Take a proactive approach to the job market

Posted 25 Sep 2005. First published in The Press, Christchurch, on 28 Jul 2001.

It took a client of mine one brief meeting to sell himself into a territory sales job that had not even been worked out in detail, let alone advertised.

He was looking for a new job and learnt in the news that another regional South
Island television station was about to be set up. Obviously, it would need someone
to sell television advertising, so he rigorously networked throughout his church connections to see if anyone knew the person setting up the station. Someone did, and he arranged an introduction and meeting with the manager well before he had come to the point of advertising for staff.

At the beginning of the meeting my client asked the manager if he would be kind enough to read through his CV. He then queried the manager on his plans and progress toward setting up the station. The fact that my client had never sold advertising before, let alone television advertising, never came up in the conversation. By the end of the meeting he had negotiated his remuneration package, the scope of his territory (one salesperson only, not two) and the start date of his new position.

You don’t need the confidence and negotiation skills of a top salesperson to learn from this approach. Another client noticed a sign about the construction of a new pub on an empty lot just around the corner from her home. She found out the manager’s name and set up a meeting to enquire about work as a barperson. The manager was impressed by her approach, although he indicated that he would be advertising for a barperson, along with the other vacancies, when the time came, which he duly did. However it would have taken a very strong candidate to have dented the halo effect of that initial approach, and she got the job.

Although it can certainly help, you don’t need to discover an emerging job opportunity to benefit from a proactive approach. One client needed to get a job fast and no longer wished to have anything to do with the trade in which he had worked for many years. Where to now? We brainstormed to find an employment field that he might enjoy, and it turned out that he was really attracted by the idea of working at a busy airport. No particular job at an airport — he just liked the atmosphere. So he canvassed every business that operated within or near the airport. He had a well-paid full-time permanent position within a week.

What’s the key to success in networking or cold canvassing?

Know that you can do the job you’re targeting, or if not, that you have a genuine interest in working in the field.

Get directly to the point with your prospective employer. Convey your real interest in a position clearly, and if possible, prove your suitability for it. Support the process with a hard-hitting one-page CV that can be read at a glance (although for some jobs you might also need a longer CV to fill in more detail).

The first step is the most important step — know that you are particularly suited to the position you’re targeting. If there is something about the job, or about its work environment, which strongly attracts you, the odds are good that you will have the right mix of attributes to learn it and perform it well.

For example, in finding himself attracted to an airport environment, my client was recognising at some level the match between the environment and his skills, even if he didn’t consciously analyse it in quite this way. An airport is a fast paced, totally deadline driven environment where mistakes can be very costly. Everything needs to be planned in advance, yet every plan has to be flexible enough to cope with the inevitable last-minute changes.

My client matches this with his busy manner, quick responses, ability to think on his feet, and his precision and meticulousness about accuracy and detail.

All of which is obvious in meeting him, and any employer who is operating successfully in an airport environment is going to pick up on this skill mix very quickly. Again, they may or may not analyse all these things in detail, but the applicant is going to look right for the job, and most employers will give as much weight to their intuition as they do to the hard information conveyed during an interview.

Nonetheless, if this skill mix can be analysed — and illustrated clearly and succinctly in your CV — then you are more than halfway there. Combined with your presentation in person, and the obvious motivation you have demonstrated by conducting a proactive job search, you are presenting a complete package of skills and enthusiasm. What more can an employer ask for?

© Chris Eilers (Christopher Adrian Eilers) 2001–18.