This post is a bit off the wall. I’ve been thinking of sharing a resource for my university students for quite some time, but until last night, I really didn’t feel these thoughts belonged on my business website. Then it came to me that there’s really not that much difference between finding a customer, finding a job or getting a date.

First, some background. I’m not actively looking for a job (or a date!).  I’ll always make the time, however, to speak to qualified hiring managers about career opportunities. What’s to lose?  Worst case scenario: I meet a new and interesting person in my industry who I might be able to help with a referral, and a student or out-of-work friend gets some help with their career search.  Best case scenario:  My life is forever changed by a new career direction.

More background about me. Since I work with many different businesses, teach a lot and have a full agenda of volunteer, social and family commitments, I bump into a lot of folks in a typical day. Over years that adds up to a decent (digital) Rolodex of contacts. To my unemployed friends and students, I look like a good resource to fast-track their job search.

Where “Seeker” is the student or out-of-work friend, the conversation goes something like this:

Seeker: “Jackson, you know everybody. Can you help me find a job?”

Me: “‘Would love to. What are you looking for?”

Seeker: “Well, I’ve been doing ____ (fill in the blank), but I can really do anything for anyone because I am very flexible.”

This puts me in a very awkward situation. I want to help, but can’t. “Seeker” hasn’t been clear about what they are good at and truly want to do. What relevant experience and education do they offer?  What makes them BAD (Better And Different) than everyone else.  What’s their targeted income? Are they willing to relocate?  These are the things I would need to communicate to the other person in my network who might be hiring.  If I don’t share this minimum qualifying information,  I end-up looking less-than-professional in the eyes of the hiring person.  Sure, I can ask this information of Seeker, but it’s a very rare person who has thought the answers through. Besides, unless I hear a very compelling “elevator pitch”, I’ll likely forget.

So, dear job seeking friend, this is for you…

1. Know yourself

The easiest way I can suggest to get to that happy place is to absorb “What Color is your Parachute” by Richard Nelson Bolles. Absorb means not only read, but do the exercises the author recommends. Save the answers in a digital document, because your preferences and goals will change over time and you will want to review the document every few years.

2. Know what you want

How will you recognize the perfect job (or date) when you see one? This is marketing 101. Its all about identifying the nameless, faceless businesses out there that you might benefit from having you on their team. What industry verticals, size of company, stability, geography would be best for you? What career path do you want? What are the most likely titles of the roles you want? As those who are employed (or married) know, there’s no such thing as a perfect match, but if you have a checklist of what matters most, you will be at least able to shortlist those prospective employers who offer 80% or better of the career attributes you’d want to see. The rest is chemistry. Make your search a lot easier by putting all of the information about your prospective employers into a spreadsheet.

3. Know who can help

This is where the selling starts. You now need to put faces and names to those impersonal corporate entities. Specifically who is making the hiring decision at the employer you have targeted? I suggest you classify people as decision-makers (or hiring managers), recommenders and others. While you may have to deal with the human resources department, chances are good that the HR folks bless a hire rather than make a hire, so they are the last people you really want to talk to. When identifying the decision-maker, your best research friends are the prospect company website, the receptionist at the prospect company, Google, LinkedIn and the business section of your local library.Update your spreadsheet with the correct spelling of the hiring manager’s name, title, email and telephone number. If there is more than one hiring manager, add that information to your spreadsheet. On your “hit list”, include “recommenders” (anyone who can not make a hiring decision, such as HR) by name and email. You might also want to break this list out by channels, as below.

a) Direct Channel

This means you are going direct to the prospective employer. From the list of prospective employers, you need to identify the hiring manager and develop a relationship with that person. I recommend a personal email with a follow-up call. Leave a short “advertorial” on voice mail, promise to follow up immediately with an email and another call in 2 days. Keep your promise. Don’t forget to send everyone a “thank you” note even if they blow you off!

b) Indirect Channel

This means you are going to the prospective employer through an intermediary. Who do you know that works in the employer company or knows someone who does? Professional recruiters are often paid up to 40% of the annual salary to put forward a short list of prospects to a hiring manager, but their service costs the candidate nothing. Interview a few recruiters and work with a couple of them. Get a blog. Send a viral email. Do a lot of interest interviews. See below for some thoughts on how to do some of this.

4. Ask for help

Suck it up and ask for help. Use your viral email to make it really, really easy for others to actually follow-through with referrals and otherwise help you. Don’t forget to send everyone who acknowledges your job hunt and offers any feedback a “thank you” note. Consider throwing a party for those who chipped in to your successful job hunt with the proceeds of your first pay check, as this will encourage them to help you, and others, the next time.

5. Other Hints and Tips

a) Website / Blog

Like most people who get a lot of email (or dates), I am respectfully fearful of catching something from you. In other words, I don’t want to open an resume attachment from you and have that attachment somehow melt my server, poach my bank account password or turn my computer into a spam zombie. I’d much prefer to link through to your online resume. Better yet, I’d like to link through to your blog that not only tells me about your interests and accomplishments, it actually shows me that you know something about the field you are looking to get hired in and are active in that field. WordPress and Blogger make this part simple and free, so no excuses for not doing this today!

b) Viral Email

Send a “viral” email to all of your friends, family, former lovers etc. and ask for their help. Tell them what you are looking for. Give them the link to your blog for more information about why you are excellently-qualified for the role. Give them permission to forward the note. Offer them some sort of incentive for their time and your success (e.g. a pair of hockey tickets or a bottle of single-malt to the person who refers me to the winning job.) Assume that the note will be forwarded and write your viral email note accordingly.

c) Social Networks and Job Websites

While I strongly feel that it’s best that you take control and responsibility for your job search and aggressively look for the perfect “dates”, it’s kind of nice to have them come to you, as well. There are thousands of job boards out there, but you can go crazy filling out online forms and I’d be willing to bet that a good number of the so-called career sites are harvesting and selling your personal information. Stick with MonsterWorkopolis and other well-recognized brands. Also consider business-oriented social networking sites like LinkedIn and, depending how you position yourself, Facebook.

d) Interest Interview

Understood that you are either starving or very tired of eating red beans and rice and you need cash now. However, consider the long term consequences of taking the wrong job. Be proactive! Manage your career! Identify the environment that you want to work in (physical, cultural etc.) and find out who offers it.

In my mind, the difference between an interest interview and a job interview is the pressure. In the former, you are in control. You are like a reporter asking questions about the business and the executive you are interviewing. You are not looking for a job, but rather looking to get a feel for corporate culture and whether this is the place you could see yourself working in.

For the latter, you’d better be prepared to dance. To use the dating analogy, you’re asking for a date with the most attractive, most popular kid in the whole school… the one who is constantly turning down dates. A job interview is most often a bake-off scenario where possibly 100s of candidates are trying to position themselves against a job description that may not even accurately reflect the true nature of the role. Guess who is most likely going to leave that interview disappointed?

e) Volunteering

It’s tough having to write a resume if you have no practical experience.  One low cost, low risk, high value way to get hands-on experience in your chosen field is to volunteer some of your time in trade for the opportunity to get practical experience.  This sounds like a no-brainer… and it is!  Who couldn’t use a bit of help?  Like any project, however, you have to manage it and manage expectations.  Be sure to position yourself as a resourceful go-getter because if you don’t, you’re not worth the trouble to the busy executive.  Approach the decision-maker with a proposal that you would like to execute… that way it takes them 5 minutes to say “Yes” or “No”.  Make sure you clarify how much time you’re willing to invest and that you want a written testimonial letter and a good employment reference if you deliver at or above expectations.