Guest post by Dr. Gary North
This strategy is a way to get around the screeners in the human resources departments of companies that you would consider working for.
This strategy relies on a premise: most individuals have large egos, when they are not gigantic egos.
People like to be asked for advice. If they really believe that somebody is interested in what they think, they are willing to spend time and effort in spouting off.
Very few people are ever asked for advice. If they are not public figures, nobody outside the office is going to ask them for advice. A subordinate may ask a question. An immediate superior may ask a question, although this is rare. But if we’re talking about somebody’s life outside a specific chain of command, people don’t ask other people for advice.
This is why one of the best possible ways of getting through the normal screening process is to send a letter that asks a person for advice that is in some way connected with an area of his life in which he has expertise. Even if he does not have expertise, he probably thinks he does.
These days, snail mail is not used as a primary means of communication. This is why a first-class letter that is addressed to somebody in an organization is almost certainly going to get through, unless he is the president of the organization. But that letter may even get through if his secretary thinks that the letter is something that might be considered important by the recipient. Most people in most organizations do not have their own personal secretaries. Secretaries are reserved for senior managers. Anybody who is not a senior manager is expected to handle his own mail. This makes sense, since so few people receive mail.
If you are looking for a better job, I suggest that you create a blog that is related to your field. The blog will persuade people that you have expertise in your field. Even if you don’t, the blog will serve as evidence that you do. That is because so few people have the self-discipline to sit down and put together a blog related to the field in which they earn their livings. They could do this. There would not be much to it. But most people do not see the need to do it, and even among those few who do, the tyranny of the urgent prevents them from following through on what they know they ought to do.
I recommend that your masthead on your blog has your name. I would not name the blog after you probably, but I would have your name at the upper left-hand side of the masthead. Imitate my website. It’s called Gary North’s Specific Answers, but I don’t have my name front and center. It is front and to the upper left. This reminds the first-time reader that it is associated with me, but the benefit is in a much larger font. Nobody pays any attention after the third or fourth visit to the site.
One of the best ways to get started with a blog is to do book reviews. These can be effective ways of learning more about your field. At the same time, if you can write just a simple review of the chapter titles, and also provide a summary of what is in each of the chapters, you have provided something of value to a person who wants to know if he should spend the money and the time to buy the book and read it.
The discipline of reading a book, extracting the basic message of each of the chapters, and putting this on a computer screen is more than most people think they can handle. They don’t like to write, and they don’t think they have the ability to write. That is a tremendous pair of barriers to entry. That is why the field is essentially wide-open.
The question is this: where to start? What books are worth reviewing?
Start with classic books in the field. This is the easy way around the problem. If you read the classics, you will get a sense of what the best and the brightest in your field have been willing to go into print about. You will begin to narrow down the topics that really do make a difference. This is good for your career. It will make you better informed. You will be able to discuss classic books in the field with people in your field. That always helps.
The first thing to do is get to a bibliography written by somebody in your field. There are bound to be websites that provide this kind of information. Second, you start reading. Go through the books that you keep seeing references to in the bibliographies. This is an easy task in business. There aren’t hundreds of business books published every year. The more narrowly you focus, the better it is for your career.
If you can read one book a month, then in one year, you will have a good overview of what literature on your field is available. You just start the project. It is drudgery at first. It may stay drudgery the whole time. But always think of drudgery as a barrier to entry that is keeping your competitors out. That is an advantage.
If you can post one book review a month, that’s sufficient. Once you’ve done this for a year, you are ready for the next stage of the process.
I would recommend that you post news about your field on the front page of your blog. You also have a department in which you review books. That is really all you need: the latest news plus reviews of classic books. That lets you keep up with your field.
ASKING FOR ADVICE
When you think the site looks presentable, your next step is to find the names of the heads of the departments in those companies locally or regionally who might be in a position to offer you a job. You have to get their names. This is grunt work, but it is necessary. You can probably just call the switchboard and asked the name of the person who is the head of the particular department.
