This week’s question is not a question. It’s a lesson from a subscriber about getting a job interview, so I’m going to highlight it differently than normal. Hope you find this real-world “how to get in the door” approach helpful. I can attest that it works because I’ve coached many successful job seekers on how to use it. It’s so fundamental and powerful a social tool that I’ve also taught employers how to apply the same basic method when they are recruiting. But let’s let this subscriber explain it! – Nick

How I got in the door

I’ve learned that Ask The Headhunter is not a road map but a philosophy that helps you take the lead in the hiring process. The job hunter who is in control does not jump in and act presumptuously. Instead, he just takes the lead, allowing others to play their parts.

The path to the job interview

Below is an actual letter that I sent to a contact at a company where I’d like to work. I got this person’s name out of the local business fish wrap.

Dear Mr. Big (alias),

job interviewI’ve been following your company’s activities. I read the XXX article in YYY fish wrap weekly. I would like to learn more and I am contacting you because you were cited in the article.

Let me explain the purpose of this letter. I am currently talking to knowledgeable professionals like you to better understand how I might fit into your industry. Managing the day-to-day operations of a technical service organization such as yours is what I do best.

I would greatly appreciate 20 minutes of your time. Let me be perfectly clear that I do not expect you to have or know of any job openings. I am strictly on an information-gathering mission, talking with people who currently work in my target industry. I assure you that I will be prepared and take up no more than the 20 minutes I asked for.

I will call you Friday morning around 8:00 AM to set up an appointment at your convenience.

How to meet who owns the jobs

I sent this letter on Tuesday, called on Friday and got an appointment for the next week! I had my meeting. This particular individual was a sales manager for the region. But, I’m not interested in getting a job in sales. I’m a technical guy. I explained to the sales guy that I wanted to talk to him because “sales has the pulse of the entire organization.” Which is true, plus, people in sales love to talk. And talk he did.

The end result is that I ended up with referrals including the names and phone numbers of two IT managers and the regional director of operations.

How to do it painlessly

I learned that the keys to getting informational meetings are:

  1. Ask for information only!
  2. Tell people up front that you don’t expect them to have or know of any job openings.
  3. Ask for 20 minutes.
  4. Tell them you’ll be prepared. Remember axiom #1 of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search: The best way to get a job is not to ask for one.
  5. You will turn up the names of managers to meet with through research, not by asking HR.

Start on the periphery of your list. Don’t approach the guy you actually want to work for too early. Use the “second stringers” to get information. When you do get to your target, you’ll be totally prepared to do The New Interview.

Nick’s Reply

Good stuff! I love to see the methods we discuss put to use. I tire of people that tell me they have no contacts at a company, or don’t know whom to call, or that HR is the only way in the door.

Your method of identifying an employee to call by reading business publications is one I’ve taught in workshops. It works!

Work your way toward the job interview

Perhaps one of the most important points you make is to start on the periphery – it’s the “second stringers” who give you the ammo you need when you get to the Big Boss. (I refer to this elsewhere as triangulating to get in the door.) That’s also where you can experiment a bit with your approach and tune your presentation, and – of course – learn a whole lot!

It seems you ferreted out the phone number of the person you wrote to. When you don’t have that number, you’d of course say instead, “If you will kindly provide a number and time when we can talk for 20 minutes, I’ll call you then.”

Who can get you in the door?

Your story also points out that patience is key. The person who can get you in the door is likely someone you don’t know yet. If you did anything unusual, it’s that you invested the time to identify a relevant person in the business press.

Job hunters who are always in a hurry won’t get this: there may be no job and no match at the end of this process at this company. But even so, you will make some excellent contacts who can help you with the next company you target. There is unfortunately a strong, almost uncontrollable tendency in most people to turn that meeting into a job interview – and that’s how they blow it.

Congrats on getting in the door. Double congrats for carefully picking your quarry, both the company and the person you called. And thanks again for sharing your story.

The lesson

To other subscribers, I think this reader’s experience teaches an important lesson, in the form of a question. Who can get you into a job interview in just 20 minutes? I believe getting a shot at the best job requires that you work out the answer to that question. In fact, I think that may be the single most important task in job hunting.

How do you get in the door in today’s insane job market, which is dominated by digital roadblocks and robotic HR screeners? Have you ever started at the periphery like this reader did? How do you identify the person you need to talk to?

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  1. There is an old saw in the venture world: “If you want money, ask for advice; if you want advice, ask for money.”

    Today’s corollary: “If you want a job, ask for advice; if you want advice, ask for a job.”

