Put the “X” Factor in your Job Search!

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Looking for your first job, laid off, or just looking for an improvement?  Have you had a passion to change to another industry but didn’t know where to start?  Do you want to know the most powerful way to transition into that perfect position for you?  As a founder of a staffing firm, I’ve seen many effective techniques but none as effective as this one.

This technique takes advantage of the fact that most small to mid size companies never post their open positions.  Secondly, employers want to find people with passion, the desire to learn and, the desire to help their company excel.

While networking is a powerful job hunting tool, it is generally broad based and not focused. Most of the time, we hope lightning will strike and a perfect job will be within the reach of our existing network.  This technique takes networking to another level and focuses it with laser like accuracy.  Although, it does take a lot of preparation, when it is applied, the results are outstanding.

I discovered this technique many years ago after being laid off from an industrial sales job. For about six weeks, no results were coming my way.  I knew the type of industry I wanted to transition in to and inadvertently stumbled upon this technique.  Several company owners commented to me that this was the most creative and effective technique they had also experienced.

After applying it, I found it more stressful to choose which company I wanted to work for (in a new industry) than the actual job search.  With four offers to choose from and several others I turned away before they made offers, this technique actually made job hunting fun! I’ve taught this technique to many others throughout the years and have heard many similar results.

Step 1: Define the industry & role you want.

If you can’t define it, how do you expect an employer to pinpoint an appropriate role for you. Too often, prospective candidates approach companies without a clear focus on how they could contribute to the company’s success.  Today’s job market is most often driven by specialists.  Whether it’s sales, project management, or programming, it’s more effective to go in with an attitude of “this is what I do great” than I’m a “jack of all trades” approach.

Next and most important, narrow your role to a specific industry or niche market.  Instead of targeting something like the industrial market or advertising, target a specific product, product line or service. If you are in sales, what specifically are you passionate about or want to be involved in;  green energy, nuts and bolts, financial trading software, etc.?  If you are an engineer, what type of projects do you want to work on; Offshore platforms, office buildings, road construction, etc.?  Pick one and be as specific as possible.

Although, this technique can broadened to cover several closely related products, it’s most effective to start very specific.  Later, you can apply it in parallel with another product if desired.

Step 2: List off 3-5 reasons you are passionate about it.

Within this specific niche market, you have to be able to describe why you have a passion for it.  If you can’t do this, pick a different market.  You’ll be using these points later in discussions with a prospective employer, but they need to be defined now to ensure you have the right target market.

Step 3: Identify companies and key personal

List out all the companies producing that product or service in the geographic area you want to work within.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you list more than 15 companies you likely need to get even more specific on the product or service.  For example, instead of “Financial Trading Software” narrow it to “Foreign Exchange Trading Software.”

Define who would be your manager if you were working at these companies (i.e. Sales Manager, Engineering Manager, President). Then go to each company website, LinkedIn, Google, Jigsaw or any other source to see if you can identify people who work in these companies or roles.  Also, go out to your existing network and ask if they know anyone at these targeted companies (ask for feedback on a maximum of 3-5 companies).  Then work those contacts to determine who a potential manager or executive who oversees your area of specialty.  Pose a question such as, “I’m doing some research on the industry.  Do you know who the Western Region sales team reports too?” or “Do you know who the engineering manager is for offshore structural engineering is?”

List these targeted contacts with their companies.  Excel is a great tracking tool for this purpose because you can also make notes next to each contact. Set up columns such as:

Company       Contact      Title      Phone     Email      Contact Date     Results

Step 4: Do your research on the company and their products, projects and/or services.

Now do your homework. If you want to work for this niche market, what do you know about it?  What are the current trends?  What companies are the leaders in the market?  Why is there demand for the product or service?  What is driving new changes in the market? Google is a powerful tool which will quickly educate you on all of these areas.

Step 5: Make your first call – Fact finding only – Do NOT ask for a job!

Even though your research may have been thorough, you still need more information and you get this from the ‘targeted contacts’ you just identified.

This is a critical part of the process. Locate a 2nd tier company on your list or at least one with less desirability to you.  Pick a contact and prepare to make your first call.  Remember, this first call is only to enhance your fact finding and confirm what you have been reading. You want to learn as much about the current state of this niche industry and their competitors as possible.  Under no circumstances do you ask if they have a job opening. This defeats the purpose and will most likely end the call abruptly.  Do not talk about yourself unless directly asked.  This too will derail the process.  If asked, keep it brief and return to your line of questioning.  Your purpose is fact finding!

What you will find is people generally want to help and they want to talk about their own specialized industry, so take advantage of this!  When you call or leave a message, let them know you are doing research on their specific niche and ask if they could help by giving you their opinion on it.

When you get the contact on the phone, let them know that you are talking with several companies within this niche market.  Ask them if they could help you understand the industry better.  Ask about:

  • Current and long term market trends?
  • Who they define as their competitors?
  • Which competitors’ have the best reputation, the worst, or are the toughest to compete against and why?
  • What special requirements does one needs to be successful in this niche market, and what they expect out of a person who works for them.

Many times, those managers or executives have worked for several of the competitors giving them an even greater insight to company cultures and how they compare.  If you get a good conversation going with the right person, you will have loaded your gun with two types of ammo.

First, you scare him or her.  Everyone is afraid of their competitors.  If you leave a good impression with them, the last thing they want is for you to work for their competitors. Therefore, if they are able to hire a role like the one you want, you will likely get an invite to be interviewed.

Second, it fills your war chest.  You must always be looking for more names and more information about this specific industry or product.

Step 6: Infiltrate the Market

Now you can get to work.  Use the same routine as described before, but also specifically ask about the competitive companies which were brought up in the previous discussion. You may want to use an opening like the following,

” Hi, I’m Tom Jones and this may be an unusual request but, I am talking to a competitor of yours about a job position and I would like to see if I could get some information about this market (or product) and to see if you can offer me some insight on their reputation in the marketplace.”  You may want to ask other question like, “How does their product stack up to yours?” and, “Do you know any weaknesses in their product line?”

This method accomplishes the same goals as before, but you become more specific.  Your passion for the product or service will be evident and you will learn even more in the following conversation.

Step 7: Build on it

On the third call, use a similar approach but now you can add you are speaking with two of their competitors and want to get their opinion on their reputations and would like to know more about both companies and the industry.

This technique creates a snowball effect.  Once you set it in motion, you can feel the increasing momentum as you learn the players, the industry, the market, the challenges and the reputations of each of the competitors.  You will find employers are highly interested in this innovated approach and will respond accordingly.

Step 8: Interview with industry knowledge

When, not if, the interview requests come, you now have an arsenal of industry information, good and bad about each of the players.  You’ll be able to ask better questions and know which company would be the best fit for you.  You’ll come across as an intelligent, innovated and passionate potential employee that employers wants on their team.

Keep track of your results and the contacts you make during this process.  This industry specific network you have just created will continue to be highly useful even if you land a job with one of the competitors.  You now have contacts at each of these companies for future reference and can collaborate when needed.

Good luck in applying this technique in your job search and please send a note with your story if also find it as effective as we have.

Author:  Tim Howard – CEO and Founder of Energy Sourcing.  Energy Sourcing is a staffing and consulting firm located in Houston, TX specializing in accelerating the growth of energy technologies.