Article by Jeff Kauflin | Found on Forbes
For many people, the first move in starting a job search is to scour job postings. But competition for those positions is often fierce. Sarah Stamboulie, a New York-based career consultant who worked in H.R. at Morgan Stanley and Cantor Fitzgerald, and as a career coach in Columbia Business School’s alumni office, says there are hidden opportunities that haven’t yet been posted online or even fully formed in a manager’s mind. I first met Stamboulie seven years ago, while I was working in marketing consulting and contemplating how to pursue my passion for writing. She helped me craft a new, part-time role at my company, which allowed me to start writing freelance, and it set me on my current path in journalism.
Stamboulie recommends focusing on informational and exploratory interviews, an approach that my colleague Susan Adams has also covered. These interviews are more informal conversations where you ask someone specific questions about their work, and you target people employed at your dream company, even though it might not currently be hiring.
Until three or four years ago, Stamboulie told clients to start pursuing informational interviews by searching their personal and professional networks for connections to their dream company. But since that approach is less targeted, it often takes longer to make your way to the right people. Today she recommends sending cold emails directly to the person who could hire you into your dream job. It’s a faster route that has worked extremely well for her clients, and she thinks the strength of the job market makes cold emails even more effective.
After you’ve found someone to target, do extensive research on her, reading everything you can about the work she has done and articles (or tweets) she has written. Instead of focusing your email on why you want to work at the company, make the email about that person. Find an insight that shows you’ve read, understood and appreciated an aspect of her work, instead of flatly stating that you read a story about her. If you can’t find anything specific to her, find information that’s unique to her product area or company. The goal is to convey that you’re knowledgeable and passionate about the field. Based on my own experience as a corporate recruiter, I recommend going deeper than something like, “I love your company’s entrepreneurial mindset and team-based culture,” unless you’re going to cite specific examples. Every company professes those values.
This method takes a lot of work. “Why spend two hours doing this research?” Stamboulie asks rhetorically. “It has a really high chance of working. And if you get your meeting, you will have done your homework, so you don’t have to prep as much. You’re just front-loading the work.” Stamboulie says this approach, when followed properly, has resulted in a meeting in more than 50% of the cases when her clients have used it.
Of course, your response rate will vary based on who you’re emailing. If you’re contacting someone who leads operations at a small business, your note may be the first time that person has received such an email, and he’ll probably respond. If you’re trying to reach Elon Musk, your odds are much slimmer.
But how can this approach get you a job? Once you’ve secured a meeting, the next step is to impress the other person with your knowledge and sincere interest, creating the impression that she’d love to have you on her team. Companies are often hiring for many reasons—for example, a team is overworked, the company has identified a new business opportunity, or someone is going on parental leave. Vacancies pop up more quickly than you’d expect, and if your dream company has no openings now or in the foreseeable future, ask the person if there’s anyone else he’d suggest you speak with.
This method has worked for many of Stamboulie’s clients. One of them had a strong background in government relations, but she wanted to switch careers and join a startup. She identified five companies where her knowledge of Obamacare legislation could be valuable. One by one, she did research on each business and contacted the CEO. “They were perfect emails,” Stamboulie says. “She did tons of homework, read all about them.” Eventually, Stamboulie’s client landed meetings with all five CEOs, and she landed a job at one of the startups.
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