Of course! You'll contact your buddies and start getting the word out that you're available! You'll make calls to old lab mates from college, your professors, and those who left the company on their own initiative months or years before this all hit the fan.
The problem is that everyone and his brother is out pumping their old Rolodex. It's hard to get people at the better employers to answer their phones, let alone return all the calls they are getting right now. Networking, it seems, has lost a lot of luster when it is an approach that even the techs from your lab are using it to make some headway in a job market that just seems to get worse every day.
Moving into Hardcore Salesmanship
You can hang around LinkedIn all day long, sending out emails and using a computer-centric job search process, and I can guarantee that you will still be hanging in the breeze when you get your final severance check. You'll need a much more aggressive approach in this market.
It's time to turn towards cold leads. You've hashed and rehashed all the warm bodies you can think of, and now for your own survival you need to reach out and actually talk to people you don't know about why they need to hire you. This has a disgusting sound to it - so much like the dreaded "salesmanship."
If it sounds like I am suggesting you become some kind of Willy Loman, from Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, then think again. Salesmanship is a part of everyone's job, although you may not use the tool every day. But you certainly need to dust off your sales skills at job-search time, because you can't win without it.
Many technical specialists develop an inherent distaste for calling on cold leads and introducing themselves to people whom they do not know. Just getting to that point, however, can sometimes be a bigger problem. That's because it is often very difficult to find out who your contact should be within a firm. Companies don't like to give out names and job titles! Take it from me: this is not easy information to collect.
So the first step to take in becoming a top-flight salesperson on behalf of Me, Inc. is to become a top-flight data gatherer.
How Do You Get Information If They Don't Take Your Calls?
Sometimes it's difficult even to gather information. For example, try inquiring about who directs the company's process development program. The response will be one of these:
"I'm sorry, but we are not allowed to give out names over the telephone." Or, "Can you tell me the reason for your inquiry, please? I'd be happy to pass you to the Human Resources department."
It often sounds as if the company is guarding Fort Knox. In actuality, that receptionist is just doing her job. He or she has been told that the reception desk is the corporate gatekeeper for calls that may prove to be an annoyance to its team members. Is a call from you genuinely an annoyance? Not necessarily - only if you make them annoying.
Gatekeepers like these are actually guarding their bosses from salespeople and marketing solicitations (and, of course, recruiters). Sometimes just being friendly and honest with a gatekeeper can help you get some information. I'd always suggest that first. But, in the event that the straight-arrow approach doesn't work, here are some ideas to help you get around the problem:
- Call before 8:30 AM or after 5:30 PM, the time of day that someone else may answer the phone (perhaps even the manager you were trying to reach!). Bosses work long hours, while their assistants generally do not.
- Find a department where the names are published (often the Investor Relations or Business Development departments) and find a senior manager. Ask that person's assistant (or them directly) who the proper contact is for your inquiry. Sometimes when you get away from the front desk, other departments have no qualms about transferring you to the right person.
- The old recruiter's rule is, "It takes a name to get a name." If you have no one's name, make one up. Then call to speak to that person. For example, ask "May I please speak to Dr. John Finnegan (made-up name), your Director of Process Development?" Frequently, the receptionist will correct you and give you the right person's name. "Oh, no, our Director of Process Development is Susan Marsh. Let me put you through to that department."
An alternative approach to the one above is to substitute the company CEO's name in your request. The receptionist, hearing that you believe the CEO is the Director of Process Development, is very likely to chuckle and give you the actual name of the Director. Sure, you'll feel like a dummy but you'll get your intended information.
Bringing Out that Inner Salesperson
I'll close with some suggestions that will help you understand how the "sales process" works in the job-seeking environment. Of course, the first thing that you must remember is that your approach should vary depending upon whom you are speaking to. If you are on the phone with a headhunter, you've got to be fairly aggressive. That person is working with dozens or hundreds of candidates, and they need to know that you are truly interested, and that you will sell your skills during the interview.
On the other hand, if you are talking to an H/R person in a company, or even a peer-level person in this employer, you can't come off as obnoxious or pushy. You want them to refer your CV on to the hiring manager. Therefore, these calls must make good use of both "I" and "we" when describing the accomplishments you've pulled together in previous work experience. You can't constantly say, "I did this," and, "I did that"; you've got to mix it up a bit, with, "We were able to solve this problem," and "We got the product out the door," etc.
Here are the three most important elements of your approach: