Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 17, 2010

Finding the Cold Contact

Instructor, Caroline Bender

We have been learning these past few months about informational contacts -- call them interviews if you like. Call them mixers. Call them Blind Dates, as I do. They are similar to all of these. Their primary goal is to expand your library of contacts, and to get you some exposure.  In a 10% Unemployment market, you are not trawling for jobs; you are simply charming your way into rooms in order to be thought of when there are jobs.  If you are currently seeking informational contacts and your library has dried up, let us suggest a few new places for you to look without spending any cash and very little extra energy than you already are in the course of a normal day.

One of the sticky aspects of approaching contacts who are strangers to you is finding that opening: "So-and-So recommended that I contact you...." "I understand you have been working with Former Co-Worker..." "We exchanged cards in the airport bar..." So how does one make the long leap of a truly cold call?

"Found your name on Hoovers...nestled in my extended LinkedIn network...place card at cousin Sissy's wedding..."

Here is where Miss Bender refers to her preferred source for What to Do: The Movies.

In Working Girl, villain Katharine Parker  is exposed as an idea stealer when she is unable to explain how she came up with the idea in question. More to the point, heroine Tess McGill can.  It is revealed to be the natural form of network-thinking her hard-driving Boss wouldn't have come up with.

Tess: Look? [showing newspaper]
Katherine: The People Page? Now this is ridiculous....[reading]"Former Miss America Dawn Bixby has been house-hunting here. Seems Dawn and hot, hot, hot D.J. hubby Slim Slicker are getting ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple." ...So?
Jack: Slim Slicker's one of Metro's major assets. Syndicated to all their stations. Number one in his slot. The cornerstone of their programming.
Tess: You lose him, and Metro's just some okay real estate with falling ratings. And you're not exactly buying it for a write-off.... [shows another magazine to Trask] Okay. See, this is Forbes. It's just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting, right? Okay now, the same day, I'll never forget this. I'm reading page six of the Post, and there's this item on Bobby Stein, the radio talk show guy who does all those gross jokes about Ethiopia and the Betty Ford Center. Well, anyway, he's hosting this charity auction that night...real blue bloods, and won't that be funny? Now turn the page to Suzy, who does the society stuff, and there's this picture of your daughter.,,,See, nice picture. And she's helping to organize the charity ball. So I started to think, "Trask, radio...Trask, radio." And then I hooked up with Jack, and he came on board with Metro, and...and so now here we are.
What did Tess do that was so clever?
1) She read between the lines
2) She made a personal appeal

The newspaper (online or in print), trade journals, mass market magazines are full of sources. Journalists work hard to get them, and the average reader skims over them with little retention. Get your pencil out and start circling, Tess McGill style.  The tools you need are the tools you already have: up-to-date news sources, social networking, and the Internet.

Step One: Find the story
Instead of reading for where the jobs are, read for where the jobs will be.  Watch for mergers, real estate transfers, grants and bequests, promotions, even a new ad campaign can signal that something is afoot and funds are moving.  Your local business journal is a good source for this.  Local coverage tends to be more in-depth, believe it or not, and company press releases will include a lot of names.

Step two: Find the name(s)
Read with a highlighter in hand if you need to.  You need named and quoted sources you can track back to you, even if they are staff members, board members, or customers.  Take a look at a story's author as well.  Email addresses are often listed at the bottom of the column.

Step three: Find the connection
How do you know this contact?  You probably don't.  But you may know someone who does.  This is why there is so much talk about social networking these days.

LinkedIn users sometimes say that they aren't sure how to take advantage of the tool.  Here is an opportunity.  Searching for this contact by name (People) or by Companies, you will discover your connections, even if they are some distance from you.  Use LinkedIn Introductions to reach them, or simply contact the people you do know personally, until you get to the direct contact.  As much as possible, try to have your mutual contact introduce you.  This is not at all old-fashioned.

Step four: Make the connection
The choice of email over phone is a personal one.  Email gives your contact time to review your information and respond at their convenience; it can also be sent to spam, or buried under business mail.  By phone, it may be difficult for you to get past the Gatekeeper, and if you are not prepared to leave a compelling voicemail, a hesitant phone connect could undo your effort.

In either case, what you want to achieve is an immediate connection, a personal interest, and a statement of need.
"Hello, my name is XXXXX.  [refer to the connection] I have been reading about...thanks for your recent column on.... I have been speaking with (mutual contact) about....].  [brief information about you and what you are looking for]

Step five: Ask for help
Do not ask about employment.  Everyone knows you are looking for work; everyone knows there isn't any.  What you are looking for is an opportunity to talk with this contact about the things that are important to them, and to make enough of an impression that they want to help you.

Using your common ground, appeal to something that is important to them.  This might be the article they wrote, or in which they were mentioned: "I read about your fund-raising efforts in Mary Morgan's Sun article.  I am a grantwriter myself, and know these are difficult times for finding support.  I wonder if you know Richard Perry who is a fellow Tufts alum...."

Try posing a question, looking for their expertise. "I would like to hear more of your ideas about mixed-media installations in small museum settings.  As a contract designer, I am often faced with this challenge."

People do like to help others, even those they don't know.  When you get the cold shoulder, it is likely because you have posed a problem they can not fix, like providing a job.  Appeal closer to their center and you will have better success.

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