The Ultimate IT Professional’s Guide to Conducting an Online Job Search (Part II – Marketing)

December 31, 2012 by . 4 comments

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Note: This is Part II of a three part series; it is recommended that you read Part I – The Basics first. 

A quick Re-cap I previously defined the Job search Marketing phase asFinding and Advertising yourself to potential employers”. This is everything you do up until you get a person on the phone discussing a specific opportunity. Also previously stated is that the Marketing process looks something like this:

Marketing

  1. Look for Markets - i.e. Research where (what roles\position\industries) that there are good opportunities for your skill set and will position you for growth
  2. Generate Leads based on your research
  3. Qualify your Leads
  4. Market to your Leads – By sending a targeted Cover Letter & Resume
  5. Get Responses
  6. Qualify Responses
  7. Postmortem

 

Mammals and insects tend to have very different reproduction strategies. Mammals (like us) tend to have a few children, spending an exorbitant amount of time and energy caring for each child. Insects, however, have thousands of offspring and provide no care at all. These also happen to be the two most common approaches to job searching, you have people who apply to every job on the web that meets some basic criteria (The Cockroaches), and you have those who apply to a small few with a customized resume and cover letter (The Monkeys).

Confession: For a few years after I graduated college, I was a Cockroach. I had a solid resume for a Classic ASP Developer with SQL Server (What more could you need?!). I had a Basic cover letter (“I would like to apply for your Dev position listed in the NYT…”). I had Word Mail merge and a Fax Modem. I’d go through the Sunday paper, queue up my Faxer-Spam-A-Bot-umus, then bask in the glory of a full answering machine upon my return from work the next day.

After the Dot-Com Bust everything was online and there where oodles more Cockroaches to compete with (Mass emailing is massively easier than mass faxing). The going advice amongst the pros was that Cockroaches are bad, you need to be a Monkey. This didn’t sit well with me at all. How could I spend all that time customizing each resume I sent out? With each resume so customized, each was sure to have a few typos! I’d likely get disqualified on that alone, besides how long is the hiring manger going to spend looking at my resume? With so many Cockroaches out there I’d be lucky if my resume even gets looked at, and then I would likely only get a 15 second scan. It just didn’t seem right (or fair) to spend 2 hours of work (per job application) for that. Needless to say, that was not a fun job search…. I eventually joined a friend’s venture as a semi-partner, thinking I would do that until the job market picked up.

5 years later, I was ready to go on the hunt again, but I knew my Cockroach strategy was a failure. I needed to be a Monkey, but if I was going to be a Monkey I was going to be a Highly Efficient Monkey. I needed to optimize every part of my job search so I could apply to a large number of jobs that I actually want; I needed to be able to do that with no typos. The remainder of this article will focus on the different phases of marketing (see above) and how to do each in an efficient and effective manner. This is not a single linear process: you should be doing many of these in parallel, every day you should be searching the job boards, and you should be returning phone calls every day.

Disclaimer: All of the below is based on my personal experiences job searching in the NYC job market, this is in no way meant to be a one size fits all. You should test out these techniques, as well as others, and do what works best for you.

Look for Markets The key here is to research what roles\position\industries exist that there are good opportunities for your skill set and will position you for growth, these are the jobs you want. This process should be an ongoing process, you should decide what you want to do next, and then develop the skills you need (See Managing your Career in IT). If you didn’t do this and you find your self unemployed. You have no choice but to evaluate your skills, then look for markets where they are suitable.

Doing this is fairly straight forward, browse the Job boards looking at the types of jobs you want and make note of the skills you see coming up over and over again. (This is a great way of determining the marketability of a skill in a particular location, just search the Jobs boards and see how many come up! It’s not perfect but it works).

If you come across a skill you never heard of, look it up. GlassDoor.com is great for checking what particular roles tend to pay. You should always be looking for new markets even you are not conducting a job search.

Generate Leads based on your research

Finding potential employers is easy, all you have to do is go to your favorite Jobs search engine and type in a word and click “Search”. (My favorites happen to be Dice, Monster and LinkedIn).  Most sites have “Jobs Agents”, these will run a set of saved searches for you every day and email you the new listings for each agent. Jobs Agents are an unbelievable time saver, use them.

