Jonathan’s voice is tense as he vents his frustration over his job search. “I’m open to doing anything,” he said, “just to get my foot in the door.” Jonathan has a finance degree from a top-tier school and has spent the past several years working for a Silicon Valley start-up. He’s tired of the wild business swings – and mediocre compensation – of the start-up environment and has decided he wants to get into a more traditional finance job.
“I’ve sent my résumé out to everyone I know and am constantly networking with friends and colleagues asking them about open positions and who’s hiring.” “What do you tell them you’re looking for?” I ask. “I tell them I’m completely open! Corporate finance sounds interesting to me, M&A, even sales and trading. I just want to get in the door.” “What has the response been?” “Well,” he said, “people are usually very supportive and say they’ll keep an eye out, but then I never hear anything back. I think the job market is just really tight right now.”
While Jonathan feels he’s being not only proactive but also very flexible, in reality he’s making the classic mistake of expecting his contacts to do his work for him. He appears to be unfocused and unsure of his direction. Few people will refer someone like this to others as it puts their own reputation on the line as well. Your contacts want to know that if they refer you to someone, you will represent yourself – and by extension them – well by being prepared and using their contact’s time wisely.
So what should Jonathan do? He needs to take a step back and determine the specific areas within finance that (1) genuinely interest him and (2) for which he is well-suited. The best way to do that is to talk informally with colleagues and others to learn more about the specific jobs and companies he is interested in. These are easy conversations for people to have. He’s not asking for a job, he’s asking people to share their opinions and perspectives. Most people are more than happy to spend half an hour or so talking about themselves, their career path, industry trends, what they personally like and dislike about the business, what their company is like to work for, etc. This information enables the job seeker to determine the specific companies, departments, and roles that are the best fit for him or her. It makes the job seeker sound like an insider, not a wannabe who’s struggling to get in the door.
The other classic mistake Jonathan made is assuming that sending his résumé indiscriminately to “everyone he knows” is helpful in the search process – or that it endears him to those who receive it. Most people dread getting these unsolicited résumés, which are often accompanied by a short email saying something like, “I’m looking for a new position. Could you forward my attached résumé to anyone you feel might be interested?” In essence, the sender has just handed an assignment to his colleague. And it’s not an easy assignment.
The implied expectation is that the receiver will (1) open the attached résumé; (2) read through the attached résumé; (3) try to figure out what type of job the sender would be suited for based on his or her prior experience; (4) come up with a list of people who might be interested in hiring someone like that; and (5) forward the résumé, along with some sort of introductory email, to whatever contacts might be appropriate. Who has time for that? Is it any wonder that job seekers rarely hear back from the people to whom they email unsolicited résumés?
This approach is also hard on job seekers emotionally. Many take the lack of response as personal rejection or disinterest on the part of their friends and colleagues. That’s rarely the case. The problem is that your contacts are very, very busy – like we all are – so you need to make it easy for them to help you. The best way to do that is to provide them with a short overview of your background along with a description of the type of work you’re looking to do. Ideally you should include some examples of companies you’d like to speak with. This short, focused message is much easier for your contacts to digest and respond to than slogging through your entire résumé. And giving examples of the types of companies you’re looking to speak with often triggers people’s memories for individuals they know at those companies.
In Jonathan’s case, after doing more research and talking informally with a number of people in the investment banking community, he determined that institutional sales was the area that not only fit with his skills and personality, but that also provided the right lifestyle balance he was looking for. His job search took a major leap forward when he incorporated this knowledge into his request for assistance and crafted the following statement: “I’m interested in getting into institutional sales at a company like Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch. I’ve got an MBA in Finance from Wharton and a track record of building strong, long-term relationships and closing deals, which I believe would lead to success in that arena.” This gave people a clear understanding of what he was looking for and many came up with leads and recommendations to assist him in achieving his goal.
Your friends and colleagues want to help you, but you are the best expert on you. Don’t expect them to sort out what’s important in your background or figure out how best to describe you to others. By providing them with this information in a succinct, clear manner you make it easy for them to be your advocate and help you move your job search forward productively.
Jennifer Winn, founder of Winn Performance Partners, is an executive consultant and career strategist. She can be reached at (925) 314-9660 or online at www.winnperformance.com.