How to Create a Career Transition Focus Group

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLabĀ®

OK, so you have your letter to friends and acquaintances. The next step is to test it to see how it works, and to get comfortable talking about your situation.

When Proctor & Gamble launches a new laundry detergent, they don’t roll it out to all 39,000 supermarkets in the U.S. overnight. They begin with small focus groups to test and re-engineer the product. They launch the product in stages to be sure it’s well-received.

That’s what you’re going to do with your letter, and here’s how:

    1. Pick a group of 12 trusted friends and advisors,
    2. Send them your letter and resume,
    3. Call to ask them for thoughts and ideas,
    4. Revise your letter and resume to adopt their good suggestions (skip the bad ones),
    5. Email your package to a larger group.
    6. Once you feel confident that your letter is doing the work it was designed for, you roll it out to your entire network. This begins the process of developing job leads.

Things to consider:

  1. Pick a group of trusted friends and advisors. These are your closest friends and biggest fans. Your cheerleaders and whole-hearted supporters. Glass is half-full people, not glass is half-empty. Optimists, not pessimists. Enthusiastic folks who’ve been successful in life. Your fans don’t have to own Mercedes dealerships, but they should be good at what they do. People with street smarts.
  2. They don’t have to be in your business or even your industry. They don’t have to be neighbors or in your home state. They can be anywhere, even out of the country. We live and work in a global economy; everything is connected, and everyone is connected.
  3. It would be easy to say that’s not a good cross section of people at work, not a good representative sample. And that’s exactly correct. We’re not hitting the big names in the industry, or your key contacts. They will come later as your comfort level advances.
  4. This method is designed to put air under your wings as you enter the market, not tear you down. It’s intended to be encouraging, not discouraging.
  5. There are plenty of naysayers in the world. You’ll encounter them as you go along, but why seek them out at the start?
  6. Your good friends will nudge you the right direction. They’ll point out some flaws or inconsistencies in your materials, but they’ll do it in a friendly supportive way.

Shall I use email or U.S. Postal Service?
Email is the language of today, so that is a good approach. If it’s impossible to find an email address, use standard mail to a physical address. When I’m writing to important people, or sending a big invoice, I often do both. That way the message is sure to be read.

What’s really important?
It’s nice to get help with your letter and resume, but what’s most important is involving your readers in your process. The reason to show them the materials is to get them intimately familiar with your situation. What have you done with your career? Where exactly are you trying to go? What introductions would help you best?

I once sent a letter listing my consulting services to a dear friend and good corporate client. I had consulted for her in three or four companies. When she received the letter she said, “I never realized you worked in all these areas!” Even our best friends don’t know what we do.

Talking to friends and acquaintances about our situation is the goal. Getting advice and ideas about our materials is a side-benefit. Getting job leads is an unexpected reward.

Mechanics of getting it done.
You’re going to email your letter and resume to your focus group. But don’t just send it cold. Add a preface to your letter, something like this:

I plan to send this update to a few trusted friends and colleagues, but before I broadcast the letter to a larger audience, I’d like your comments. First, does it sound like “me?” Second, is it too long, too short? Is it too friendly, too business-like, or otherwise off the mark? Did I miss something important about myself or my business?

As a trusted advisor, I really value your input. I’ll give you a few days to review and then reach out to you to discuss.

Many thanks, Bill

How long should this take?
If you send 12 emails or letters, you should begin getting replies on the same day. Yet everyone is busy, some would say super-busy. Sometimes we have to work hard to talk with our best friends.

If you haven’t heard from a focus group participant after three or four days, give them a call. If they’re not around, leave a message. Also, re-send your first email. Perhaps they didn’t see it. It takes some arranging to connect, but it’s well worth your time. This is where the big jobs come from.

It usually takes about a week to speak with a dozen folks. If you’re more assertive, it could be sooner. If they’re traveling, it could be later. Whatever you do, don’t rush people or come on too strong. That is a turnoff and does more harm than good. Anyone who receives your letter should feel “This is a dear friend, a nice person, someone I want to help.” Don’t do anything hurry-up to destroy that.

What should I say?
After marketing my company for years and thinking of dozens of ways to start a call, I found the simplest and least fearful way to begin was simply to say, “Hi Mark, this is your friend Bill Frank. Did you receive my letter?”

Although the call is about me, and I really want advice, what I really want to do most of all is to renew the friendship and nurture the relationship. That’s the goal: relationship building. Because if I’ve created a strong friendship bond, that person will keep me top-of-mind and look after me long after the call has ended. If a person feels taken advantage of, they will try to forget you as soon as the call is finished.

So I always begin a call by finding out about the other person. How are they doing, how’s their family, how are they getting along at work? How are the children? This isn’t just foreplay, it’s an honest interest in friendship. People can tell if you’re faking it. And if you’re faking it, you’re done.

I once had an executive coaching client who learned many things but never got this lesson. She’d ask about my family as she was scrolling through her phone messages. She gave me off-the-cuff impersonal gifts. I helped her get the ideal perfect job, but never considered her a friend.

Relationships are a two-way street, especially in the job market. When I’m talking to someone, I want them to feel very important, I want them to have fun, and I want then to take my second, third, and fourth calls as my career transition unfolds.

Here’s what happens
This is a home run process that always delivers big, positive results. Candidates who’ve sent their letter letter and resume to their focus groups have said:

One client emailed focus group materials to her auto mechanic, of all people. The following day, she sent me this note: “WOW! My mechanic (he actually owns the business) knows people at IBM right where I want to work. It’s across the street from his shop and he golfs with so many business owners and high powered people I couldn’t believe it. I offered to shared my resume with someone who was an administrator at IBM. You were right. Never know who knows who!”

OK, stop sitting on your hands and get your letter and resume in the mail. Your email doesn’t do you any good sitting on your hard drive.

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