Making your resume searchable on job boards is common; I personally like the idea, though many people advise against it. If you do this, I recommend adding a “White List” stuffed with keywords to your resume (In a white tiny font so computers can see it but not people, think of it like Job Board SEO). This is a somewhat controversial idea, as many people believe it to be dishonest. In IT with so many acronyms and different terms that mean the same things, I feel this is a valid way to list all the different versions and acronyms that would look funny if you already mentioned them in a different way.

Qualify your Leads

You want to quickly scan each of your search results and only apply to the jobs you a) Want and B) Have a reasonable level of qualification. I briefly discussed this as a response to this now closed question. What I stated there still holds true. Scan the job posting much like the hiring manager will scan your resume. Look at the following and make a snap decision if you want to apply.

For me, the Quick Scan includes (You scan should include what you see as deal breakers.)

  1. Job title
  2. Pay Rate (Often not listed)
  3. Location
  4. Employment Type (Permor Contract, Contact length)
  5. Requirements List \ Tech Used.
  6. Then I start reading the Body.

The last thing you want to consider is the time it will take to apply: many companies\recruiters want you to reenter all your data into their proprietary system. Keep in mind that anything you enter there is going to be in that system till the end of time, and maybe used against you the next time you apply (if they see info that is inconsistent across applications). Any application that asks me to do more work, (e.g. retype my resume into a form) will also make me less likely to apply.

Market to your Leads – By sending a Targeted Cover Letter & Resume

For Monkeys this is, by far, the most time consuming part of the process; particularly if you are applying to a large number of jobs. The good news is that this is also the place where you will get the most gains in terms of efficiency. Before you apply, develop a basic “Elevator Pitch” for this particular Role. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and ask yourself “What am I really looking for here?”. You should be able to define the job requirement in no more then 3 or 4 sentences. Everything else in the Job description is Fluff. Next, you need to develop a sales pitch that directly answers that description. This answer is your “Elevator Pitch”: it’s short, it’s to the point, and most importantly, it’s easy to remember.  This “Elevator Pitch” will stick with you through the rest of the process with regard to this particular job listing.

Suppose you read a job listing and you summarize it down to: They are looking for a Tech-Lead with 5-7 years of e-commerce experience within the high fashion industry. They use the LAMP stack and really need someone who can lead their team to success. (Note: they may not have used the words Tech-Lead or e-commerce in the job description; you need to read between the lines) 1

Your “Elevator Pitch” should be something like this: I have been working for the past 5 years with the LAMP and the last 2 as a Tech Lead, including the roll-out of an e-commerce site for a small kid’s apparel company.

Note that you don’t have the high fashion experience; you are going to need to explain that Kid’s apparel is close enough. This is just one example; you will need to do this sort of thing constantly. You must understand how your skills can be used, and more importantly how to explain the transfer-ability of those skills (to the skills your potential employer is looking for) in such a way that the gate keeper can effectively sell you to the decision maker. Your “Elevator Pitch” must be so simple that the HR drone or the recruiter can sell it effectively to the real decision maker.

Also note that your “elevator pitch” never said you used LAMP for e-commerce, that’s because you didn’t. You don’t need to highlight this, but if asked answer honestly, “It was not LAMP, it was package X, Everything I learned about e-commence rolling out that system will be invaluable should I be given this opportunity, I am confidant that I can repeat the success with LAMP”

This “Elevator Pitch” will be at the center of all your correspondence up with the Recruiter\Co until mid-way through the first in person interview.

The Cover Letter

The purpose of the cover letter is to do 3 things:

  1. Introduce yourself and formally apply for the position
  2. Explain why you are the perfect candidate, using your elevator pitch.
  3. Express your enthusiasm for the job

And that is exactly what my cover letter looks like. A two sentence opening paragraph along the lines of “Please accept my application for the XXXXX position, I feel I am an excellent candidate for it because:”. I then have a list of reasons in bullet form, highlighting the key points of my elevator pitch. I then have a closing paragraph saying: I’m very excited and interested in this opportunity, thank you for considering me.