  2. Bingo. Great advice. The absolute best way to do it.

  3. I’ve used a digital version of this approach by mapping out my LinkedIn contacts and those of my peers. It progresses from a LinkedIn chat to Whatsapp to a Zoom call.

  4. Excellent, excellent article, and tracks completely with a methodology that I was taught in 1978 after I left the Army, and which has seen me through 2 20-year careers and some 12 employers.

    If I may, I’d like to share 2 scripts that I label THE KISS OF DEATH that will shut down your networking efforts faster than anything you can think of:

    + My name is Chris. I’m looking for a job (or, for a job as a title). Are you hiring, or do you know anyone who is?

    + My name is Chris. I understand your organization is hiring (or, is hiring for a title position). Can you refer or recommend me?

    The method recommended by the writer works, and works exceptionally well, but only if the people we are contacting are deciding to meet with / assist us, and are choosing to help us, 100% on their own, without any “selling” or “influencing” or “suggesting” on our part. The moment our interaction moves from “I’m looking for information” to “can you” or “will you” reveal or refer, it’s all over and we’ve just killed this portion of our network.

    • @Chris: You’ve outlined the do’s and don’ts very nicely!

  5. That’s basically the same thing that’s in “What Color is Your Parachute.” My brother recommended that book to me when I first graduated from college almost 40 years ago, but I couldn’t make it work – not then, not now. Not saying anything about this approach in general, just that I didn’t find it helpful.

    • @Askeladd: Dick Bolles, the author of Parachute, was a good friend. I used to chide him that if anyone followed all his suggestions and exercises, they’d never have time to get a job! But the method works. Sorry it hasn’t for you. Can you hazard a guess why not? Or, what do you think makes it difficult to make it work? Maybe we can do something useful here. Thanks for your frankness.

      • I wrote a detailed reply to the comment above hazardous a guess but the spam filter are it.

      • I have a similar experience. I think there are multiple factors at play.

        These methods seem to assume you’ve already done the work or similar work. Which is harder when your entry level. How do you “do the job to win the job” when you don’t know what the job would entail. I could have done with some shadowing. This is what makes me unsure if nicks books are worth the money.

        I think some people are natural networkers. I never have really connected with anyone at college so didn’t have anyone to practise networking or contacts to other industries.

        Finally I also find it difficult to connect with people online and being in a remote area with few jobs and relying on public transport it’s very hard to do Any in person networking. I’d need to pay for a hotel because I wouldn’t be able to get back the same day.

        I’ve tried interviewing people on LinkedIn zoom groups and the like. (I had hoped that the pandemic would change this) but it doesn’t seem to work. I feel like, I’m doing something wrong.

        Finally since failing at this after college and failing to get a job via blind applications , your left with an employment gap which is off-putting.

        • I must preface this by acknowledging that I don’t know you, don’t know a thing about you, and you haven’t asked for my opinion … but anyway:

          A man from New York City was on a sales trip through rural Georgia (farm machinery) and stopped at a little, old-time country store to get a soft drink. As he walked toward the store, there on the porch in a rocking chair sat an old man, and next to him sat a big, brown coon dog.

          The dog was squirming around, whining, and was in obvious pain.

          “What’s wrong with the dog?” the salesman asked.

          “Sittin’ on a nail,” came the reply from the old-timer.

          “So why doesn’t he just get up and move?” the New Yorker asked.

          “Doesn’t hurt enough.” came the reply.

          Craig, from your comment here, it sounds like you’re sittin’ on a nail.

          When it hurts enough, I’m sure you’ll figure out what to do.

  6. This takes a lot of moxie and zero social phobia. I’m envious of those who can do this.

    • @Yoomi: Don’t be envious. You can feel awkward about doing it, but you can also learn how to overcome your phobias a little at a time. Please check the suggestions for introverts here:

      It’s all about building confidence by keeping it simple. If the way you’re networking feels wrong, don’t do it!. Please try the practice methods I suggest. You’ll get good at it!

  7. People should not forget their existing network. I use the last quarter of the year to catch up with my network with a simple email or phone call. Most former colleagues are happy to talk about their companies.

  8. This is fine if you are trying to do ‘recon’ on who is who in an organization. Sales people certainly do love to talk and they will tell you anything you want once you get them on a roll.

    Back when I worked for a big tech company we loved the sales guys… but we’d never…ever… would take any referrals from them. It just would not have happened as they didn’t even know which side of the keyboard to type on.

    As a matter of fact… any sort of referral from them would probably have been trashed without prejudiced.

    So while this might be good for a fact finding mission I feel it would be a far cry from getting your foot in the door.

    Just my 2 cents