probably will not take you that long, but it sure will take more than 10 minutes to research a likely client.

You learn what you can to determine if you can help this company. But you do NOT send them a resume.

One reason not to send a resume is those go to HR. The HR people may not yet be aware that there is a need. If you were selling a new kind of server cabinet, you would not send a brochure to Purchasing. Instead, you would locate the IT dept manager who is likely to spec the server cabinets, and get that person to decide to requisition one of your cabinets.

This is why, when searching for a job, you contact the relevant department manager directly. You set up an informal meeting, if possible. An informal meeting means you aren't going to talk to them about giving you a job. You are going to talk with them about problems they may be having relevant to your experience and expertise. You want to ask probing questions, and you want to do more listening than talking.

You do NOT send a resume (doing so just gets HR involved before you can sink the hook).

If the hiring manager asks for a resume, say you'd be happy to provide one after the meeting. If s/he won't meet without one, that's fine--either s/he's not interested in hiring, or s/he is so adept at not listening to people that this is a job you really don't want. The "send me your resume" thing is the same as "send me a brochure." It's another way of saying, "I really don't want to hear what you have to say." It's a polite no. Any more time invested with this potential client at this point is probably going to be wasted.


So, you've been laid off. But the good news is your company has hired an outplacement firm to help you polish your resume and find great companies to send it to. Or, is this the bad news?

This is really a marketing question. What's the market?

Most outplacement services talk a good game, but they really don't help. They pump out resumes, and report back to their client that they got you in front of, say, 11 opportunities. The fact you weren't hired confirms to your previous employer's HR dept that your dismissal was a wise move.

Most companies don't spend money on outplacement to help former employees. They spend it to gather further evidence to protect themselves from wrongful dismissal claims and to give the veneer of caring.

That is not to say outplacement firms are no good. It is to say that their agenda and your agenda do not have a great deal of overlap. Tell your outplacement counselor you want to focus on identifying what kinds of problems you can solve and on what company or two has that problem. Then you contact that company and discuss your solution with the person in charge of that problem.

A real job search

Don't think of a job search as a job search. This implies you are asking someone to give you something (a job). This faulty form of thinking is why so many people stay out of work for so long. Instead, figure out what you do best and start looking for a company that would benefit if you do it for them.

This process takes time. You can spit out 100 resumes in a day, very easily. But that's not 100 good contacts. It's just 100 envelopes sent to 100 people who have no particular reason to care about the contents of the envelope. If you send 30 hours researching to find a single company that's a fit and another 20 hours researching that company, it'll be a week before you have any "output." But you won't still be vainly mailing out resumes 10 months from now. That 50 hours of solid research may end your job search fairly fast.

The key is to understand you need to meet someone else's need. They do not need to meet yours. Find out who has the need, and contact that person directly. Don't send a "toss in the trash" brochure. If they ask you to send a resume, say you'll be happy to provide it "once we've established mutual interest." You can the say, "If we don't establish that, it's one less thing for you to read. I solve problems, and from my research I see you have problem ABC. I can solve this problem for you. I'd like to discuss this further with you, and if now is not a good time that's perfectly understandable."

Try then to get a date and time for a follow-up phone conversation. If the other person declines, then thank him/her for his/her time and find another potential client.

Make sure you prepare for a phone interview before making that first contact. They may want to talk to you right then. Know exactly what the problem is and have a summary of why you can solve the problem (do not tell them how you would solve it).

If you've totally bombed at finding out what problems a particular company has, then what you need to do is attend industry association meetings, trade shows, seminars, etc., and ask people what they do and what problems their company is having. Don't say you are looking for a job. Say you solve problems ABC. Word will get out.

Once you've established mutual interest with a potential client, you want them to extend an offer. So far, you and they agree on the problem. But you haven't documented that you possess the qualifications to solve it. Now is the time to provide your resume. It shows you have the relevant experience and education. To ensure you get a good offer, your resume should also document that you have accomplished specific things you've quantified in dollars. You saved $30,000 a year by doing X; you did Y to gain the company an additional $95,000 in quarterly billings.

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