Home > Articles > The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 13: The Job Search

The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 13: The Job Search

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Jan 25, 2008.

A Job Search Comparison

The following comparison is hypothetical. It is not a promise of results but is indicative of the types of things that can happen with a proactive job search.

Method 1: The Standard "Passive" Job Search

Day 1. John Smith realizes he needs to get a job. He starts to fiddle with his résumé. He hasn't looked at his résumé in almost three years, the entire time he has been at ABC, Co. Looking at it, he realizes how unprofessional it looks. He wants a more presentable résumé, but he's not sure how to start.

John adds his most recent job to the top of the experience section, including the start and end date and the title he held until last week when the company closed down.

He writes two paragraphs on the various tasks he performed.

Then John looks at the objective. It no longer reflects where he would like to go professionally. He tinkers with it but is worried that making it too specific will lock him out of some positions. Although he has specific things he would like to do, his first concern is getting a job so that he can pay his bills.

Day 2, 7:30 a.m. John gets an early start. He has heard the market is tight. A friend of his, in the same field, has been unemployed for almost six months, and John worries about this. He can't afford to be unemployed for that much time.

He gets the paper, bypassing the front page, and immediately opens the classifieds. He begins looking for positions in technology that match his skills. There is one in the field he would like to go in, but he does not meet the minimum experience requirements.

Another ad catches John's eye. It is for a network administrator and covers many of the same tasks that he performed at ABC, Co. At the bottom, the ad says "Send your résumé to A1 Staffing."

He finds a third ad, for a help desk technician. He meets the minimum qualifications, but the pay is much lower than he made at ABC, Co. He circles the ad anyway. He realizes that his friend's predicament might just be his own. There are no jobs to be had.

He sends his résumé to the address listed and puts the want ads in the recycling bin. It is now 8:10 a.m.

John remembers several job sites he has always wanted to try. He goes to his computer and brings up the first. Several testimonials of happy clients meet him. This is the job seeker's heaven—thousands of jobs, and employees finding their prospective employers directly. John creates a profile and begins searching for jobs in his area that match his particular skill set.

Nothing comes up. He broadens his search first in skills and then in geography. Finally, two hits! He clicks the first ad to find out that it has been placed by a temporary staffing agency. The second is for a clerk in an IT department.

John then goes to several other job sites, creating online résumés and profiles.

It is now 11:30 a.m., day 2, and John has completed his job seeking activities for the day.

Day 3, 7:30 a.m. John wakes to find a couple of e-mails in his inbox. They are from a few of the job sites he visited. However, it becomes apparent that they are newsletters and advertisements. He notices that one of the e-mails promises to stop e-mail advertisements if he upgrades his profile to the Premium profile. For $6.95 monthly, he can have access to more employers and will receive no advertising e-mails.

John goes through the paper and discovers no new jobs posted. He goes out to the local market and picks up two additional papers. At home, he discovers two additional job postings. He calls the number on one. The voice on the other end answers, "A1 Staffing, how can we help you?"

John is surprised, but says, "I'm responding to your ad in the paper. The one for the technical specialists."

"That's great. Let me get some information."

John spends the next few minutes giving his job experience and contact information. At the end of the conversation, the woman says, "How flexible are you with travel, relocation, and pay?"

John is not sure how to answer, but he doesn't want to cut off any opportunities. He answers, "I guess that depends on the amount of travel and where I would need to relocate."

"Okay, I have your information. We have several positions that might be a fit. I'm going to see what I can set up. It might be a few weeks, but we'll get something going."

John hangs up. The conversation didn't sound too encouraging. It is now 11:00 a.m., day 3, and John has finished his job seeking activities for the day.

Days 4, 5, 6, and 7 are similar. John checks the paper each morning, checks his e-mail for information from the job boards, and waits for the phone to ring.

This is the method most often employed by the average job seeker. It is largely passive, in that you put information into sources and then wait. You have no direct contact with those who can or would hire you. In many cases, you have no idea of the company where the supposed opportunity exists.

Now take a look at a more proactive method. The next section examines the toolkit approach to the job search.

Method 2: The Proactive Job Search

ABC, Co is closing its doors, and John has been let go. His résumé has not been updated since before he began at ABC, almost three years ago. John knows that this is his first area to correct. After looking over his résumé, he decides a complete rewrite is in order.

He realizes that employers in IT are largely looking for producers. Although he holds a couple of certifications, he chooses to de-emphasize this in lieu of placing his skills and experience in the forefront.

