There are no two ways about it: Writing a targeted, compelling cover letter takes time, but doing so has a higher pay-off than otherwise. Hiring managers need to be convinced that you are the stronger bet for the job than all the other applicants positioning for it. A well-written cover letter can accomplish that better than a resume. In fact, when asked which they would rather read—a resume or cover letter, if only given the opportunity to read one—most employers opt for the cover letter.
Here’s what 90% of job seekers think is a passable cover letter (it’s not), alongside what’s going through your target employer’s mind as they’re reading it:
To Whom It May Concern: I know these letters are often boilerplate, but come on! Couldn’t you have written my name?
My name is John Smith. Nice to meet you, John. I am writing to express interest in the Senior Project Manager position at your company. At what company? Mine? And how/where did you hear about the position? I have worked in project management for 12 years and am therefore a good fit for this position. Why? Do you think that everyone with 12 years of PM experience is a good fit for this position? If so, it doesn’t sound like you read the job description very carefully.
I am diligent, ethical and work well either alone or with a team. You and everyone else. Am I to take you on your word? Listen. If you want me to believe that you work well in teams then tell me about a project you’ve worked on that involved extensive teamwork: What was your role? What did you accomplish? What was the reporting structure? What processes did you introduce that facilitated the team’s success? What data can you share to prove your success? Given the opportunity I will bring these same qualities to your company. Please don’t.
A cover letter is not a Facebook or Twitter post intended for a wide audience. It needs to be a targeted and individualized communication with a single, highly-selective reader. Come on. You know the difference between receiving a personalized letter vs. a mass communiqué. The former makes you feel special and respected; the latter like a faceless, nameless number among many. Think about the friend who sends you their annual family update newsletter right around the holidays: This was a busy year for the Jackson Family. Trish began violin lessons (I hope she sticks with it this time!) and Charlie took his first steps—he’s gonna be a football player like his dad! Received adjacent to a holiday card with insights and humor directed specifically at you, which friend are you more likely to call on New Year’s?
When you write a thoughtful, targeted cover letter that addresses the specific needs of an employer, he or she will better appreciate the fact that you identify with their industry, their company and the challenges they face. They will get the idea that you mean business: that you don’t want to work just anywhere…you want to work with them at their firm.
For a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of how to write a powerful cover letter, attend Resume Deli’s next free webinar: Your Cover Letter: Write Your Own Interview Ticket. This webinar will be sponsored by and conducted in partnership with longtime Resume Deli partner FlexJobs.com. Tuesday, June 25, 2013 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Write firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Comedian Bill Burr jokes: You ever spell a word so badly that even spell check can’t come up with any suggestions? (Spell check) I’ve got all the words right here…and yours doesn’t look like any of them!
Called out on an error by spell check, Jim Gaffigan, another comedian, snaps back: Duh! That’s someone’s name, spell check! You’re so dumb…I was right and you were wrong!
Alas, this is where spelling mistakes seize to be funny. For even a single gaffe on your resume, cover letter, thank-you note, portfolio, web site, blog site, etc. will make you, too, a joker.
Resume Deli evaluates hundreds of resumes per year. When we point out spelling mistakes the response is usually, “What’s the big deal? It’s just one small mistake…” Oh, if only I had the proverbial nickel for every time I herd someone say that!
Somewhere between second grade and the water cooler…between No. 2 pencils and handhelds…we became a society that can’t spell worth a dam. One of the major reasons for this development is that of pure laziness. (You mean I have to review everything I write? Jeez, that seems like a lot of work.) Another is our penchant for texting, which with all its acronyms and shorthand (OMG!) has left recruiters and employers wondering AYSOS (are you stupid or something)?
Like it or not, proper spelling and grammar count when you are trying to land a job. Here are several tips to keep in mind when working on your resume:
Tip #1: Don’t abbreviate
Removing the bowels from a word and adding a period at its end doesn’t constitute an abbreviation! Mngr. is not an abbreviation for Manager or anything else as far as I’m aware.
