23 Targeting Prospective Employers & Networking For Success

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As you move along the job search path, one fact will quickly become crystal clear it is primarily a process of elimination: Your task is to consider and research as many options as possible, then for good reasons eliminate as many as possible, attempting to continually narrow your focus.

The essential first step is to establish some criteria to evaluate potential employers. This will enable you to identify your target companies, the PR agencies or corporate PR departments for whom you'd really like to work. (This process, as we've pointed out, is not specific to any industry or field; the same steps, with perhaps some research resource variations, are applicable to any job, any company, any industry.)

Take a sheet of blank paper and divide it into three vertical columns. Title it 'Target Company Ideal Profile." Call the left hand column "Musts," the middle column "Preferences," and the right hand column "Nevers."

We've listed a series of questions below. After considering each question, decide whether a particular criterion must be met, whether you would simply prefer it, or never would consider it at all. If there are other criteria you consider important, feel free to add them to the list below and mark them accordingly on your Profile.
  1. What are your geographical preferences? U. S.? Canada? Europe? Anywhere you can get a job???

  2. If you prefer to work in the U.S. or Canada, what area, state(s) or province(s)? If overseas, what area or countries?

  3. Do you prefer a large city, small city, town, or somewhere as far away from civilization as possible? Any specific preferences

  4.  Do you want to work for a PR agency, corporate or association PR department, museum, performing arts groups, etc.?

  5. Do you prefer a warm or cold climate?

  6. Do you prefer a large or small company? Define your terms (by sales, income, employees, offices, etc.).

  7. Do you mind relocating right now? Do you want to work for a company with a reputation for frequently relocating top people?

  8.  Do you mind travelling frequently? What percent do you consider reasonable? (Make sure this matches the normal requirements of the job specialization you're considering.)

  9. What salary would you like to receive (put in the "Preference" column)? What's the lowest salary you'll accept (in the "Must" column)?

  10. Are there any benefits (such as an expense account, medical and/or dental insurance, company car, etc.) you must or would like to have?

  11. Are you planning to attend graduate school at some point in the future; if so, is a tuition reimbursement plan important to you?

  12. Do you feel a formal training program necessary?

  13. What kinds of specific accounts would you prefer to work with? What specific PR functions would you like to be involved in (if you have a choice)?
It's important to keep revising this new form, just as you should continue to update your Self Evaluation Form. After all, it contains the criteria by which you will judge every potential employer. Armed with a complete list of such criteria, you're now ready to find all the companies that match them.

Ask the person who owns one

Some years ago, this advice was used as the theme for a highly successful automobile advertising campaign. The prospective car buyer was encouraged to find out about the product by asking the (supposedly) most trustworthy judge of all someone who was already an owner.

You can use the same approach in your job search. You all have relatives or friends already out in the workplace these are your best sources of information about those industries. Cast your net in as wide a circle as possible. Contact these valuable resources. You'll be amazed at how readily they will answer your questions. I suggest you check the criteria list at the beginning of this chapter to formulate your own list of pertinent questions. Ideally and minimally you will want to learn: how the industry is doing, what its long term prospects are the kinds of personalities they favor (aggressive, low key), rate of employee turnover, and the availability of training.

The Other Side of the Iceberg

You are now better prepared to choose those companies that meet your own list of criteria. But a word of caution about these now "obvious" requirements they are not the only ones you need to take into consideration. And you probably won't be able to find all or many of the answers to this second set of questions in any reference book they are known, however, by those persons already at work in the industry. Here is the list you will want to follow:

Promotion If you are aggressive about your career plans, you'll want to know if you have a shot at the top. Look for companies that traditionally promote from within.

Training Look for companies in which your early tenure will actually be a period of on the job training, hopefully ones in which training remains part of the long term process. As new techniques and technologies enter the workplace, you must make sure you are updated on these skills. Most importantly, look for training that is craft or function oriented these are the so called transferrable skills, ones you can easily bring along with you from job to job, company to company, sometimes industry to industry.

Salary Some industries are generally high paying, some not. But even an industry with a tradition of paying abnormally low salaries may have particular companies or job functions (like sales) within companies that command high remuneration. But it's important you know what the industry standard is.

Benefits Look for companies in which health insurance, vacation pay, retirement plans, stock purchase opportunities, and other important employee benefits are extensive...and company paid. If you have to pay for basic benefits like medical coverage yourself, you'll be surprised at how expensive they are. An exceptional benefit package may even lead you to accept a lower than usual salary.

