A successful job search is built on three basic components: focus, definition and persistence.
To succeed, you must narrow the search to a specific type of job, define skills and accomplishments that set you apart from the pack and keep at it until landing the job you want.
"Candidates must distinguish themselves from the mass of similarly qualified people," says Ted Warren, president of Strategic Resources in Bellevue, Wash. "Working with a recruiter, the candidate must identify and quantify accomplishments. It's not enough to say you were vice president of sales and marketing for XYZ Corp. — you've got to tell the prospective employer what you've accomplished, how you accomplished it and what you can do for them. Be prepared to back things up with facts and figures."
The smart candidate works with at least two top recruiters in his field. This won't be a problem because the best recruiters expect their clients to work with at least one other headhunter. Always be upfront with your recruiters and disclose who is conducting a search on your behalf. If nothing else, this will stoke the competitive fires and work to your advantage. Failure to do so will cast you as less than forthright and is likely to get your resume kicked to the bottom of the stack.
"Putting all your eggs in one basket is a major no-no," says David Lyman, a partner in Schall, Lyman & Co. in Minneapolis. "No matter how big the search firm, you won't have access to all the relevant companies in your field. At the same time, don't wait until the last minute to establish a relationship with your recruiter. If you land a job through another recruiter, tell us — it's all part of building an ongoing relationship."
Research prospective recruiters the way you'd scope out a prospective employer. Know the recruiter's specialty, and take the time to learn his name before e-mailing or dropping your resume in the mail. Letters addressed "Dear Recruiter" will be read quickly, but are unlikely to be remembered and are almost certain to end up at the bottom of the pile of resumes.
"Do your homework before contacting recruiters," says Bart Heres, general manager at Management Recruiters of Atlanta Windward. "I get a large number of calls from people whose background and skills don't have any relationship to my practice. They probably got my name out of the phone book, but didn't check my specialty. I refer such callers to the company's Web site to find a recruiter in their space."
Your cover letter and resume should be direct and understated — and addressed to a specific recruiter (see: "Uncovering Cover Letters" and "Writing A Killer Resume"). Don't exaggerate your accomplishments, and always give credit to team members and subordinates at your current or former jobs. Fudging your educational background is the unpardonable sin in any job search and a firing offense at many companies. You can bet that top recruiters will check all claimed degrees and advanced training because they don't want to waste their time with a fraud. (See: "The Truth About Lies.")
You should also expect honesty from your recruiter.
"If we can't help someone, we'll tell them," says Ralph Westerhoff, executive vice president of Brickwork Consulting in New York.
A referral from a friend who has successfully worked with a recruiter is the best way to find a headhunter. The friend will put in a good word for you and tell you how the recruiter works (see: "Networking Your Way To A Dream Job").
"From a recruiter's perspective, the best thing is to be referred by someone we know," says Scott Simmons, vice president at Crist Associates in Chicago. "We're inundated with e-mails, and while I'm open to a face-to-face courtesy meeting, I always tell people it's best to be referred by someone we know."
When you've lined up an interview, research the company. If it's publicly traded, read the quarterly and annual reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Most companies file electronically and the information is available at no cost online. Check the company's Web site for the basics and if it's not publicly traded, read all relevant newspaper and magazine articles.
"You have to understand the company," says Maryanne Rainone, senior vice president and managing director at Heyman Associates in New York. "You've got to know what the company makes or does and know its brands. You've got to know the competition, too."
Nail down the basics before the interview. The smart candidate uses the information to jump to the next level: This is what I can do for you. But don't tell your prospective boss how to run the company — that's the fatal mistake of the inexperienced or rampantly egotistical. (See: "How To Ruin Your Career In Ten Easy Steps.")
Be prepared to talk about your aspirations with your prospective boss. It's not enough to say you want to work overseas. You've got to tie your desire to work in London, Paris or Berlin to the company's fortunes and link it to your career path. No company will send you overseas to see the sights. Recruiters say many candidates miss this obvious point.
The interviewer has read your cover letter and resume and reviewed any supporting materials. The interviewer needs to know if you're a drone who will competently turn the wheels like any other off-the-shelf applicant or if you can bring more to the company. Companies are always looking for the candidate who brings something extra to the job (see: "Seven Deadly Interview Flubs").
"I often get people who are good at reciting their resume or giving me a tremendous amount of detail about what they've done in the past," says Management Recruiters of Atlanta Windward's Heres. "But when I ask about future plans, I get vague statements such as 'I'd like to be at a good company' or I'd like to work overseas.' These answers tell me nothing. I think some people are reluctant to say too much because they don't want to miss an opportunity. But if you're not specific, I don't have a foundation to begin the search, and I probably won't call because I've got thousands of names in my database."
These basic techniques will work for nonprofits, mom-and-pop operations, startups and major companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Chevron and Wells Fargo.
If you're smart, creative and persistent, you'll land the next job. Some candidates, especially those with limited experience, think their smarts will carry the day. A successful search takes preparation, persistence and time. They overlook the competition and the sweat needed to advance.
So, keep looking until you find what you want.