The Right Words for Job-Search and Career Success

Do you get tongue-tied in job interviews and at networking events? Does the idea of cold-calling a company to ask about career opportunities make your palms sweat? Career experts Miriam Salpeter and Laura Labovich have recently published a new book, 100 Conversations for Career Success, which may help. The book contains customizable scripts that will help you formulate what to say in these very stressful situations. We recently interviewed Salpeter and Labovich (by email) about their book and the power of saying the right thing at the right time. Here’s what they had to say:

Monster: Is there really a formula for saying the right thing in a job hunt? How much should people plan to customize or speak “off the cuff”?

Salpeter & Labovich: While we wouldn’t argue that there is one magic formula, we do believe that having a structure, via scripts and templates, at your disposal during a cold-calling campaign or prior to a networking event, will take the fear out of awkward networking conversations where the right thing to say often eludes job seekers. Maybe it’s ironic advice, but we believe job seekers can prepare to be more spontaneous! When you think in advance about what to say at a barbeque, in a grocery store, or on the phone with a former colleague, it will be much easier to move your job search forward.

Our scripts are suggestions to help job seekers recognize what they need to know. For example, how to introduce themselves clearly and succinctly, and how to describe exactly what they offer. Job seekers can use our book to create their own customized, relevant scripts. We certainly don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all, nor do we expect people to use our scripts word-for-word, but there are clear best practices we know work for job seekers, and we know preparation is key to success.

Monster: How are people networking incorrectly — why do they need scripts to help them (what are they saying wrong)?

S&L: One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that “networking” means telling everyone they’re looking for a job. Unfortunately, these people often wind up getting a reputation for being needy, but don’t necessarily attract the kind of help they really need.

Job seekers should prepare scripts to help them introduce themselves and explain what they offer as it relates to their targeted audience. These “elevator pitches” are crucial, and should be succinct enough to maintain a person’s interest. (In other words, the two-minute pitch is probably too long for a casual meeting.)

We’ve both met so many job seekers who have been in transition for months, but still can’t narrow down a clear pitch. That’s where our book comes in — it helps people understand how important it is to prepare to network, and explains the types of things to say during networking to make it easier to follow up after the meeting.

The biggest mistake people make when they network is that they don’t plan in advance what to ask for, and they aren’t specific enough when they meet people who might be able to help. The suggestions in the book will help job seekers focus and target exactly what they need and help them hone in on just what to say when they meet people who can impact their success.

Monster: Is it ever a good idea to cold-call a company for job? What’s are a couple of tips for doing so? 

S&L: Yes! It has always been a good idea in sales, and continues to be a good idea in job searches, even in the age of social media and information transparency. Cold calling, often referred to as “the stranger-to-stranger communication vehicle,” serves as an excellent way to connect with someone at a company where you have no contacts.

There are a few things to consider when embarking on a cold-calling campaign.

  • Have your materials at your disposal: resume, cover letter, company information, calendar, the contact person’s name and bio, and a few critical scripts to be ready for all situations. (For example, what you’ll say if your contact answers, if an administrative assistant or a gatekeeper picks up the phone, or if you need to leave a voicemail message.) When you’re prepared, you won’t be fumbling for the words to impress your contacts.
  • Have an introduction ready explaining why you wish to meet with the employer. Search out the unique details that set you apart and compel the employer to want to meet with you.
  • Don’t make the conversation one-sided. Rather, engage the employer in a dialogue, however brief, as it will open the doors to two-way communication.

The more you practice, the easier it gets to cold-call contacts.

Monster: When you’re using something like Twitter or another social platform, how does the medium shape the message?

S&L: Anyone who wants to successfully tap into social networks must first pay attention to what type of engagement works best on each platform. When you use Twitter, your message needs to be succinct and direct to impact people in 140 characters or less. In an open network like Twitter or Google+, it’s important to be aware that people who aren’t already connected to you have access to your updates. This should inspire job seekers to share messages demonstrating their expertise so they can potentially grow their networks of people who know, like, and trust them. When using Facebook, you have a chance to keep people who probably already know you relatively well up-to-date about your professional interests and plans. Your messages there should subtly clue people in to your job search plans before you post an inquiry asking if anyone can introduce you to someone in their network.

Monster: How have the rules about “the right thing to say” in a job hunt changed in the past 20 years?

S&L: Today, companies screen candidates without ever meeting them, and speak with them via social media before they bring them in the door. Contact information is easier to find and prospective candidates can access insider information in a way that would not have been possible 20 years ago.

Job seekers benefit from being able to access information about companies, read reviews of organizations, and learn from a stream of content some companies post to the various social networks. There’s no better way to learn about the culture and people in an organization than by actually reading or hearing what those people have to say.

As a result, employers expect more from job seekers during their communications than they did 20 years ago. Anyone who wants to make a good impression will be able to address a company’s problems and explain how he or she can help solve them. Employers expect job seekers to communicate in a way that indicates they have done their research about the organization; job search materials need to be targeted, and conversations need to hit the mark in order to impress.

Have you ever cold-called a company looking for a job? Do you have any great tips on the right thing to say in networking situations? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.



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  • Afifa Siddiqui

    Thank you for the great article! It’s very common for job seekers to fear cold-calling and reaching out more directly for networking connections. While following a script directly might make a job seekers sound fake and robotic, effectively utilizing a script can also help individuals build confidence in their ability to network and reach out. It’s true, networking isn’t just about telling people you have a job, it’s about building meaningful relationships with connections. Developing and properly using a strong elevator pitch will allow job seekers to build more confidence in their networking abilities, because they truly know which points they are looking to drive home.

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  • Eric Von Jares

    Thanks for the great advice offered in this article. Although you want to be friendly and sociable to everyone, you’re not really networking until you have made contact with a person of influence – someone who trusts you, can recommend you wholeheartedly, and be an internal advocate. Relationships like that take time to develop.

  • John

    Totally agreed. It’s crazy how many people end up in jobs that really don’t suit their skills or personalities because of flaws in the search process. One great way I’ve heard to combat this – and to find a job that actually fits your skills, or, if you’re an employer, to find candidates who will fit the positions you’re looking to fill – is to create an anonymous profile on Whitetruffle. Seems like they can connect people with some of the best startup jobs out there. Check it out!