Unions Make sure you know about the union situation in each industry you research. Periodic, union mandated salary increases are one benefit non union workers may find hard to match.

Making Friends and Influencing People

Networking is a term you have probably heard; it is definitely a key aspect of any successful job search and a process you must master.

Informational interviews and job interviews are the primary outgrowths of successful networking. Referrals, an aspect of the networking process, entail using someone else's name, credentials and recommendation to set up a receptive environment when seeking a job interview.

All of these terms have one thing in common: Each depends on the actions of other people to put them in motion.

So what is networking? How do you build your own network? And why do you need one in the first place? The balance of this chapter answers all of those questions and more.

Get your telephone ready. It's time to make some friends. Not the World's Oldest Profession, But...

As Gekko, the high rolling corporate raider, sneers in the movie Wall Street: "Anybody can analyze stock charts. What separates the players from the sheep is information/' Networking is the process of creating your own group of relatives, friends and acquaintances who can feed you the information you need to find a job identifying where the jobs are and giving you the personal introductions and background data necessary to pursue them.

If the job market were so well organized that details on all employment opportunities were immediately available to all applicants, there would be no need for such a process. Rest assured the job market is not such a smooth running machine most applicants are left very much to their own devices. Build and use your own network wisely and you'll be amazed at the amount of useful job intelligence you will turn up.

While the term networking didn't gain prominence until the 1970s, it is by no means a new phenomenon. A selection process that connects people of similar skills, backgrounds and/or attitudes in other words, networking has been in existence in a variety of forms for centuries. Attend any Ivy League school and you're automatically part of its very special centuries old network.

Major law firms are known to favor candidates from a preferred list of law schools the same ones the senior partners attended. Washington, D.C. and Corporate America have their own network the same corporate bigwigs move back and forth from boardroom to Cabinet Room. The Academia Washington connection is just as strong notice the number of Harvard professors (e.g., Henry Kissinger, John Kenneth Galbraith) who call Washington their second home? No matter which party is in power, certain names just keep surfacing as Secretary of This or Undersecretary of That. No, networking is not new. It's just left its ivory tower and become a well publicized process anyone can and should utilize in their lifelong career development.

And it works. Remember your own reaction when you were asked to recommend someone for a job, club or school office? You certainly didn't want to look foolish, so you gave it some thought and tried to recommend the best qualified person that you thought would "fit in" with the rest of the group. It's a built in screening process what's more natural than recommending someone who's "our kind of?"

Creating the Ideal Network

As in most endeavors, there's a wrong way and a right way to network. The following tips will help you construct your own wide ranging, information gathering, interview generating group your network.


Unlike the Harvard or Princeton network confined to former graduates of each school your network should be as diversified and wide ranging as possible. You never know who might be in a position to help, so don't limit your group of friends. The more diverse they are, the greater the variety of information they may supply you with.

Don't Forget...

...to include everyone you know in your initial networking list: friends, relatives, social acquaintances, classmates, college alumni, professors, teachers; your dentist, doctor, family lawyer, insurance agent, banker, travel agent; elected officials in your community; ministers; fellow church members; local tradesmen; local business or social club officers. And everybody they know!

Be Specific

Make a list of the kinds of assistance you will require from those in your network and then make specific requests of each. Do they know of jobs at their company? Can they introduce you to the proper executives? Have they heard something about or know someone at the company you're planning to interview with next week?

The more organized you are, the easier it will be to target the information you need and figure out who might have it. Calling everyone and simply asking for "whatever help you can give me" is unfair to the people you're calling and a less effective way to garner the information you need.

Learn The Difference...

…Between an informational interview and a job interview. The former requires you to cast yourself in the role of information gatherer; you are the interviewer and knowledge is your goal about an industry, company, job function, key executive, etc. Such a meeting with someone already doing what you soon hope to be doing is by far the best way to find out everything you need to know...before you walk through the door and sit down for a formal job interview, at which time your purpose is more sharply defined: to get the job you're interviewing for.

If you learn of a specific job opening during an informational interview, you are in a position to find out details about the job, identify the interviewer and, possibly, even learn some things about him or her. In addition, presuming you get your contact's permission, you may be able to use his or her name as a referral. Calling up the interviewer and saying, "Joan Smith in your Media department suggested I contact you regarding openings for assistant account executives," is far superior to "Hello. Do you have any job openings at your agency?"

(In such a case, be careful about referring to a specific job opening, even if your contact told you about it. It may not be something you're supposed to know about. By presenting your query as an open ended question, you give your prospective employer the option of exploring your background without further commitment. If there is a job there and you're qualified for it, you'll find out soon enough.)

