It’s stressful, complicated, time-consuming, and often a task that ends with either tears or clumps of your own hair on the floor.
So much work goes into it. We think first of what we would enjoy doing that also pays enough to keep us afloat. Then, we research. We hunt, prowl, and pounce on any and all opportunities that somewhat align with our financial or career goals. We vet, prune, and trim, trim, trim our resumes, and by the time they’re ready, they’re visually pleasing enough to be displayed in an art museum. We compile portfolios of our favorite and most accomplished work. We pick out an outfit. It’s all wrong. We pick out another outfit. We practice questions that our interviewer will surely ask. Why should I hire you? What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? What are you hoping to get out of this job?
And then we practice the questions that only the most in-depth and thorough interviewers will ask — just in case. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? How would you describe yourself to a stranger? What book are you reading right now? You can’t ever be too prepared.
Now, we seem to have all of our bases covered and we’ll surely get the job. But, wait. What crucial leg up on the competition are we forgetting? What is something we have that the other candidates don’t?
Too often people forget about one of the most beneficial resume boosters out there. The component of your portfolio that will not only set you apart from the rest of the competition but will also provide you with the glowing recommendations you need to prove you will excel in the position in which you’re applying.
So, what is this invaluable component of your job hunt? — knowing and having a rapport with the people that make decisions.
By decision-makers, I don’t mean the higher-ups that decide what marketing campaign to institute or what tacky corporate gift to give everyone for Christmas. When I say “decision-makers” I mean the people within an organization that do the hiring. The heads of corporations that are responsible for finding the perfect people for their company’s open positions.
These people could be corporate management, company presidents, or even CEO’s. But, how do we go about doing this?
Let’s say you’re an aspiring software engineer with quality education and experience. Your dream is to land a job at Google, a company that specializes in innovation and groundbreaking technological advancements.
But, how are you going to get that job? Sure, you graduated suma cum laude from MIT, have over three years of experience working as a software engineer, and have glowing recommendations from professors and former employers. The trouble is that lots of other candidates have similar if not identical credentials. So, what can set you apart? What can make your resume rise to the stack over three hundred others?
Having a positive relationship with Google’s CEO sure wouldn’t hurt, right?
I know, I know. Contacting the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world seems impossible as a young software engineer, and building a relationship with them seems even more ambitious. What if I told you it was not only possible but has already been done before?
In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss recounts a social experiment he conducted on college students while lecturing at Princeton University. In a class of 60 students, he offered all of them the opportunity to win a round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world if they could complete a challenge. Only 20 students stayed after class to attempt the mission. He told the 20 students that the challenge was to contact three “impossible-to-reach” individuals and to get at least one reply to three questions. Examples of possible people to contact include J.D. Salinger, Bill Clinton, or the CEO of Google.
However, even with the extremely generous prize (especially for a poor college student), none of the 20 students even attempted the challenge. They gave excuses like: “I have too many other things to do,” “It’s not an easy thing to do,” and “There’s no way I’d be able to do that.”
Students also were discouraged and intimidated by the competition. They believed that other students would outdo them, and so didn’t try for fear of failure.
Next year, Ferriss offered up the same challenge and reward to a new class of students. But, this time he did something different. Before issuing the challenge, he told the new students about the excuses, objections, and failures of the class before them. This time, 6 of 17 students completed the challenge in under 48 hours.
One of the winning students shared his efforts to contact the Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. He had only briefly met Schmidt at an event at Princeton University but seemed determined to make a more impactful connection. A connection that never would have been made if it weren’t for Ferriss’ challenge.
Through some impressive research and weeks of persistent pestering of a certain dean at Princeton, he was finally able to attain Schmidt’s personal email address.
He emailed him and struck up a conversation. Not a request or for a favor, but simply a friendly conversation. The goal at first for the student was not to ask Schmidt questions but to build a relationship or bond with him.
Now, if this student were to pursue a career at Google later, he would have significant name recognition and rapport with the CEO of the company himself. And this is why making connections with not just powerful people, but the people that actually make the decisions within an organization is so imperative.
When you make friendly contact with decision-makers prior to requesting a position at the company, you display not just your desire to land a job with them, but also your genuine interest in the company and the success of the decision-makers themselves. And, not only does doing this help you gain powerful connections, but it also boosts your resume way higher up on the stack of potential candidates.
So, isn’t this common practice? Why don’t more people soon to be entering the job market not attempt this themselves?
Well, the fear of rejection is a powerful thing, especially by people we look up to and respect. Building relationships with decision-makers is not an easy, one-step process, and it can be discouraging. You have to accept the fact that you will face rejection. A lot. But, you must also be willing to persist in the face of rejection. You must try, try, and try again if you want this plan to succeed.
It will take more than the minimal effort most wish to put into projects. And, it may not lead to quick results. But, you must have patience. And, you must refrain from selling yourself right off the bat. Build a friendship or bond before asking anything of them. The best, most valuable connections are made when you are not trying to promote yourself, but rather when you are just being yourself.
If you follow these steps, put in the time, and maintain persistence, it will lead to quality results and quality relationships with the actual people whose desk your resume may land on one day.
Remember, anybody can have a picture-perfect resume. Anyone can have ideal credentials, years of experience, and perform in an interview. But, if you play your cards right, no one will have the connections to decision-makers that you have. And, in the ferocious field of job hunting, valuable relationships can be far more beneficial than how you appear on paper.
Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.
Chad Q. Brown