Advice calling is networking. It's a program of seeking advice, and ultimately help, from influential people, knowledgable executives in the field that interests you. It's your way to generate the high-level contacts that lead to the best careers for women.
Career-seekers who use it aggressively say they're amazed how readily the doors to opportunities open for them. Influential people know where the prime opportunities can be found. They can tell you where to look. And a few words from them in the right quarters can open doors you couldn't open yourself. Look behind a big success and it's likely you'll find a believer, someone who wants it to happen, and is willing to help.
The right influentials have spent years getting where they are, and learning who's doing what in the field. They already know what you'll have to find out to get started. That's why you want to ask for their help.
So you see, it really is who you know that matters. The good news is: You can know a lot of important people in a very short time. Why they'll help you Many influentials will take the time and effort to help you. Here's why: They like to see newcomers get a good start. They remember the problems they faced earlier in their own careers. They want to tell you what the real world is like.
They're alumni of your school. They feel they have a corporate duty to help others. They're flattered to be asked. They want to discover new talent. They like you.? Remember, you're asking for advice, not a job.
There's a big difference. The influential who would turn you down if you were asking for a job interview, because she had no openings, is likely to give you the advice you seek, because you're asking for something she can give, and wants to give. Finding your influentials Start by identifying the influentials with whom you want to have meetings. You want the right people in appropriate organizations, so you're searching for companies as well as people. Here are some places to begin: People you know and people they know. Talk to your family, friends, teachers.
Doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, clergy and insurance agents come into contact with many people. Alumni of your school. Talk to your school's alumni office or placement office. Trade periodicals. Watch the news and see what companies and people are doing things that interest you.
Trade directories. The Directory of Directories or Klein's Guide To American Directories will help you find the right ones. The Chamber of Commerce and other local trade organizations. Call on the president of the Chamber. He or she knows everybody.
National associations. Check the Encyclopedia of Associations at the library. Tip: many associations sponsor trade shows. If you can wangle your way into a trade show, you'll find exhibit booths manned by people who can steer you to the right decision-makers in their companies. A lot of job-hunting goes on at trade shows. Choosing the right person Job titles will give you clues.
In general, the smaller the organization, the higher you can reasonably go to make your contact. You might get a meeting with the president of a $15 million company, but not with the boss of a $5 billion organization. But if in doubt how high to shoot, go higher, not lower. You want to enlist help in your career search, and the more highly placed influential has more of the clout you want on your side. A phonecall on your behalf from a vice president is more likely to expose you to a wider range of opportunities than a call from a lower level manager.
Besides, if the big guy won't see you, he or she may buck your request down to somebody else. Authority flows down, not up. Your advice call letter It's your first contact with an influential you hope will help you in your career. Give careful thought to this letter.
It should be: Short. Confine it to the essentials. Your goal is to get the appointment, nothing else.
You"re not asking for a job. Three to five short paragraphs is plenty. This is a brief, one page letter. Appealing.
You want to be perceived as someone serious about your career, someone interesting and worth seeing. Devote part of the letter to yourself, part to the person who's going to read it. See below. Actionable. You want the reader to know she's going to have to take some action, to meet with you, or to refuse. She can't just ignore you.
Let's see what an effective advice call letter might look like: Dear Ms. Comstock, Your advice could be very valuable to me. As a Syracuse University graduate, a principal of a major advertising agency, and a recognized leader in the industry, you're the ideal professional to advise me how to choose a productive career path in advertising. I have a BA in marketing from Syracuse. I believe a career in account management is right for me, and I'm eager to know how you evaluate today's opportunities in this field, particularly in the Chicago market. Your insights will help me make important decisions in planning my career program.
May I have just 20 minutes of your time? I'll call your office on Tuesday, April 21, to ask you for an appointment. Very truly yours, Check it out. You're telling your influential you want help only she can provide. You're aware of her status and accomplishments. She'll earn good-guy points by seeing you.
She knows you're going to call, and must be prepared to respond to you. Follow up by phone You've sent out a batch of these letters, each carefully personalized, and now it's time to nail down the appointments. Make each phonecall on the day you said you would. If you have trouble getting past the secretary, say, "Ms. Comstock is expecting my call," which is true, since you said you were going to call today. "I'm calling to follow up on my letter of the thirteenth'" is another logical approach.