Tip #2: Prove that you’re detail-oriented
When a job description calls for a candidate with “strong attention to detail,” that doesn’t mean you should write “detail-oriented” in the summary section of your resume. It means that all of your work product—beginning with your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile—needs to be well-written, without spelling or other mistakes…especially if you’re targeting a position that requires strong writing skills.
Tip #3: KISS (Keep it simple, stupid!)
In the phrase, “Managed Walgreens’s Pharmacy Department,” “Walgreens’s” is correctly spelled. Walgreens is a company name. It’s a singular entity and so the possessive form requires an apostrophe followed by an “s” even though the word Walgreens already ends with an “s”. It’s a well-established language rule. But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter if “Walgreens’s” is correct. It looks horrifyingly wrong! My guess is that there are about 25 people on the planet who know that Walgreens’s (the possessive) is correctly spelled. Bottom line: don’t send out a resume or cover letter with words that look misspelled, even if they’re not. It’s just not worth it.
An even simpler example: The word “centre” can be spelled as such (origin: Great Britain), although “center” is the more common spelling in the U.S. Play the odds and use the more familiar form. Your resume isn’t the place to demo your avant guard language skills.
Tip #4: Don’t use the word “liaison”
Liaison is one of the outcast words in the dictionary. No one knows how to spell it. And even if you manage to spell it correctly, chances are you’re still going to misuse it (liaison; liaison to; liaison with…). You can’t win here. Just avoid it.
Tip #5: Trust spell check
In fact, set your word processor to automatically correct words as you type.
Tip #6: Don’t trust spell check
Spell check is like a new employee. It wants to make contributions and fix things even where nothing’s broken. Spell check alters proper names and fails to acknowledge that some words have come into existence after it was programmed. Also, spell check often overlooks words that are spelled correctly, though misused in context; and no employer wants to read about your work in pubic affairs (OK…spell-check caught this one).
Tip #7: Find friends who spell better than you do
Remember when you were a kid and your next-door neighbor Billy (that geek) used to crush you in two-player Speak ‘n Spell? You hated Billy, right? Well, let bygones be bygones, because now you need him! Send your resume and cover letter to a trusted friend…or two…and have them proof-read your documents. Instruct them to be brutal.
Tip #8: Consider a professional resume-writing service
Though, unlike your friends, we will charge a fee to rewrite your resume, you can be more confident about the final product!
My mom was a “stay-at-home” mom. Back in the dark ages (the 20th century) this was the societal norm for women after they had been carried through the door of marriage; it was an assumption taken for granted by family, friends, prospective employers and most women themselves.
But even if current society has opened up a bit, it hasn’t progressed as far as we’d like to think. Women returning to work after a two-, five-, or ten- year absence still have to face the BIG QUESTION during a typical job interview: “What have you been doing for the past N years?”
And though, “Well…I’ve been raising my children!” may be the honest answer, it is not the best one.
So to make sure that your return to the workplace is a successful one, you should oblige yourself to “stay involved” during your time away. Just as importantly, you should list such activities on your resume or (more commonly) your cover letter. Here are a number of doable, flexible suggestions you might consider:
Join a professional association. Industry-specific professional associations offer a range of opportunities (training, social events, workshops) that enable one to keep up-to-date with that particular industry’s trends. If you are able to take up a leadership position (this could take up as little as five hours of your time per week), such will provide an especially noteworthy way to demonstrate your commitment to the field, as well as expanding your professional network. Contacts made during this time will regard your contributions as 100% legitimate—not as a side-act while you raised your child.
Complete a part-time or temporary work assignment. Yes, I know…you’ve left your full-time job so as to devote more time to the care of your child. But if you can find just five or ten hours per week (even for a short period) to take on consulting or freelance work, it will help to rectify employment gaps on your resume and attest to your dedication to the field.
