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Landing a Good Job in a Bad Market

By Marty Nemko

If you’re a superstar, any approach to landing a job will work. You can call a few contacts, post your resume on the Net, email a couple of headhunters, answer a few ads, and even in this lousy job market, you’ll probably land a good job.

But the rest of us need to be more purposeful. Here’s how.

The Want Ads. Yes, look at ads in the Chronicle,,, and any specialty websites for your profession. But also check out desired employers’ own websites. Often, an employer will only post a job opening on its own site. This is true of government agencies and nonprofits as well as companies.

Respond to an ad only if at least one of the following is true:

  1. You are extremely well qualified for the position.
  2. You are marginally qualified but it’s a job for which there is a shortage of fully qualified people: for example, a nursing position or one for a CFO with experience bringing a company public.
  3. It’s a job most people aren’t salivating over. I know someone who, by answering an ad, got a job as a new car lot manager—supervising the people who prep new cars for delivery. (P.S. He loves his job.)

When you answer an ad, be sure to explain, point by point, how you meet all the requirements stated in the ad. If the ad asks for salary requirements, however, I recommend you answer, “Flexible, depending on the nature of the position.’

The people who like you. Call 100, yes 100 people who like you—everyone from your parent’s best friend to your ex-lover, from your old professor to your new haircutter, from your former coworkers to the people in your WeightWatchers group,.

If you aren’t hell-bent on a particular job, keep your request fairly general, for example, “Might you know someone who could help me get hired as a manager, perhaps in biotech, but not necessarily?” If a person says he doesn’t know anyone, ask him to keep his ears open and if he wouldn’t mind your phoning back in a month to follow up. If he does know someone, ask if he would make a call on your behalf saying you were God’s gift. If you feel uncomfortable asking for that, you call, mentioning who suggested that you call.

Cold-contacting potential employers. Send emails to 100, yes 100, people with the power to hire you. That is not the human resources department. The email should be brief, direct, honest, and human. Example: Dear Mr. Johnson, I never expected I’d have to look for a job at age 48, but I was just downsized as part of a large layoff. I was a project manager at the American Widget Company and by all accounts, I was considered a very good performer. I’m wondering if you might be willing to discuss if and how I might be of help to you or to give me a bit of advice as to where I should turn. If I haven’t heard from you in a couple days, I will take the liberty of calling to follow up. Thank you for considering talking with me. Sincerely…

When calling to follow up, if you don’t get the person, leave a voice mail such as, “This is Joe Blow. I emailed you about the possibility of working for you. I assume, from your non-response, that you’re not interested, but I know how things can fall between the cracks. If by any chance, you’re willing to talk with me, if only to offer a bit of advice, I’d love to hear from you. My phone number is XXXX and the best times to reach me are YYYY.

Now for the shocker. I want you to do all of the above in two weeks. That is crucial. Most people do their job searches in drips and drabs. They make two phone calls one day, an email or two the next. With so few inquiries, they probably won’t have gotten much encouragement. That will make them less likely to job-search in subsequent days. At that rate, it could take them a year to get a job offer, and at that point, they may be so desperate, they’d take even a lousy job.

In contrast, if you set all the balls in motion in just two weeks, the chances are good you’ll get some encouragement somewhere, which will motivate you to make more efforts. Perhaps more importantly, by planting so many seeds in just two weeks, the odds are good you’ll get more than one job offer at around the same time. That will give you the luxury of being able to pick the best one.

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