Checklist to Shake Job Leads Out of the Trees

Photo by Jan Huber

This article will discuss the ten step process for following up letters to friends. The purpose is to involve people in your career transition (or your hunt for consulting clients), not simply inform them.

Many times job seekers (or consultants) call a friend to ask for suggestions, and if that person doesn’t have thoughts or ideas, they go to the second person, then the third person, and the fourth person. Pretty soon they’ve burned through their network, and their job search or consulting practice comes to a dead stop. They hit the wall. 

You can prevent this by involving your network in your campaign. That’s what this ten-step process will do. Let’s assume that you’ve mailed your friend letter to 50-250 people. You’ll get calls and e-mails in return, but the question is, “How can you get the most leverage from them?”

It doesn’t matter whether you or one of your friends is initiating the call. Your goals and objectives will be the same. If you mailed your letter to 25 people, and only five have responded, you’ll follow up with the remaining 20.

The text below is a transcript of a conversation between me and Matt Xylberg, a business leader in career transition. Matt was a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, then worked for the Associated Press, and finally, held two high-level corporate communications jobs.

#1: Did you get my letter?

BF: If they haven’t received it, you say, “I’ve written about my career transition and want your input. I’d like to resend the letter and then contact you in another two or three days. Is that okay?”

We do that because we want them to have the letter in hand. The letter is supposed to do a lot of work for you. You shouldn’t have to tell your story 100 times. The letters will tell your story. That’s the reason for making sure they’ve got the letter in their hands.

Matt: Okay.

#2: Have you had a chance to look at my resume? What do you think?

BF: This exploits the fact that everyone in the world considers themselves a resume expert.
I don’t care who they are, whether they’re a plumber or the CEO of a Fortune 50 company, they’re all resume experts.

They’ll tell you that the margins are too wide or too narrow, that the type font is wrong. They’ll say the Times Roman font should be Arial, or the Arial should be Verdana. They’ll tell you there are too many words on the page or not enough words on the page. They’ll advise you to move your education to the top of the resume. They’ll have a million different kinds of corrections.

The main thing to remember is that if your resume is focused on work accomplishments in a chronological format, those comments shouldn’t affect you, because there’s only one way they can improve your resume.

They could make a few word changes that might help you, but the only way they can improve it is by reminding you of a work achievement you hadn’t remembered.

They might say, “Matt, you forgot that you recruited the new IT Project Manager in less than a week, and that’s not even mentioned.”  That kind of information would be helpful. But typically you can ignore comments about formatting, such as: “You know, it’s on plain white paper; the resume really should be on a nice parchment. It should be on a dark grey paper so it would stand out, or maybe even pink.” 

Basically, what we’re trying to create is deep involvement. I want your audience to read through your resume and really study it. That’s what this gets at.

#3: What do you think I want to do?

BF: Why is that critical?

Matt: Is my message clear? Are they getting what I want them to know about me?

BF: Correct. If they don’t have a sharp, focused understanding where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish, and where you see yourself, they may make recommendations that are wildly off target.

My friend might say, “Bill, my brother made $250,000 last year in Amway, and I really feel that would be a great opportunity for you.” In which case I would have to re-direct them by saying, “Thank you, Marsha. I appreciate your idea, but I don’t have any particular sales ability.” So the purpose of clarifying is to help them help you, and they can’t help you unless they really have a good picture of what you’re trying to do.

Matt: May I ask a question about this?

Given that I haven’t specified an industry in my letter, the way some of other letter-writers have, and they want to stay in the construction industry or they look like they are health insurance guys . . . we’re not putting boundaries like that on this, so do you think that not specifying an industry might be an issue?

BF: We’re not putting those kinds of boundaries on it. But you have told them what you’re good at, told them what you love doing, you’ve told them that you want to take a broader interdisciplinary and leadership role. You’ve given them some job titles that might fit and so, if they said,” It sounds like you’d really like to go to work for a brand name newspaper,” that would be an opportunity for you to redirect them. You could say, “It’s true that I’ve had newspaper experience, but I’m really looking for something a little different and this is what it looks like. . . “

Matt: Okay.

BF: It’s just a matter of getting them heading in the right general direction. And I think you’ve got that in your letter.

Matt: Okay.