He restructures his résumé using the formula found in The IT Career Builder's Toolkit. The emphasis is on brevity and known skills. He makes sure that there are no paragraphs, that all skills and experience are written using easy-to-read bullets. He does not include any job experience past ABC, Co because he started his IT career there, and past skills were adequately covered in that job.

At the bottom of his résumé, John lists his certifications. He then sits down and writes a three paragraph cover letter. He addresses it "To Whom It May Concern".

In the letter, he expresses his interest to further his career in IT. He refers to key points on his résumé, highlighting one key project from ABC, Co. He ends the letter by thanking the reader for taking the time to review his information and invites him to call him with any questions. He also emphasizes that he will follow up in a few days.

John has his letter reviewed for grammar and spelling by a friend who has expertise in this area. He makes the necessary corrections.

With these important documents completed, John makes a list of friends and family who are in professional positions. He then writes a simple correspondence explaining that he is actively looking for employment and asking if they know who he should contact at their company or who they might know who can lead him in the right direction.

He does not ask if their company is hiring, just the names of who would perform the hiring when jobs arise.

He mails a copy of his cover letter and résumé to those who do not have e-mail. He e-mails the correspondence to those who do.

This has taken him most of day 1 and day 2.

Day 3, 7:30 a.m. John takes a copy of his résumé and cover letter and goes to a local printing/copying company. He has 100 copies of each printed on plain white paper. He realizes that he could splurge for a nicer bond but also knows that most people in a hiring position, particularly IT, will be more interested in his skills.

At 9:00 a.m., he visits a local professional park. Nearly 70 companies are in a three-block area. Some of these companies are one- to two-person shops, but a few are corporations with several hundred people.

John walks into the first company. The receptionist asks, "Can I help you?"

"Sure, who would I speak to who is responsible for hiring technology professionals for your company? Computers, programmers, technical support?" John adds the qualifiers at the end, knowing that many industries view technology professionals as machinists or engineers.

"That would be Mrs. Thompson."

"Great! Could I speak with her and leave her some information? It will only take a moment."

The receptionist replies, "I'm sorry, but Mrs. Thompson only sees people by appointment. Can I pass along your information?"

"That would be fine. Can I pick up a card so that I can follow up with her?"


John hands the receptionist a copy of the cover letter and his résumé. He takes a card from her and writes Mrs. Thompson's name, today's date, and the words "by appt. only." He then asks, "Is there a good time to reach Mrs. Thompson?"

"Afternoons are normally better. Mornings can be really hectic around here."

John makes a note that afternoons are better for making contact.

"Great. And is Mrs. Thompson the technology director or in human resources?"

"She's actually the VP of operations, but she runs our MIS department, too."

John thanks the receptionist and leaves. He immediately enters the next company.

By noon, he has visited most of the companies and collected 30 cards. He has had conversations with several IT managers or senior technologists. Four of the individuals he spoke to gave him names of managers at other companies nearby.

In addition, one of the companies, a small operation, asked if he would work part-time to help them set up some computers. John establishes a time to come back tomorrow in the afternoon. He's not really interested in consulting, but work is work, and he knows that referrals are more readily given after performance.

John then takes time to eat some lunch before heading off to another business complex about a mile away. There he spends the remainder of the afternoon handing out résumés and taking names. In each case, he writes any information that he can on the company business cards or in a journal that he carries with him.

Day 4. John prints off another 60 cover letters and résumés. He has 75 names and numbers of local IT managers, HR managers, or small business owners. About 10 of the companies interest him due to their professional demeanor and a general excitement in the people he spoke to. These he puts in a separate pile with appropriate notes.

He is building awareness of the local business community. One thing is certain: In his perusal of job ads in the past, he could not remember any of these companies posting a position. Certainly, it could be that he didn't notice, but he realizes that this is probably because most job openings never reach the want ads.

John heads out to another large business complex about 4 miles from his house. There he begins the process again. At the tenth company he visits, he has the following conversation with the technology manager.

"We are just about to begin looking for a new network administrator. Good timing. Tell me about yourself and what you did at ABC, Co."

John covers his experience and adds some of the items he was starting to work on that interested him.

The IT manager asks John about a particular technology. He answers truthfully that he has read up on it and understands the concepts, but he has not worked with it directly. The IT manager seems disappointed. John asks, "Is there going to be a lot of that type of work in this position?"

"No, but some knowledge will be required."