Don't Waste a Contact

Not everyone you call on your highly diversified networking list will know about a job opening. It would be surprising if each one did. But what about their friends and colleagues?, It's amazing how everyone knows someone who knows someone. Ask you'll find that someone.

Value Your Contacts

If someone has provided you with helpful information or an introduction to a friend or colleague, keep him or her informed about how it all turns out. A referral that's panned out should be reported to the person who opened the door for you in the first place. Such courtesy will be appreciated...and may lead to more contacts. If someone has nothing to offer today, a call back in the future is still appropriate and may pay off.

The lesson is clear: Keep your options open, your contact list alive. Detailed records of your network which you spoke with, when, what transpired etc. helps you keep track of your overall progress and organize what can be a complicated and involved process.

Informational Interviews

You were, of course, smart enough to include John Fredericks, the bank officer who handled your dad's mortgage, on your original contact list. He knew you as a bright and conscientious college senior; in fact, your perfect three year repayment record on the loan you took out to buy that '77 Plymouth impressed him. When you called him, he was happy to refer you to his golfing buddy, Bob Jones, a VP at PR, Inc. Armed with permission to use Fredericks' name and recommendation; you wrote a letter to Bob Jones, the gist of which went something like this:

I am writing at the suggestion of Mr. Fredericks at Fidelity National Bank. He knows of my interest in public relations and, given your position at PR, Inc., thought you may be able to help me get a clearer understanding of it and how I might eventually be able to fit in.

While I am majoring in marketing and minoring in journalism, I know I need to speak with professionals such as yourself to get a better understanding of the "big picture." If you could spare a half hour to meet with me, I'm certain I would be able to get enough information to give me the direction I need.

I'll call your office next week in the hope that we can schedule a meeting.

Send a copy of this letter to Mr. Fredericks at the bank it will refresh his memory should Mr. Jones call to inquire about you. Next step: the follow up phone call. After you get Mr. Jones' secretary on the line, it will, with luck, go something like this:

"Hello, I'm Mr. Paul Smith. I'm calling in reference to a letter I wrote to Mr. Jones requesting an appointment."

"Oh, yes. You're the young man interested in our account executive training program. Mr. Jones can see you on June 23rd. Will 10 A.M. be satisfactory?"

"That's fine. I'll be there."

Well, the appointed day arrives. Well scrubbed and dressed in your best (and most conservative) suit, you are ushered into Mr. Jones' office. He offers you coffee (you decline) and says that it is okay to light up if you smoke (you decline). The conversation might go something like this:

You: "Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Jones. I know you are busy and appreciate your taking the time to talk with me."

Jones: "Well it's my pleasure since you come so highly recommended. I'm always pleased to meet someone interested in my field."

You: "As I stated in my letter, my interest in public relations is very real, but I'm having trouble seeing how all of my studies fit into the big picture. I think I'll be much better prepared to evaluate future job offers if I can learn how everything fits. May I ask you a few questions about the account executive function at PR, Inc.?"

Mr. Jones relaxes. He realizes this is a knowledge hunt you are on, not a thinly veiled job interview. Your approach has kept him off the spot he doesn't have to be concerned with making a hiring decision. You've already gotten high marks for not putting him on the defensive. From this point on, you will be able to ask anything and everything you need to find out not just about the sales and marketing functions at "PR agencies" in general, but specifically about the training program at PR, Inc. (which is what you're really interested in).

You should have made a detailed list of the questions you want answers to. Ask away. Take notes. What's happening in the field? What's happening at PR, Inc.? Where can you fit in? Don't be afraid to ask pointed questions like, "Given my course work (hand him your resume), where would I best fit in at an agency like PR, Inc.?"

After The Interview

The next step should be obvious: Two thank you letters are required, one to Mr. Jones, the second to Mr. Fredericks. Get them both out immediately. (And see the next chapter if you need help writing them.)

Keeping Track of the Interview Trail

Let's talk about record keeping again. If your networking works the way it's supposed to, this was only the first of many such interviews. Experts have estimated that the average person could develop a contact list of 250 people. Even if we limit your initial list to only 100, if each of them gave you one referral, your list would suddenly have 200 names. Presuming that it will not be necessary or helpful to see all of them, it's certainly possible that such a list could lead to 100 informational and/or job interviews! Unless you keep accurate records, by the time you're on No. 50, you won't even remember the first dozen!