You may have trouble getting through to your influential. Leave your name and a call back number. If there's no call back, try a second time, then a third.
Then give up, and go on to the next name. You won't win them all. Forget the nos and move on to the yeses. When you get through, push to set a face-to- face meeting.
Resist conducting the meeting on the phone. Don't get into more facts about yourself. The more you reveal about yourself now, the more likely you are to give your influential reasons not to see you. Remember, a phone call that ends in agreement to meet is a successful call. Your objectives Your meeting has three distinct objectives: Information.
About the industry: latest trends, new developments, areas of greatest opportunity. Counsel. Real-world advice about how to conduct your job search. Contacts.
You want to be referred to others who are likely to have appropriate openings for you, or who know where openings exist. Save this for last. Come prepared to ask such questions as these: What are the most important challenges being faced in your area today? What changes do you believe will come about in the next few years? What are the most meaningful talents and skills of successful people in your area? Which part of your industry offers the best opportunities? What is the typical career path in that area? If you were starting out today, how would you approach the job market? Come with the questions written down. Refer to them throughout the meeting, and take notes as your influential answers. You want to be seen as a serious, effective career-seeker, someone who has clear goals and aspirations.
And you'll want a written record of what you've learned. Keep your eye on the time You promised the meeting would only last 20 minutes, and you must keep that promise -- unless the influential clearly wants to spend more time with you. About 15 minutes into the meeting, start prospecting for leads. Ask these two questions: Do you know anyone who may have a need for someone with my qualifications? May I use your name when I make the contact? When your influential identifies specific individuals, you want to be able to use the influential's name when you make your contact. Then you're not some unknown quantity. You're someone who's known by an influential.
The influential may offer to make phonecalls on your behalf, and that's great. But even if she doesn't, now you're in a position to start building your network. Thank your influential for the meeting, give her a big smile and leave on an upbeat note. Write her a thank-you that night and mail it the very next day. Following the trail Armed with the name of an influential, you're now in a position to phone each referral contact. You can use the influential's name to help you get past the secretary.
When she asks you what the call is about, you say, "Alice Comstock, vice president of the Johnson Agency, advised me to call Mr. Bailey. She said Mr.
Bailey could give me some advice on an important matter." That should be enough to get you through to Mr. Bailey. If it isn't, you may have to explain that you're looking for advice to help you in your job search.
Just make it clear you're not calling to ask for a job, or to sell anything. Tip: Some executives get to the office earlier than their secretaries, and stay later. Often, if you call just before or just after regular hours, you'll find that the phone will be answered by the person you want, not the secretary or some other gatekeeper.
Two possibilities When you don't know if there's an opening for you in the referral's organization, you say, "I had a meeting with Alice Comstock at the Johnson Agency. She said some very nice things about you, and told me you'd be an ideal person to give me advice about a career in marketing. I'll be very grateful if you could give me your views on the opportunities in your field. I realize you're busy, but I'd take just 20 minutes of your time.
May I come to your office and talk with you?" If your influential has told you there's reason to believe an appropriate opening for you exists in the referral's organization, handle the phone contact this way: "I had a meeting with Alice Comstock at the Johnson Agency, and she told me there might be a job opening in your company for which I'd be a strong candidate." Outline your background very briefly, and ask for the interview. Will you get preferred treatment? Probably you will. After all, you're Alice Comstock's friend, aren't you? Keep prospecting It's impossible to predict all the twists and turns your advice call networking will take.
Keep growing your network, and you'll discover opportunities you'd never find any other way. 128 influential people That's how many you could know if you start by making advice calls on just two people, and each refers to you two more, and each of those to two more, and so on -- through just six levels of contacts. But you'll have the job you want long before you get that far. Just stay sharp, focused and aggressive, and you'll get offers.
Bruce J. Bloom is a respected writer on job-hunting and career opportunities. He is a contributor to the hard-hitting career strategy website "Fast Track For Women," http://www.winyourcareer.com. His career manual "Fast Track To The Best Job" was published by Blazer Books