Blog! Do you like to compose captivating text like I do? J Blogs give you a great opportunity to develop and demonstrate your writing chops and flex a little intellectual muscle in the bargain. It provides a way to maintain connections to your industry and expand your following of professional contacts that have the same interests as you do. Don’t want to start your own blog? Consider contributing to the chatter on others, or on relevant Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and Twitter feeds.
Take an online course. Completing a course in a functional or technical area related to your work is a great way to stay connected while you’re out on maternity or unpaid leave. When you do return to work, you’ll radiate with the confidence that comes with being up to speed (such a glow always comes in handy during a job interview). Don’t have the money to take a course? Consider learning some new job-related software on your own; perhaps find relevant ways to apply it to industry-specific challenges.
Write an article. Contribute a research or opinion piece to a reputable news source or industry newsletter. As with blog posts, you’ll grow smarter in the process…and you’ll get noticed.
Not Any ‘Ol Work
It’s important to remember that simply taking on any activity is not going to cut it. It’s got to be something that’s industry-relevant. Working part-time at your husband’s electrical supply company or helping your friend coordinate her church fundraiser or volunteering at a local non-profit…while commendable activities…won’t provide the necessary oomph that will distinguish your resume from those of others. In 90% of cases with my clients returning to work from a self-imposed respite, I suggest that they remove irrelevant jobs from their resumes because it can wind up doing more harm than good.
Should you share the fact that you’ve been a full-time mom on your resume or cover letter (note: typically your cover letter is the better bet)? It all depends on how long you’ve been away from full-time employment, how much relevant activity you can boast about during your time away and your target industry/sector (some are more progressive than others!).
The best course, obviously, is to plan ahead. Don’t put yourself out of work for two years and then scramble to find something pertinent to add to your resume or cover letter or LinkedIn profile. If you foresee an extended period away from work, seek out part-time or short-term experiences in order to have a foundation to build upon once junior is born.
Finally, do not assume an apologetic tone in your cover letter or during interviews. By staying involved during your time away from full-time employment you proclaim yourself strongly allied to your particular field—almost as if you never left! And this will make you more confident and prepared when you re-launch your job search.
Catherine Rampell, economics writer for The New York Times, last week wrote a piece titled, With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection. In it, Rampell explains how post-recession employers string along job applicants for weeks, sometimes months, stepping them through multiple rounds of interviews and strapping them with test assignments before finally making a hiring decision. And that decision is often to not hire anyone at all; rather, to leave the position unfilled.
So then why interview candidates in the first place?
Ms. Rampell cites a “hiring paralysis,” resulting from employers’ unease about the future of the economy. While a fair reason to slow the hiring process, this doesn’t explain why employers sometimes interview candidates for jobs that they know will never be filled.
Here’s some insight. In mid- and large-size companies, upper management often fails to communicate downward its decision to hold off on hiring, and so unit directors move forward with legitimate plans to recruit and on-board staff. It’s only several weeks later when the CFO or HR Director won’t approve the offer letter that the hiring manager realizes they’ve been spinning their wheels. Meanwhile, smaller firms might post jobs just to seem competitive and interview candidates in order to test the job market, or fish for information about competing firms.
Having nothing to do with the economy, companies large and small are notorious for interviewing candidates despite already knowing exactly who they plan to hire. Well-meaning HR Directors feel their hands are tied by equal-opportunity hiring laws that require so many candidates to be considered before an offer is made—even though there’s zero chance that any of those candidates will be hired.
Make no mistake. It’s disrespectful, unprofessional and unethical of employers to have candidates prepare for and go on phantom interviews that sap their time and resources. And it can come back to bite them in a number of ways:
Jobseeker Retaliation. When an organization mistreats its candidates, word gets out. Thanks to forums like LinkedIn and glassdoor.com (a community that offers an inside-look at companies’ hiring practices), frustrated job candidates post negative opinions despite potentially labeling themselves as complainers (note: glassdoor permits anonymity). Over time, these social media digs can have a lasting negative impact on a company’s reputation.