Clearly, the Bullet list is the core of your letter. Bullets are easier to read then paragraphs and more likely to resonate with the reader. The first few times you do this, it will be very time consuming. The key is to keep every bullet you write archived for later (re)use. After a while, you will have your cover letter template and a list of 30-40 bullets that you have written over time covering just about every single one of your selling points. Then, when applying for jobs in the future you can quickly assemble your cover letter by selecting the bullets that match your elevator pitch on a job by job basis. Each bullet should reference a specific job or project so the reader can easily find the details on your resume.

For the example above, your bullets would look something like this:

  • 8 years overall experience working as a Business Analyst and Web Developer, Including 5 Years working with LAMP, JavaScript & jQuery.
  • Proven Track Record Rolling out E-Commerce sites within the Apparel Industry, While at Kids-Yellow Corp, I successfully led the development and roll out of their E-commerce site fully integrated with inventory and order processing systems. The System was built to be scalable and is responsible for 35% of company sales, bringing in $35m annually. I am currently working as the tech lead rolling out the Mobile version of that same E-commerce site.
  • Solid Understanding of SEO and Web Marketing, Worked closely with the Kids-Yellow Marketing team to ensure all web marketing activities are tracked and related back to E-commerce site visits and sales, allowing for internal analysis of marketing ROI.
  • Certified MySql Developer

From the reader’s perspective, it’s clear you read the job’s description and know what they are looking for. It’s clear you have the skills they are looking for (or at least, why you think you do). It’s clear that you have some level of communication skills, and lastly there are no typos, because there is no original content. Also, notice how easy this makes it for the HR drone\recruiter to pitch you to the hiring manager.

While on the subject of Typos, here’s a Random Proofreading tip: Use Speech to Text software to proof all your correspondence by listening to it, grammar errors have a way of standing out when you hear them.

One last thing on cover letters, if you really want a particular job and you really feel you are the prefect candidate for it, include a sentence stating “I will follow up with a phone call later today”, and then do just that.

The Resume

You should have a separate resume for each role you are looking for, (So if you’re a looking for a Lead Dev role or a PM Role you should have 2 resumes). If you resume is well done, you shouldn’t have to customize it for each job you apply. That being said it doesn’t hurt to move bullets around if a particular listing really wants a skill that you have hidden.

There are whole books on the subject of resume writing, it really is an art. The key thing is that you need to be constantly working on it, and fine tuning it. That being said, my resume is laid out as follows: (Everything in Bullets, needless to say I prefer the classic chronological resume)

  1. Name & Contact info, Including LinkedIn URL
  2. Professional Profile – A bullet point list of who I am professionally, a high level overview. If someone read my whole resume, and had to describe me to someone else. This is what they would say.
  3. Professional History, ordered chronologically with the latest first, I list the company, job title (if your job title is not very descriptive feel free to use a functional job title), accomplishments, responsibilities, methodologies & tech used, ect.
  4. Education & Certifications
  5. General Tech section – a list of Languages, Databases and Operating systems
  6. Appendices with project level info – Because for most of my history I have worked within the professional services, I use Appendices to discuss in detail specific project details, I often swap out appendices based on the job I am applying to. I find this is a great reference when discussing my work history with a potential employer. I also include my white list as an appendix, so if someone does find it, it doesn’t look out of place.

