How to Get A Job Workshop

In the first installments of this special How to Get A Job series we discussed the pitfalls of resumes, how to get the right job by pursuing fewer jobs, and how to turn people you don’t know into personal contacts that get you in the door. In last week’s Comments section, readers “filled in the blanks,” discussing how to turn new contacts into meetings with managers that might want to hire you. So, then what? Get the inside track before your next interview! — Nick

How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

get the inside track

You may have heard me say this before. Never give your resume to a manager that you haven’t already had substantive contact with. If you do, you cannot stand out when it counts — before the manager starts interviewing your competition.

You may also have heard me say this. If you lost out on the last job to someone that had the inside track, next time be the candidate on the inside track!

So, you’ve put to work the ideas we’ve already discussed in this series. You’ve been referred to a hiring manager (or other influential insider) by someone who recognizes that you may be able to bring value to the operation. This personal introduction is worth far more than any job application or “professionally written resume.” A manager is far more likely to act on a referral from a trusted source than on an unknown applicant.

Then what?

In psychology, a job interview is what we call a cognitive script. The questions and answers — even the behavior and how people dress — are preordained. (If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? What’s your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? I call these the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions.)

Now what do you do? You break the script and stand out.

Break the script

Almost every job-interview story line follows a conventional script. The process, the questions, the sweaty palms, the tricks, the clever comebacks — it’s all a kind of acting. Everyone acts a part.

This makes every job applicant like every other. The sameness is baked into the interview script everyone uses.

This is why, after a day of interviews, the hiring manager can’t distinguish Candidate 1 from Candidate 8.  You can’t get hired because you don’t stand out. You’re like an extra in a B movie whose ending you already know.

To get anywhere, you must stand out.

Get the inside track

The best thing you can do to stand out as more than just another job candidate is to break the script. Get the manager out of the same-old Q&A story. (What’s your greatest strength? Why are manhole covers round?) Do something your competition wouldn’t dare. Turn your conversation into something else — a discussion about the work. And start this new script before you even get a job interview!

Please get this straight. What we’re about to discuss is not what to say in a job interview. You must talk to the manager before you apply for the job.

This is what to say to a hiring manager even before they have seen your resume. How you handle this discussion can determine whether you earn a job interview as the candidate with the inside track.

How to Say It

Readers often tell me they understand what I’m recommending they should do, but they don’t know how to actually say it. So let’s run through some of your options, in “how to say it” format.

Now that a new contact has referred you to a manager you need to talk with, call (don’t e-mail or text) the manager. These suggestions may be used as alternatives to one another, or they may be woven together any way you wish to suit your style and approach. This is all about introducing yourself to the manager without a resume.

How to Say It #1

“I’ve been talking with so-and-so and so-and-so [people the manager knows] and they’ve pointed out to me that your operation is growing. They thought I might be helpful to you. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that two key problems or challenges that you are facing may be these…[briefly describe].”

If you approach a manager with an arrogant or presumptuous tone, they will blow you off. If you approach by saying, “So-and-so suggested that I give you a call,” that opens up the door. Always ask permission to continue.

How to Say It #2

“Thanks to some advice from so-and-so, I’ve been trying to study your business and I’d like to ask if you could give me a little more insight into where your business is going and where you might need some help.”

If you feel awkward and don’t want to come off as presumptuous, turn the discussion away from sounding like a pitch for a job.

How to Say It #3

“I have an interest in your industry. I’m not sending out resumes because I’m not applying for jobs, but people regard your company is a shining light in its industry. I’d like to learn more about [marketing, engineering, etc.] in your company, perhaps about your own department’s needs and about what you do before I apply for a job.”

If you’ve done your homework and spoken with insiders, you have three or four names to drop. Most managers will not ignore personal referrals, even if they don’t have an open job right now. More important, those people that referred you also tutored you in the manager’s business just enough that you’ve been able to formulate some good questions for a productive conversation.

Here’s a potent way to show the manager that you’re the one taking a risk.

How to Say It #4

“I don’t like applying for any job until I have learned enough to be able to go into the interview and demonstrate, hands down, how I can specifically contribute to the bottom line. If I can’t flesh out a plan, I wouldn’t expect any manager to interview me. I’m trying to develop that kind of understanding.”