Candidate with an axe to grind. A candidate who manages to “ride the bull” until the bitter end of a lengthy interview process may ultimately accept a job offer, but begin their new role with a residual bad taste in their mouth. An employer should not be surprised to learn that the person they’ve hired is not the same person they first interviewed six months ago. The person you’ve just hired is tens of thousands of dollars poorer than they were when you first met them and they’re no longer high on your company’s culture. They’re harder to win over and retain than they would have been had they been treated more fairly during the interview process.
No more employee referrals. Though I like her article, Ms. Rampell does not mention that companies proudly continue their internal employee referral programs amidst hiring slow-downs and freezes. They continue to incentivize staff to tap their contacts in order to find suitable candidates for supposedly available positions. In theory, employee-referred candidates should be handled with special care—not led down a dead-end. When this happens, the referring employee is left with egg on his face at best; a damaged reputation at worst. And despite the monetary incentives for referring candidates (often $1,000+ per referral), top talent will only subject so many of their contacts to mistreatment, and so, when a company decides it’s ready to hire for real, they find their employee referral program—statistically where the best candidates comes from—has dried up.
What’s a candidate to do?
It behooves employers to treat jobs candidates with fairness and respect. It’s a no-cost investment in their reputation and longevity with plenty of upside. But candidates can’t count on employers to do the right thing. Jobseekers: Whatever else you do, stay vigilant. If you feel like you’re getting strung along…if your interviewer is clearly not prepared or interested to deal with you…if they change your interview schedule over and over again…if they make you wait for an hour before seeing you, it’s a sign that your interview is a farce. While it’s hard to do when you don’t have an offer on the table, limit the amount of time you put into this opportunity and consider removing your name from consideration if you’re asked to complete an assignment. You need to focus your energies where you feel you’re making progress.
Last week on FlexJobs.com I wrote how even the most forward-thinking employers are haunted by the prospect of their remote workers goofing-off from home—or the mall, or the movies—instead of working. Then Yahoo! sent a memo to its people, telling them they’d better get showered, get dressed and get back to the office.
In fact, the memo, leaked to All Things D (a technology news source), offers two contrasting justifications for Yahoo’s decision to recall its workers. The primary message is one of togetherness, conveyed with warm phrases such as, “communication and collaboration [are] important, so we need to [work] side-by-side” and “some of the best decisions and insights come from…impromptu team meetings”.
But one sentence—the shortest in the entire memo—stands out as what’s likely the real reason Yahoo! decided to pull the plug on telecommuting: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”. Reading between the lines (or, rather, reading this actual line from Yahoo’s memo), it becomes clear that Yahoo! was disappointed with the performance of its remote employees.
The Real Problem: Ineffective Management
I’ve worked for the man and have seen first-hand: There are too many full-time jobs out there that can be completed by the average worker in 15 hours per week. When employees are doing laundry or cooking dinner at home instead of working, it’s not because they’re at home…it’s because they don’t have work to do, or because no one will care if they don’t do their work. And let’s not kid ourselves. There’s plenty of insubordination wrought by on-site employees. Ever wonder how the top performer who gave notice on Wednesday managed to launch their new start-up, replete with shiny-new website, blog and Facebook fan page (already with 10,000 likes) the following Monday? Do you really think they laid all that groundwork in their spare time?
Despite so many top-heavy organizations, there is a lack of effective management in today’s workplace. Effective management means that employees have well-defined goals and are held to clearly communicated expectations; their time, effort and output are accounted for; and they understand that they must either submit work that is of high quality, creative and on-time, or they will no longer have a job. With these ground rules firmly (and fairly) established and enforced, it no longer matters if employees gather around the water cooler or a web cam. True creativity cannot be stifled by physical distance.
Sir Richard Branson summed it up well: “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting [note: the average U.S. worker spends one hour per day commuting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (2009)] and get a better work-life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking”.