# 4: Do you have any thoughts or ideas about people I should contact or specific opportunities I should pursue?

BF: That wording is taken directly from your letter, and it asks for exactly what you want: thoughts and ideas. You’re not asking directly for a job.

They may say, “No, I don’t have any ideas. My business is in trouble. In fact, our industry is in trouble. I’m worried about my job. There are tons of people in the job market. You know, there’s really nothing I can do to help.”


#5: If you were me, who else would you be talking to?

BF: That’s an appeal to ego, which implies, “You’re a very smart person. If you were in this situation, naturally you’d know what to do-so who would you talk to?”

Matt: Makes sense.

BF: And at that point, no one is going to say, “You know I’m dumb, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Matt: Right, right.

BF: They’re going to say, “If it were me, I’d talk with John Malone the chairman of Liberty Media, or I would talk to Matt Bosnel, the President of the University of Chicago.” So, it’s a different way of essentially asking the same question. And at that point they disclose things that might have stayed hidden.

Matt:  You’re not really asking for knowledge of a specific opportunity, you’re asking, “Where can I go for more information and conversation?”

BF: Correct. But the big thing is “if you were me” appeals to their ego, namely, “You’re  a smart person, and you would naturally you know what to do. So what would you do?”

Matt: So that phrasing is very important.

BF: The phrasing is very important. My business friend might say, “Bill, if I were you, I’d call John Malone, the Chairman of Liberty Media. He’d certainly be a good person to help you.”

And that would be helpful, but I don’t know John Malone. I could call John Malone’s office a hundred times, and the only thing that would happen is that I would get arrested for stalking. 

So, what I would say is “I really don’t know John Malone and since you do, how would you feel about introducing us? Would you mind setting up a meeting for the three of us?”

Setting up the meeting is very important. We want to <i>let our network help us</i>. That gives us leverage. We want to extend ourselves by letting them work for us. If my friend Steve knows John Malone, it’s very easy for him to call John and say “Hey, I want you to come to breakfast and we’re going to meet this guy, Bill Frank, or we’re going to have a telephone call with him.” It’s very easy for my friend.

And here’s a simple real-world example:

One of my friends in human resources told me that Terry Fouts, the Medical Director at GreatWest Healthcare, wanted to hire an executive coach to work with the eight physicians that were his medical directors around the country. And Bob said, “You really ought to give Terry a call.” 

So I said, “Bob, since you know Terry and work with him every day, how would you feel about setting up a meeting with Terry and sitting in with us?” Bob said, “That would be great, I’d love to do that.”

The end result was that Bob set up the meeting in Terry’s office, and then spent fully 50% of the meeting telling Terry how great I am, and the outcome of that was a $50,000 consulting engagement.

Matt: Wow.

BF: Could I have gotten that assignment myself? Maybe.

Could I have gotten an appointment with Terry? Probably.

But then it would have been a rather cold scripted sales meeting, where I tried to find out what he wanted, and tried to explain why I was the best person to do it. It could have resulted in some business, but that might have been six or eight months down the line.

Bringing Bob into the equation and letting him help me produced an immediate contract.

Matt: I can see there’s great value in letting our friends help us.

BF: Let me talk about setting up a long-distance meeting, because many of our conferences these days are with person A in Chicago, person B in San Francisco, and person C in Atlanta. There’s an online service called “freeconferencecall.com” 

If you want to put two or three parties together, go to freeconferencecall.com, give them your email address, and create a password. They’ll give you a unique telephone number that you can use indefinitely as your own for conference calls. And there’s no charge for that. I have no idea how they make money.

I’ve used it for five years, have depended on it in some important sales meetings, where I couldn’t mess up, and the service has worked seamlessly. So, you might want to give freeconferencecall.com a try if you need to get people in distant places together.

Matt: Thank you, I’ll use that.

# 6: Can you think of any organizations I should look into? Or any books or periodicals I should be reading? What about websites?”

BF: This taps into the fact that everybody likes to be an expert. These days, there are literally 75,000 different professional organizations, trade groups, with new ones springing up every day. I’m constantly surprised that in every person’s field, there are specific trade groups, or professional organizations that would really benefit them to attend.

This is a great source of ideas about what’s new, what’s happening, and where the action is. There are tons and tons of websites that are helpful. And it’s really, really fun to learn about those as we go forward. One of my favorites is called, “CEOExpress.com.”

