By now, you should have a pretty good map of all the companies which employ people in the types of job you want to do. Let’s call this map your ‘Research Universe’. You should have got the information from a combination of desk research and talking to friends and friends of friends. If so, you will probably be in the top 1 per cent of any job seekers in terms of your knowledge of that market.
It’s important to know when to stop research and move on to Step 5 – which is to approach those companies so see if they might want to hire you. Sometimes people get a bit perfectionist about the research phase, and get stuck there, gathering ever vaster amounts of information. The point is not to become the world’s expert in this area, but just to uncover enough information to be able to write a good covering letter, and to come out with one of two sound bites during your job interviews.
You need to know:
- 4 or 5 bullet points about the Sector – shape, size, prospects, developments, etc.
- 3 or 4 bullet points about each Company you will write to;
- An idea of the skills and career path of the job you want to apply for.
Once you’ve got that – that’s good enough. After all, in addition to all that, you should also have your Research Universe which represents a significant volume of knowledge in itself.
Now is the time to start contacting the companies to see if you can find a job.
Whom to Contact:
Ideally, you should have enough information to rank the companies from the ones you would most like to work for to the ones you would least like to work for – as set out in Step 3 – Research, Research, Research. I would recommend starting with the ‘uglies’ – that is, the ones you wouldn’t want to work for. The point is that you can practice on the uglies before approaching the beauties so that you refine your meeting skills and gain confidence for the attractive jobs. So, start with your bottom 10 companies on the list. Treat all of them as if you really want to work for them – treat everyone as a beauty. If they do happened to offer you a job, at the very least, it will boost your confidence; at worst, it might provide a backstop if you cannot find a job with the beauties.
How to Contact them:
My recommendation is to use e-mail, and then follow it up with a phone call the next day. Ideally, you should have identified who to write to in your research phase. Usually it should be the manager of the department you want to work in. Sometimes it might be the Chief Executive if it’s a small company. Ideally, you want to go two levels of management up from the job you want. In other words, if you want a job as a Salesperson, then don’t write to the Head of the Sales team – write to the Head of the Sales team’s boss.
Sometimes their e-mail address will be on the web site. Sometimes you can guess their e-mail address is other addresses are listed. For example, if you can see any addresses with the format: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org then you can try copying that format with your contact’s name. Make sure you put a delivery receipt on the e-mail if you have Outlook.
If that doesn’t work, then make a phone call to their PA, (ask switchboard: ‘Can I speak to John Smith’s assistant, please?’ Then ask say you have been trying to send an e-mail to John Smith but it’s bouncing back, so could you please check it.
If that doesn’t work, see if they have a LinkedIn account. You can often send people an ‘InMail’ if you have the right sort of account – though that tends to be a last resort as it is quite expensive.
What to say:
Your aim is to send them a covering letter in e-mail format explaining:
- Your interest in the Sector;
- Your interest in their particular company; and
- Why you think you might suit the company and sector.
You should end the letter with the sentence:
“I will call you tomorrow to see if you, or one of your colleagues, would have time to set up a brief exploratory meeting in the next couple of weeks”.
There are some sample covering letters here .
How to Follow up:
Now, you may be lucky and be invited in for a job interview. But almost certainly, for the vast majority of letters you send, you will either get no response at all, or you will get what me and my mates applying to jobs used to call a ‘PFO letter’ (‘Please F*** Off’ – couched in polite language, of course). This is entirely normal – don’t be discouraged. Most job seekers just leave things there. This is set out in Step 6 – Ask and Thou Shalt Receive.
If you have had no response: Call them the next day, and say: “I’m just following up on an e-mail I sent you yesterday to see if you might have any openings in your company. Do you recall seeing it?” If they say no, ask if you could re-send it and check the e-mail address. Then follow up again the next day. But the chances are they will say something like: “look, there’s probably no point in sending it as we’re not hiring at the moment”. In other words, a verbal PFO. If that happens, just go to the script in Step 6 – Ask and Thou Shalt Receive.
At this stage, they might also just ask you to re-send your e-mail to someone else in the company – probably an HR manager whose job it is to fend off applicants, and so he or she may be the one to send you a PFO letter. If that happens, just go to the script in Step 6 – Ask and Thou Shalt Receive.
In short, your aim is to achieve one of two outcomes:
- to be invited to interview; or
- to receive a PFO letter or PFO phone call.
Most people fail to follow up applications that receive no response. But until you receive either one of these two outcomes, you should keep chasing for a response.
If you do eventually get your PFO letter, you can move on to Step 6 – Ask and Thou Shalt Receive.