Resume Deli’s workforce is 100% remote. Employees are granted a ton of latitude regarding when and from where they can do their work and are held accountable for high-quality output. Most importantly, no one disappears into the background. Everyone’s work is accounted for and assessed on a regular basis. My attitude is, so long as my employees are performing at or above expectations, they can do their laundry whenever they like. That’s the benefit of working from home.
There’s no single correct way to write your resume. Just as there’s no one way to write a novel, a letter, or a speech, how you develop your resume and cover letter are largely open-ended and entirely dependent upon a) your accomplishments and b) the job you’re applying to.
Here’s the takeaway:
Your resume should be written, organized and formatted in a way that is most relevant and meaningful to both you and your target reader.
With that in mind, here are 12 resume-writing questions that come up regularly, but have no standard answers (see answers, below). Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a cookie-cutter approach to resume writing. Don’t buy it.
Answers: 1. Depends 2. Depends 3. Depends 4. Depends 5. Depends 6. Depends 7. Depends 8. Depends 9. Depends 10. Depends 11. Depends 12. Um… depends
In reality, the list of unanswerable questions is much longer than this, but you get the idea. These questions need to be considered—not codified. Figuring out the right answers for you and your resume may not be easy, but it’s how you’ll come to truly understand your greatest strengths and weaknesses—and that’s the intelligence you need in order to land a job.
Actually, it’s not just LeBron James’s resume that sucks. It’s his resume, his cover letter, his pitch and his interviewing. His entire approach to finding work needs a major overhaul. And it’s not only LeBron’s job search that’s ineffective. The problem extends to most every job seeker; maybe even to you!
Want to know what the problem is and how to fix it?
The #1 mistake that most job seekers make is that you fail to convey deep knowledge and understanding of your craft and your industry.
Now let’s get one thing straight: I’m not saying that you don’t know your job or your industry (though most know the former much better than the latter). And I’m not saying that you don’t do good work. What I’m saying is that you don’t do yourself justice when the time comes to communicate these things to a recruiter.
This mistake is extremely damaging and manifests itself in a number of ways:
THE SOLUTION (IN TWO PARTS)
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Tao of Job Search,™ where “Tao” stand for:
Task: What you did
Action: How you did it
Outcome: Proof that you did a good job
If you’re a basketball fan like I am, you know that LeBron James is having a totally ridiculous February (note: “ridiculous” is a good thing in basketball), scoring more points on fewer shot attempts than any other player in NBA league history. But despite LeBron’s record-breaking on-court achievements, his resume leaves something to be desired:
123 Main Street, Miami, FL
Now, imagine that you’re the owner of an NBA basketball team and you don’t know who LeBron James is. Would this bullet point give you the information you need in order to bring this guy in for a tryout? Does it give you the sense that LeBron is special? That he understands not only how to shoot the ball, but also the ins and outs of the game?
Now check out this revised bullet point, which leverages The Tao:
See the difference? In the second version, LeBron tells us more specifically what he accomplished (increased shooting percentage), how he did it (relentless practice; off-season work) and the ultimate result, or outcome of his efforts (he helped to make his team better).
* The Excel mention is a joke, but an important reminder to only include in your resume skills and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you’re targeting.
I will provide more examples of The Tao in future blog posts.
Take a risk. Having 10, 15, or even 20+ years of experience in your field isn’t enough. There are guys and gals with 20+ years of experience who’ve been coasting along (note: if that’s you, I’m not criticizing…it’s just a fact) and if you’re a go-getter…a thought leader…a visionary in your industry, then you need to differentiate yourself from the pack. How? Extend your neck a bit. Formulate an opinion, based on your expertise, about the future of your industry; the concerns that you know are swirling around inside the head of the hiring manager who’s interviewing you; a project that, if hired, you would like to spearhead in order to effect positive change. Write (cover letter) or speak (interview) from a place of authority while using a professional (not arrogant) tone. And be sure to tell your interviewer exactly why you’re the best person for the job.