Get & Qualify Your Responses

If you have a reasonably marketable skill set and do the above you will get responses, but you still have to manage them well. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Have a dedicated Email address just for your job search. Preferably YourName@???.com. Once you job search is done, this account will get spammed for years.  This way you have established a quarantine.
  2. Have a dedicated phone number for your job search. I recommend Google Voice.
  3. NEVERever pick up this phone unless you are expecting a scheduled call; always let it go to voice mail.
  4. Before calling a lead back, review the original job posting (most job boards track the jobs you have applied for, and you can review them at any time), visit the companies’s website, review the cover letter you sent them, remind yourself of your elevator pitch for this lead (adjust if necessary). If this is a direct hire (not a recruiter) and the salary is not listed in the ad, check GlassDoor.com. If you have any other questions make note of them, and keep your paper and pen handy. Now you are ready to call them back. Nothing is worse then taking a call for a job you don’t remember applying to; you can kiss that opportunity good by. I learned this the hard way.
  5. On this first call back, you have 3 basic goals: learn more about the position, pitch your elevator pitch and discuss next steps. Let them speak first, let them tell you about the position. What they say should match the mental summary you made when you first read the job description, make note of the differences and modify your elevator pitch on the fly. Once it’s your turn to speak, if you are still interested blow them away by going through each of there requirements and knocking them down one by one (just like you did in your cover letter). Speak with confidence, show your excitement and personality. Finish by telling them “I think this is a great fit and great opportunity”, ask if they have any further questions and what are the next steps. (Next Steps are part of the Sales Process and will be the focus of Part III of this series)
  6. If you are no longer interested, thank them for there time and for thinking of you. Ask them to feel free to call you again should another opportunity come their way that may be a better match.
  7. At some point during this initial call, ask them the salary range. If they won’t tell you (or give you some crap about it being wide open contingent on experience) be insistent that they let you know before you go in for an in person interview, tell them “It’s to our mutual benefit to know we are on the same page and that you are just asking for a broad range, not an exact number”. The common advice is to never bring up salary until you have an offer. I adamantly disagree with this, more likely than not, a company that refuses to discus salary early on pays below market level and you are wasting your time talking to them. If push comes to shove tell then what you are looking for and ask them if that is within the range.

Postmortem

Above I stated that all of this is based on my personal experiences Job searching in the NYC job market, this is in no way meant to be a one size fits all, you should test out these techniques, as well as others, and do what works best for you. This is what the Postmortem phase is for, to analyze your failures and look for improvements. If you find that you are not getting call backs you need to ask yourself “why” and adjust. If you find that you are not getting past the initial phone call, you need to ask yourself “What I am doing wrong?”. You should be doing this constantly analyze every thing, every phone call, every email. Ask yourself, what’s working? What’s not? How can I improve?   I’m giving you great start with this article buts it’s not the do all end all, you need to do what works for you. Your marketing efforts need to match your personality (this is why I was very loose on providing high quality text examples; you should not be cutting and pasting any of your correspondence off the web). If the person that picks up the phone doesn’t match the email personality, red flags will go up. In this day and age, any Red flag is instant disqualification.

Recruiters are people too
In the IT world, there is a large animus towards recruiters, and with good reason. That being said, you still need them. There is no reason to be rude or mean towards them (not even to Indian recruiters). Selectively return their calls; always be civil (even if you are not interested). That being said don’t let them waste your time with endless meet and greets and online tests. Tell them you will be more than happy to meet with them once they have a specific opportunity they want to discuss. (If they have a specific opportunity where they feel you are their ticket to $$, there is no way in hell they are waiting till you meet them in person next week to submit you). Recruiters can be a great source of feedback and will often be very honest with you; passing along valuable feedback given to them by their client.

Next up, Part III – Sales, Stay Tuned…

Still Recommended Reading

SPIN Selling

1 (1)   Back in the day of newspaper ads, employers had to pay per letter, ads were 3 lines in a 1.5×0.5 inch box in small print and somehow they managed to get the point across. If I ever again decide to venture out on my own; tt will likely be a twitter-like job board, with listings limited to 250 chars, plus the location and Rate, both required. If you are interested Ping me in Chat maybe you can convince me it’s time. (highly unlikely)

 

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  • […] Congratulations! If you did a proper job qualifying the lead the offer should be in the ball park of what you expected. If it’s not, you need to reevaluate your lead qualification process. […]

  • […] to the job you are applying for. (targeting specific written and unwritten requirements, the full bullet list created as part of your marketing strategy will come in handy here) […]

  • […] Congratulations! If you did a proper job qualifying the lead the offer should be in the ball park of what you expected. If it’s not, you need to reevaluate your lead qualification process. […]

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