"I don't want to sound out of line, but I've never had trouble taking conceptual knowledge and putting it into practice quickly. I'd love the opportunity to work with you, and it can be a test of sorts. I can definitely take care of the rest of your environment, and if I can develop the skills for this other technology, we both win."

The IT manager is impressed and asks John to come back in a couple of days for an interview with his boss. John thanks him for his time and says he is looking forward to it.

John separates the IT manager's card and makes some notes about the conversation. He then continues on to the other businesses in the area. He heads home for lunch and types a quick note to the IT manager, thanking him for his time and confirming their appointment in a few days. He includes another copy of his résumé and a more personalized cover letter.

While at home, John checks his answering machine to discover that one of the companies he visited the day before would like to speak with him. He remembers the company. It was one where he spoke to the technology manager.

He calls him back, and they have the following conversation:

"Hi, John. I wanted to let you know that I was speaking to a friend about you this morning at breakfast. He runs the technology department for XYZ, Co, and they are hiring two engineers. I was really impressed with your ambition, and I believe your skills would be a fit. His name is Mike Elliott. I told him you would call, and I took the liberty of passing your information on to him."

"Wow! Thanks."

"His number is 555-5555. He's expecting your call."

John thanks him again and then calls Mr. Elliott. After a short conversation, he sets up an interview for the following day at 3:00 p.m.

John then visits another professional high-rise for the day. He hands out the remainder of his information and takes another 30 cards.

The preceding scenario is aggressive in that I've compacted the contacts into two days of job seeking. However, it is important to note that your job search is largely about the number of contacts you make and what you do with those contacts.

Method 1 Versus Method 2

The contrast of the approaches in method 1 and method 2 is obvious. Method 1 places you in a passive wait-and-see mode, whereas method 2 places you in a proactive make-it-happen mode. Remember: The objective is to build a list of contacts in the shortest time possible.

In addition, you have to remember the employer's point of view. By the time the employer has placed an ad, it has typically gone through the standard channels of tapping internal staff and other contacts. It is never an employer's first choice to go into the random market of people generated via a newspaper ad.

If you visit enough companies, you will inevitably run into a company that has recently lost an employee due to retirement, relocation, and even death. Your résumé appearing on an employer's desk without a sea of other résumés for someone to sort through will be a welcome sight and is more likely to be carefully reviewed and considered.

The fact that you showed the foresight and ambition to personally visit and follow up with a company further separates you from the mass of people in the market. You will appear more professional and indicate to them a go-getter attitude. This goes a long way toward increasing your marketability.

Another benefit of this approach is its effect on your attitude. Waiting for your phone to ring in response to one or two opportunities weighs heavily on the mind. Having several opportunities developing simultaneously is stimulating. You will feel that you have greater control over your job search and career because you, in fact, do.

Method 1 leads to a general feeling of being victimized and being at the whim of a hurting industry. Many individuals I've counseled who were using method 1 tell me they feel as though they've entered the wrong industry.

Method 2 definitely stretches you out of your comfort zone. I know that to many, it sounds like direct sales. And just so we are clear, it is!

You are definitely selling yourself. It is my hope that you feel that you are a worthwhile and valuable asset for these companies. This will make your sales job more convincing—for both the prospective employer and you.

A Word About the Out-of-Town Search

Most of the preceding ideas apply directly to job searches within your city. But what about the worker looking outside his geographic area? Do similar techniques exist for rapidly creating interest when you are geographically distant from your desired location?

I believe there are.

The out-of-area job search poses some unique challenges. With a localized search, your ability to meet someone of influence at a company is much greater. You are also able to stay current with local company news.

When you're out of town, you must make modifications to the proactive method mentioned earlier in this chapter.

First, consider getting the chamber of commerce involved. Most local chamber of commerce offices have publications listing the area employers. Local libraries might have similar lists.

After you have that list, make calls directly to the companies. If your objective is to work in an IT department, try to speak to the person who is running that department. If it is a smaller organization, you might want to talk to a controller or the person in charge of finance. Often, these are the people who do the hiring. IT often falls under the purview of a financial executive.

I know that what I suggest bypasses the HR department. You will probably be directed back to someone in charge of that role. That's okay, but you might find that you get a chance to have a more direct conversation. Once again, this has tremendous value because you get a chance to create a personal connection.

Don't rule out taking a few days visiting your prospective location. If you do, take the proactive approach diagrammed previously and put it to use.

One thing that does not change is the need to develop reach and frequency. Your ability to make contact with as many employers, peers, and other significant contacts is the single-greatest asset to your out-of-area job search.

8. Conclusion | Next Section Previous Section

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