Taking a risk like this will pay off in spades: you’ll come off as confident, intelligent, experienced and invested in your work. And you’ll know that, like LeBron, you left everything on the court.
They say those born after 1980 (give or take a couple of years) are destined to have as many as seven careers in their lifetime. Really? Seven careers? This seems like a large number to me and calls into question the definition of the term, “career”.
When I was 25 and finishing up my Masters, I had a talk with my mom after my first day interning at JPMorgan Chase’s outplacement operation. “I’m so psyched to be launching my second career!” I exclaimed. To which my mom replied, “Your second career? What was your first career?!”
I was deflated, but mom was right. I hadn’t had a career in the years leading up to grad school…what I’d completed was at best a string of tangentially related jobs. And I see this becoming the case for many of us: We’re no longer having careers. We’re having one job, then another and then another. That’s OK in practice (i.e., you can still buy a house, save money, retire and so on), but if you want to build a career, you need to strategically guide the trajectory of your jobs held, choosing opportunities that provide a) continuity (i.e., you should be able to explain to a recruiter why your resume looks the way it does); and b) the opportunity to take on more responsibility, learn more and earn more money.
How do you know if you’ve had a career or a collection of jobs? Consider the following questions:
If you answered “yes” to these questions, there’s a good chance you have a career going.
In today’s job market, your career must be master-minded by you, the employee; it is not employer-driven. If your resume, cover letter, or elevator pitch includes the phrase “Seeking a career in…,” remove it (note: the objective statement on your resume is a job objective; not a career objective). Asking an employer for a career is asking for something most employers are not looking to give. The recruiter reading your resume has a job to do: fill a job vacancy; not find a “company man”. In a job market characterized by cost-cutting, global talent pools and high levels of unemployment, most employers simply don’t care whether or not you build a career inside their walls. It’s up to you to plan and execute your own career…assuming you want one.
Last night I was a featured panelist at Rutgers University where a discussion with alumni of Rutgers’s Executive MBA Program (REMBA) spanned job search strategy, resume development and networking, but focused primarily on LinkedIn.
I found it remarkable that MBAs are just as concerned with their job prospects as the rest of us are, though perhaps they needn’t be. In a study conducted by the Executive MBA Council and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), nearly 75% of recent EMBA alumni polled said they’d recuperated their grad-school investment and 43% had received a pay raise. Notably, those with < 3 years of experience had seen their median incomes fall by 4.5% since 2007, but that’s compared to a 7.6% drop for the workforce at large over the same period.
The majority of questions were about LinkedIn. Here’s a taste:
Q: How much of a resume should be filled out on LinkedIn?
A: Wrong question. Your LinkedIn profile isn’t a copy-paste job from your resume. It requires a) finesse to ensure that your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile are complementary, but not identical; b) an understanding that many recruiters who view your LinkedIn profile will never see your resume; c) attention paid to the LinkedIn profiles of leaders within your industry; and d) an understanding of how to write and develop content for the web.
Q: How do I exploit squeeze network with my classmates and fellow alumni on LinkedIn?
A: Don’t start-off asking for help. Instead, aim to give before you receive. Offer up relevant book and article recommendations; job candidates (assuming you’re not the right fit yourself); professional connections; industry information; event synopses; expertise; etc.
Q: Why does LinkedIn keep prompting me to have a “100% complete” profile?
A: Because why should you, an understandably anxious job seeker, be allowed to be 100% done with any aspect of your job search? Why should you get to feel like you’ve successfully completed something and thereby feel good about yourself?!
By compelling you to create a perfect profile, LinkedIn is getting you to spend more time on their site (good for ad revenue and search rankings) and in the process upselling you a fee-based subscription.
Ironically, some of the details that LinkedIn bugs you for can be detrimental to your job search. For example: What were your undergraduate courses? If you’re an MBA with 10+ years of professional experience, listing undergrad courses will make you seem more junior than you are. There’s no good reason to include them.