Matt:  I’ve heard that’s just a wealth of information about everything business oriented. Just terrific.

#7: Oh by the way, I’ll be in Hilton Head from the May 12-20. Is there anyone there that you think I should meet?”

BF: Any time you’re traveling that’s a good question.

Matt: That’s a great heads-up.

#8: Thank you, you’re time is valuable.

BF: I’d say, “I would like to follow your recommendations and check back with you in a week or so, to let you know how things are going. Is that okay with you?”

Most friends will say, “Absolutely. I would LOVE to hear how Mary is getting along in her new assignment. I would LOVE to see if Brett was able to purchase that new business he was after.”

Your friends like to stay connected and this helps them. It also lets your contact know that they can expect another call from you. This puts them on notice that today is not the last day of your work together, that there will be more phone calls and follow up.

Matt: Right.

#9: What can I do for you? (Hint: There’s always something.)

BF: I’d say, “Steve, you’ve been very helpful today. I really appreciate everything you’ve said, and the thoughts, ideas, and leads you’ve given me. What can I do for you?”

Often, people say, “Well, there’s nothing. I really don’t need anything.”

But my view is that there is always something you can give that will be helpful, something that takes you out of the role of being an “asker and a supplicant” and turns you into a giver. 

For example: “You were looking for a restaurant in Atlanta and I’m going to send you some information about the Tips Point which is the best restaurant I’ve found in the South.

Or, “You said your daughter was thinking about colleges. Let me send her something on Cornell which is where I graduated.” Or, “Your daughter is thinking about nursing school. My daughter just graduated from nursing school three years ago, let me set up a lunch for them.”

When there is absolutely nothing that I can do for another person, I’ll find an online article they might enjoy: an article from sites like nytimes.com or moneymagazine.com. Or if they’re human resources professional, I’ll access something from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM.org).

I also love to send New Yorker cartoons that are timely and on-target. There’s always something you can do that positions you as someone who gives back. And that’s really key to getting people to accept your calls when you return for the second, third, or fourth time.

Matt: Great, I can do this.

#10: The handwritten thank you note.

BF: I’m still a believer in those, because when the mail is delivered, two or three pieces hit my desk, but there are a hundred e-mails in my inbox. One way of standing out is to take the time to send a handwritten note, and it doesn’t need to be a 250 word note. It can be a one line note. ‘Thank so much for the time you took to help me find my direction. It meant a great deal to me.”

Matt: Sure.

BF: On our website, www.cover-letters.com, there are dozens of thank you notes you could get ideas from. Thank you notes are the circle that brings it all together.

Conclusions

BF: Matt, what are you thinking as you’re hearing all this?

Matt: It’s a job. It’s a full-time job to get a job. I think these are all things that I intuitively know, but do I do them all the time? No.

I’ve spent my life talking to people for a living, but that’s different, because you’re extracting information from people to write an article or produce something.

Bill: Yeah.

Matt: But that’s a different kind of transaction than this, and I think the biggest take-away for me is to make sure that I not only show my thanks, but strategically set it up so they’ll talk to me again, and giving back is part of that.

I think throughout my career I’ve very rarely had people who wouldn’t talk to me again. So, in some ways I have a lot of those skills, but they’ve wanted to talk to me because they’ve wanted to be in my story. There was something in it for them as well.

BF: Big difference.

Matt: I know that everybody’s network is different, everybody’s search is different. I can absolutely see that if you follow these 10 steps, you’re going to get a higher percentage of help than you might otherwise, simply because this is thoughtful and based on decency really, just being a person that somebody wants to help.

BF: Right.

Matt: I guess the one thing that I wonder about: I just want to make sure that people don’t feel like I’m reading from a checklist.

BF: Very important notion. You don’t want to say, “Okay. I’ve got a checklist here Steve. I’m going to take you through it. Question number 5 is…”

No, you don’t want that. You want it to be conversational, and the point is to have a roadmap so you aren’t lost in the conversation. You don’t want to get off the phone and say, “Gee, I wish I’d asked this and I wish I’d asked that.”

This is simply a checklist to make sure that you enroll your friends in your campaign and begin to shake some job leads out of the trees.

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