Don’t ask for a meeting yet. Don’t hog the call. Be brief. Do not recite your resume or credentials! Let the manager talk. Whatever the manager might share with you, ask for a meeting shorter than any job interview; short enough that the manager may actually squeeze you in.

How to Say It #5

“Would you have fifteen minutes for me to stop by so I can get a little more insight about your operation, and about the work you hire people to do? I know you’re busy. I’ll be gone after fifteen minutes.”

Not many managers get phone calls like that. You’re clearly not asking for a job interview.

If you really want to be bold, try this.

How to Say It #6

“Look, I know you might think that I’m coming to you from out of left field, and if I seem like a know-it-all, please pardon me. So-and-so and so-and-so were kind enough to educate me about your company’s business. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to get a sense of how I might be able to contribute something to your operation. I’ve put together a very brief business plan I’d like to show you.”

(In the next edition, we’ll discuss how to create this “business plan for a job” that you can use both in your preliminary talk with the hiring manager and in your job interview.)

There’s another version of this you might like better. Can you see the powerful spin on it?

How to Say It #7

“It’s a fifteen-minute presentation. If you’ve got fifteen minutes for me, I’d like to come by your office. If after five minutes you don’t like what I have to say, stop me and I’ll leave, no questions asked. I’m not here to waste your time, I’m here because so-and-so suggested I speak with you — and because I think I can help you. But in any case, I won’t take more than fifteen minutes of your time. Promise.”

If you cobble together an approach from these suggestions, and a manager blows you off, it’s probably not a place you want to work. That’s not sour grapes. A manager who has time only for scripted interviews with people unknown isn’t a good business person.

Talk with the hiring manager before you apply for a job

To establish yourself as worthy of a manager’s interest, you must completely bypass the conventional recruiting and interview script. You must stand out from all other candidates. You must earn the inside edge by earning referrals and tutoring from people the manager knows and trusts.

There is no resume. There is no interview. The opportunity before you is driven by who knows you. Someone the manager knows. It’s driven by talking shop outside the job hunting and hiring script we all know and hate.

This is the substantive contact you need, and you should create it well before any job interview. This is your new script for talking about an opportunity, and these are some suggestions for how to say it.

How would you re-cast my suggested “how to say its” for your own use? Does this give you any other ideas about how to gain an edge over your competition, and how to position yourself? Does it make sense that, to stand out, you must do something “stand-0ut” before you apply for a job or go to a job interview?

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  1. I’ve been working a company that’s a local branch of a large German conglomerate (steel mill).
    Here’s my technique. Has worked securing accounts at my current job, so why not for securing possible employment. Think when Charlie Sheen took a box of Cuban cigars for Gordon Gecko to get noticed and get his foot in the door in the movie “Wall Street”. Emissaries and diplomats have done it for centuries when introduced to royalty’s courts.
    Last fall I saw an ad on Indeed for this company. I applied and was contacted for a phone interview by their GM. While we both agreed that the specific job was a drop too far down the ladder at this stage in life for me, he spent the next 30 minutes talking about positions I’d be better suited for, and my skills. I told him “it’s the wrong job, but the right company”. We definitely hit it off and talked “shop”, something that I think has been lost today. We left it with the “check back periodically”. Fast forward 4 months later. I took a business card, material sample, and sales lead from one of my customers who deals with this company’s competitor. Let’s just say there’s no love between this company’s competitor and myself. I caught the the GM leaving for lunch in the parking lot. I introduced myself, gave him the sales lead info and sample, and told him I didn’t want to hold him up for his lunch. He spent the next 30 minutes talking to me during his lunch. We agreed on the best type position for me in this branch, but the rub is, they’re such a good company, that turn over is very low. The gears were turning, and we visited about somethings he has in the works. He took my business card and asked me to continue to check back with him. None of these coffee klatches, information interviews, ring around the rosies, or urinating on my shoes.