Q: What’s with endorsements on LinkedIn? These seem totally bogus.
A: Yes, “bogus” just about covers it. The best is when someone endorses you for your written communication skills when their own LinkedIn profile is filled with spelling and language errors. How would they know if you had strong communication skills?! (Wait…what are you laughing at? Your profile is also full of mistakes!)
Q: What do I do when I’m invited to connect with a stranger on LinkedIn?
A: If the stranger is Warren Buffet or Richard Branson, just accept the invitation. Short of that, I suggest you write back without accepting to see who it is you’re dealing with. Something like: “Thank you for your invitation to connect. Before I accept, can you please remind me how it is we know each other?” In some cases the person will go away; in others, you’ll get your answer. There’s also a slim chance that you’ll offend: “I’m Warren Buffet. If you don’t know who I am, then I suppose I no longer wish to connect with you”.
Thanks to the Rutgers EMBA Alumni Association for inviting me to speak and for assembling a talented and well-balanced expert panel, including: Gretchen Gunn, Recruiter and Principal, MGD Services; Marcus Cáceras Broussard, HR Generalist; Lincoln Rowley, Founder, Rutgers Executive MBA Alumni Association; and Florence Herman, Director of EMBA Career Management and Alumni Relations at Rutgers.
Starting next week I’ll be a guest blogger for Rutgers’s EMBA blog! Thought you should know.
When I’m asked to impart networking advice, my natural inclination is to rattle off a list of can’t-miss best practices:
And be sure to lay on two thick coats of charm and charisma as you proceed!
The list above includes several key components of a networking regimen that career counselors have prescribed since the dawn of time. But is it right for everyone? I used to think so until the introverted subset of Resume Deli’s clientele had a few things to say on the matter: I feel like a fraud at these fancy networking events where everyone’s smiling at each other. Who’s buying that act?…Introducing myself to new people in general makes me uncomfortable. If I’m going to do it, I’d rather it be one-on-one…I don’t go to networking parties because I get anxious in big crowds…I feel like an animal being led to slaughter when I’m in line at a job fair. The recruiters there can’t possibly want to talk to all of those people.
When I first heard these protests I sought to push the envelope: Like it or not, you need to follow through on all customary networking activities in order to make it in today’s cut-throat job market. So just deal with it! Once you get the ball rolling, it will get easier. You’ll even come to enjoy it!
But I’ve come to realize that not everyone enjoys networking. The networking strategy presented above is built for people who like to meet and introduce themselves to others…or who can at least tolerate it. But liking people isn’t a prerequisite for success. Just ask so many writers, researchers and veterinarians who’ve actively selected careers that minimize human contact (warning: they may not answer you).
Professional gatherings and more invasive activities like “speed networking” and an endless list of creative ice-breakers can be effective means to an end, but if you stick yourself in an uncomfortable situation and underperform—or worse, make a spectacle of yourself—it won’t do you any good, either.
My networking advice to the reserved, the asocial and the introverted, in a word, is research.
If you prefer information to people as many introverts do, then research is your lifeline to the networked universe. To even the playing field with the extroverts who rub elbows (and Lord knows what else) at mixers, you need to perform Internet and other research double-time in order to pick up industry trends and company news and discover professionals and thought leaders whose work inspires you. When someone grabs your attention, zero-in: read their articles, books and academic papers; make it your business to attend their presentations and lectures. Don’t worry, you can remain a wallflower during this part of the process, but ultimately, you will want to step beyond your comfort zone (i.e., suck it up!).
Eventually you’ll want to reach out via phone (this takes chutzpa!) or email (less chutzpa required, but still an effective strategy) to introduce yourself and arrange an in-person meeting. If there’s a genuine fit between your needs and interests, outreach at this stage should feel right to you as you realize that the other person has as much to gain from your exchange as you do.