At this point, you should add a one or two paragraph summary of what you found out at the meeting. Since these comments are for your eyes only, you should be both objective and subjective. State the facts what you found out in response to your specific questions but include your impressions your estimate of the opportunities for further discussions, your chances for future consideration for employment.

"I Was Just Calling To..."

Find any logical opportunity to stay in touch with Mr. Jones. You may, for example, let him know when you graduate and tell him your Grade Point Average, carbon him on any letters you write to Mr. Fredericks, even send a congratulatory note if his company's year end financial results are positive or if you read something in the local paper about any of his accounts. This type of follow up has the all important effect of keeping you and your name in the forefront of others' minds. Out of sight is out of mind. No matter how talented you may be or how good an impression you made, you'll have to work hard to "stay visible."

There Are Rules, Just Like Any Game

It should already be obvious that the networking process is not only effective, but also quite deliberate in its objectives. There are two specific groups of people you must attempt to target: those who can give you information about an industry or career area and those who are potential employers. The line between these groups may often blur. Don't be concerned you'll soon learn when (and how) to shift the focus from interviewer to interviewee.

To simplify this process, follow a single rule: Show interest in the field or job area under discussion, but wait to be asked about actually working for that company. During your informational interviews, you will be surprised at the number of times the person you're interviewing turns to you and asks, "Would you be interested in...?" Consider carefully what's being asked and, if you would be interested in the position under discussion, make your feelings known.

What's It All About (Alfie)?
  • To unearth current information about the industry, company and pertinent job functions. Remember: Your knowledge and understanding of broad industry trends, financial health, hiring opportunities, and the competitive picture are key.

  • To investigate each company's hiring policies who makes the decisions, who the key players are (personnel, staff managers), whether there's a hiring season, if they prefer applicants going direct or through recruiters, etc.

  • To sell yourself discuss your interests and research activities and leave your calling card, your resume.

  • To seek out advice on refining your job search process.

  • To obtain the names of other persons (referrals) who can give you additional information on where the jobs are and what the market conditions are like.

  • To develop a list of follow up activities that will keep you visible to key contacts.
If The Process Scares You

Some of you will undoubtedly be hesitant about, even fear, the networking process. It is not an unusual response it is very human to want to accomplish things "on your own," without anyone's help. Understandable and commendable as such independence might seem, it is, in reality, an impediment if it limits your involvement in this important process.

Networking has such universal application because there is no other effective way to bridge the gap between job applicant and job. Employers are grateful for its existence. You should be, too.

Whether you are a first time applicant or reentering the work force now that the children are grown, the networking process will more than likely be your point of entry. Sending out mass mailings of your resume and answering the help wanted ads may well be less personal (and, therefore, "easier") approaches, but they will also be far less effective.

The natural selection process of the networking phenomenon is your assurance that water does indeed seek its own level you will be matched up with companies and job opportunities in which there is a mutual fit.

Six Good Reasons to Network

Many people fear the networking process because they think they are "bothering" others with their own selfish demands. Nonsense! There are good reasons six of them, at least why the people on your networking list will be happy to help you:
  1. Some day you will get to return the favor. An ace insurance salesman built a successful business by offering low cost coverage to first year medical students. Ten years later, these now successful practitioners remembered the company (and person) that helped them when they were just getting started. He gets new referrals every day.

  2. They, too, are seeking information. If you sense that your "brain is being picked" about the latest case studies being used in your marketing courses, be forthcoming with your information. Why not let the interviewer "audit" your course? It may be the reason he or she agreed to see you in the first place.

  3. Internal politics Some people will see you simply to make themselves appear powerful, implying to others in their organization that they have the authority to hire (they may or may not), an envied prerogative.

  4. They're "saving for a rainy day" Executives know that it never hurts to look and that maintaining a backlog of qualified candidates is a big asset when the floodgates open and supervisors are forced to hire quickly.

  5. They're just plain nice Some people will see you simply because they feel it's the decent thing to do or because they just can't say "no."

  6. They are looking themselves Some people will see you because they are anxious to do a friend (whoever referred you) a favor. Or because they have another friend seeking new talent, in which case you represent a referral they can make (part of their own continuing network process). You see, networking never does stop it helps them and it helps you.
Before you proceed to the next chapter, begin making your contact list. You may wish to keep a separate sheet of paper or note card on each person (especially the dozen or so you think are most important), even a separate telephone list to make your communications easier and more efficient. However you set up your list, be sure to keep it up to date it won't be long before you'll be calling each and every name on the list.
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