You then sit down and type a letter that will be printed out on a piece of paper. Address it to the individual. Keep the letter short. Ask his advice. What are the three books in the field that he thinks everyone in the field should read? Tell him that you have a website that reviews classic books in the field. Provide a shortened link to the department in which you review the books. Remember, it’s snail mail. He can’t click through. Keep the link as short as possible. I recommend that you use bit.ly, and you sign up through Twitter or Facebook, so that you can have a custom-designed shortened link. But you can use another company. You do need a custom link, not just some random numbers and letters.
Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope in your letter. Ask him to write the names at the bottom of your letter. Then ask him to put the letter in the envelope, and put it in his outbox. This way, you know who is replying. That’s important. It easy for him to jot down his three favorite books, or least three books he has heard of, put it in the envelope, and mail it. His time is valuable. Don’t waste it.
Read all three books. Maybe you’ve already read some of them. You’ve written reviews on them. But you will find out about important books you have neglected to read. More important, you have introduced the person to your website, which may be vaguely interesting to him.
Write reviews of these books. Once you have the reviews posted, mail a letter back to each of the potential employers. In the letter, thank him for his advice on the books. Provide short links to the reviews. This shows that you have taken his advice. You have read the books that he has recommended. You have reviewed them.
It’s important that the reviews be positive. You can make a few qualifications or suggestions on what might not be quite right, or what some other book has presented that offers a different view. That shows that you are a careful reader. You have read widely. But, on the whole, you are positive about the book. If someone has told you this is a great book to read, you don’t want to write a hatchet review, and then send the review to them.
At the end of each review, if only one person has recommended the book, mention his name. You might even mention the company he works for. People love to see their names in print. Just thank him for the recommendation.
In your letter, mention the fact that, at the end of the reviews, you have thanked him for his recommendation. That way, you can be almost certain he’s going to read the reviews. He will at least skim the reviews. He will want to know what you have thought about the books he recommended.
You now have his attention.
THE JOB REQUEST
The third letter is the heart of the matter. You might wait a month after the second letter. In the letter, mention the fact that you are the person who wrote the reviews of the books that he recommended. Again, put in short links to each of the reviews. He may have forgotten. It will refresh his mind about who you are.
Use the second paragraph to say that you’re interested in making a change in the direction of your career. Ask him to put the letter in his file, just in case there is a job opening at some point. You supply your email address: an address connected to your blog site.
Include a short link in this letter to your résumé. Don’t put a physical piece of paper in the envelope, other than the letter. If he is interested, he can go to your résumé online. The résumé should be filled with specifics that you have done for your employer. You must provide specific benefits that can be validated. Don’t just tell the reader that you’ve done this that or the other. Tell him that you have provided money-making or money-saving benefits to your present employer. Be specific. How much money did you make or save? Or what percentage benefit did your oversight mean for the company?
Have this résumé page invisible to anyone who comes to your site. This résumé is used exclusively to provide validation for someone you have personally contacted about getting a job. On the front page of your blog, you should have the usual options: Contact, About, and one or two other standard click-through’s. But the About section should be generic. That’s where you put the standard stuff about your background. Don’t pad it. Only put the highlights.
You have now gone to the front of the pile if the department hires people from outside the company. He may not remember your name, but he probably will put the letter in his file. There won’t be many letters in his file. There will probably be only one letter in his file. That’s what this whole process is about. You want to be the person whose letter is in his file.
If you want to make the blog even more impressive, include embedded YouTube or Vimeo videos. But that’s a lot of extra work.
If you do a video, be sure you also do a podcast version. Take a book, and do one video or podcast per chapter. Become the guru of the books in your field. But if you do a podcast, you have to do it at least weekly. That’s a lot of extra work. It will position you as a player in your field. It will open a lot of doors. It may get you workshops at regional trade Association meetings. It will build your name identification in your field. But you may not be willing to invest the time necessary to do this.
What I’m recommending here is a very specific strategy for getting your letter into the files of those people who may possibly be in a position to offer you a job.