  2. 1. When you read Nick’s suggestions, factor in time. I mean these opportunities to connect may not be perfectly aligned to job opportunities and need. So you do this all the time. Same concept on the hiring side. A savvy manager looks for talent, before there’s a need, all the time. Not do a cold start when the need arises. A savvy job hunter, looks for connections all the time, before the need arises and avoids a cold start. So where can you find the openings, for Nick’s recommended how-to-say-its
    a. a good one is being someone’s reference It’s highly likely that during the reference call, the manager briefed you on the business & their role in it. You gave them some help, so it’s highly likely the manager will take your call and chat. The floor is yours to seek advice & work in any of the “how to say its”
    Whether or not the person got the job, you tag team with them. They picked up useful insights to fuel your call.
    If the person did get the job it’s falls mostly into the hallowed info interview Asking for useful info etc. If the person didn’t get the job, you also can morph into the mode of talking to the manager before a resume (if it falls into your area of interest). This discussion can take place way before you are in looking mode.
    2. I once got a piece of advice, which I passed on when I was a recruiter. If you get as far as an interview, but clearly/are told you don’t get the job, but your gut felt good vibes. end the conversation with this ” can you suggest anyone I should talk with about their company and/or opportunities? Believe me, from a management perspective, we really don’t like to turn away good people. But business realities are such that there’s something called a budget. And oft times it’s cast in stainless steel. NO wiggle room. I’ve met 2 well qualified people, but can only hire 1. Given that, you ask me that question, I’ll pony up someone or someone(s). Because in essence I’ve become an advocate. If you do pick up a contact or two, you then ask if “can I use you as a referral? Now you’re set up for Nick’s How to say it.
    3. If you don’t get the job, & if applicable, don’t go away mad if the manager ghosts you. Most likely busy or a crappy networker. Offer the manager a connection to someone you know is a good candidate. be a connector. You should walk away from the interviews with enough info to make that assessment. By doing so, you now convert yourself into a reference per 1a. above. And a different kind of conversation that positions you to ask for a little pay back.

  3. “If you don’t get the job, and if applicable, don’t go away mad if the manager ghosts you. Most likely busy or a crappy networker”.
    The Nuremberg defense for an unprofessional, disrespectful, inept, narcissistic, and ethically questionable employer and manager. Consider it dodging a bullet and walk away. If they pull this early on, that’s a red flag.
    To quote Paul Forrel, a recruiter by trade who occasionally posts on this site, “respect is where you find it”.
    “Offer the manager a connection to someone you know is a good candidate”. That’s called being a “simp” or an “orbiter”.
    “Sure, I’d be happy to offer up a name of someone you might believe is better qualified for this position, for a fee. I bill out @ $100 per hour”. Been there, done that, and was angrily shown the door.

    • “The easiest and quickest way to build your network is to upload your contacts.” – LinkedIn marketing message

      Yeah, right. I’ve spent three decades building up my personal Rolodex, and now LinkedIn/Microsoft wants me to hand it over to them for free. Fat chance. Especially since $100 per hour is now $136.74 per hour. Y’know…inflation and all. ;)

      • Yeah and btw “I only accept credit card remittance” Ching ching.

      • @Garp: Oh, that’s why I love LinkedIn… then they want you to pay for access to the contacts you upload. “Recruiter seat,” anyone?

        • Ha! This hits close to home when I 1st went to work for a recruiting agency. Boss asked me where I was finding my submittals. I check my base of contacts. And he nicely offered to have me upload them into the company database. I was a newbie but not that stupid. I took a pass on that.

    • @ Antonio, I’m not offering empty advice. But things I did as well as others. You want to build a network? Give as well as get. It’s not who you know as much as who knows you. And when I flip a manager a lead, they now know me better & don’t ghost me.
      When a recruiter is where your last paragraph fits, you’re told don’t give anything away. I certainly did anyway, as I could tell there was no way in Hell a possible client was going to give me an order, and I felt the applicant was someone they should know. It’s a long view. The next time I called they answered.
      A mirror image of your point about offering up a name..from the management side is, as a manager if followed your train of thought & I didn’t see a fit for a person, but did see a fit somewhere else in the company, TS unless they made it worth my while.
      Instead, I’d walk the resume to a peer hiring manager and need to talk to this person. per previous chats in this newsletter, I’d assume the role of (an inside) reference.
      By offering a lead to the manager…you are helping that lead AND the manager. No you won’t get a 100 bucks, but you’d get two attaboys, a stronger network, and what goes round comes round. It’ll pay off later.

      • You get two attaboys? More like you get “what a chump and a mid-wit this simp is. I really played him”. The boomer bull on this site is so out of touch with the real world that it’s mind numbing. These managers could give a rip about people. That’s just common real world sense. If one honestly believes that someday they’ll get a bone from somebody who blatantly pimps them, that’s what my late father used to mean when he said “you can’t fix stupid”.