Thursday, April 8, 2010

Does Your Job Search Strategy Include More Listening ... Or Talking?

Most candidates spend a lot of time talking ... but few spend significant time listening. Yet especially in job search, listening is almost always more productive then talking.

Listening cements relationships with contacts whose help a candidate needs. More importantly, listening can also provide the information a candidate needs to stand out in the hyper-competitive job market today.

Read more ...

You can talk until you're blue in the face, and you probably won't get far in trying to accomplish either one, but by listening you'll find doors starting to open.

Talking more than listening is typical among candidates, because most candidates approach job search as What's In it For Me (WIFM - see Executive level candidates talk, middle management, professional, and junior level candidates talk, talk, talk ... yadda, yadda, yadda. The few who are patient enough to listen gain a huge advantage in information, relationships, and help.

Here are some ways that candidates spend their time talking:
  • Spamming their network: Sending boilerplate update letters, resumes, "I'm looking" form letters. In marketing terms it's called interruption marketing, and the only thing it does well is to undermine relationships with your contacts. Do you respond well to spam?
  • Cold Calling their network: When candidates start their job search, they are often advised to touch base with their contacts. Most candidates try to accomplish this by cold calling their network ... more interruption marketing. The problem isn't the call, the problem is when you call people you haven't contacted in more than a year, without providing them any value for the call. Most of these calls are "an update", "just to let you know", or a asking for help. Asking to help (listening) is far more effective than asking for help (talking).
  • Sending out too many resumes: The returns on scatter shot job search are awful - usually 1.5% or less. The returns are so bad in this type of job search because you're talking, not listening. You can't possibly listen effectively with that kind of volume, because you are too busy applying for jobs (talking).
  • Candidates feel compelled to tell their story: This is double for unemployed candidates, who often want to convey that their out of work status isn't their fault. This is talking, not listening ... and most of the people you are calling don't really care whose fault it is, even those willing to help. Yes it's part of the healing process, but it's not helpful to your audience - because you're talking, not listening.
  • Verbal diarrhea: Commonplace among job seekers at networking events, candidates spend time at networking events talking about themselves, their job search, what they are looking for ... instead of listening. The less you talk at networking events, the more you encourage others to talk, the more value you'll derive from them (see
  • Cover letters: The majority of hiring managers don't read them (see Neither do HR reps or recruiters. If it's not on your resume, it doesn't exist (see

How can you be a better listener as a candidate? Just as in business, being a good listener requires preparation, research, and asking high gain, open-ended, insightful questions. Listen as much to how the answer is given as what the answer actually says. Here are a few tips for being a better job search listener:
  1. Questions: The best way to listen is by asking questions, then just shutting up. What kind of questions will depend on how well you know the contact, and what rapport you build. If you don't know the contact well, indirect questions usually work best.
  2. Research: Don't waste your contact's time by asking what business they are in - do your research upfront. Instead, gain a basic understanding of business issues prior to your conversation, using the conversation to gain insight into the implications of these issues - what happens if problems aren't fixed? What goals are affected? What processes, what departments, what managers risk loosing a bonus? The broader and more expensive the implications, the better shot you'll have (later in the process) in demonstrating how you can help solve these problems (see
  3. Listen early: The best time to listen is before you've even sent a resume to a target company contact. By listening, you'll be able to learn what's important to the company, their problems, their internal language (including jargon), their culture. You game the process to your advantage if you can take the specific information you learned about the company, using it to customize your resume.
  4. Learn about the person you are talking with: Rather than worry if your contact can pass your resume to HR, instead learn who they are, what they do, and most importantly what they care about. Once you learn this information, it will be obvious how you can help your contact - maybe with a work contact, maybe with a charity event, maybe just recommending a good plumber. If you can offer help (that is valuable to the contact) first, they will almost always ask you how they can help you before the conversation is over - and they'll mean it because they will feel like they "owe you one".
  5. Learn about your contact's successes: Encourage your contact to brag. Maybe you learn something helpful, maybe not - but you will strengthen your relationship, especially if it started out as a distant or introduced contact.
  6. Apply it: By using information you gained through listening to company contacts, you'll have many answers to interview questions you'll be asked. You'll also have a great idea about what questions to ask, in order to draw out the manager's/department's/company's key problems into the conversation.
  7. Demonstrate your skills as WIFT: Only by listening can you describe your skills as WIFT - What's In it For Them (see:
How can you incorporate listening into your job search to gain improved results? Readers, do you have any other examples of listening in job search, or any stories of how it has helped you?

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