Job Hunting

Prospecting for Your Next Job

If you find yourself stuck in a job-hunting rut, it may be time to start digging somewhere else. In other words, stop merely looking for a job and ...
Lisa YoonOctober 22, 2004

D’Anne Hurd has built her career on setting precedents. At every company where she’s been the chief financial officer, she’s been the first person to hold that title, yet Hurd has never used job postings or a recruiter to land those positions. Instead, she identified companies she wanted to work for — young, pre-public businesses without a finance chief — and approached them directly, telling them what she had to offer and why they needed a CFO. That’s how Hurd became the first finance chief at companies including Vividon, NaviPath, and Archetype (all in the Boston area) and how she landed her next job (which she declines to disclose).

When Kim Kovacs was just starting out with her degree in finance, she knew she didn’t want to take the typical path through accountant and controller to CFO. By doing her own research, she learned of a San Diego restaurant owned by the widow of the singer Jim Croce; the business had a controller who kept the books but no real finance organization. Kovacs met with Ingrid Croce and “sold her on why she needed a CFO: to help grow the business.” During the next six years, the restaurant added a jazz bar and a rhythm-and-blues club, and Croce’s Restaurant and Bars became well-known (and profitable) Southern California destinations. After creating the position of chief financial officer at Croce’s, Kovacs is now the CFO of Irvine, California energy startup Oryxe Energy International Inc.

These career paths may not work for everyone. But if you find yourself stuck in a job-hunting rut, it may be time to start digging somewhere else. In other words, stop merely looking for a job and start actively prospecting for one.

Hurd maintains that “finding a job is selling a product: yourself.” Eugenie Brown couldn’t agree more. A sales and sales-management coach and trainer, Brown preaches a seven-step sales process that includes ways to implement better prospecting programs. Lately she’s been conducting Web seminars for Execunet, a career-transition resource for senior executives, on applying sales-prospecting techniques to the job search. On the day Brown spoke with, she had just completed her presentation for a group of finance executives who “really understood what I was talking about” — presumably, she observed, because they’re keenly aware of the connection between sales and financial profit.

How to Start Digging

“Job creation is an important component of finding the work you love,” says Pam Lassiter, an executive career coach and the author of The New Job Security, and it’s “much more effective than looking through help-wanted ads.” says Lassiter. But creating a CFO job takes some savvy, as well as a taste for a certain kind of employer. According to Lassiter, job prospectors should look for “smaller companies that are reaching critical mass in financial transactions, where you can identify the decision makerÂÂ…before he has the CFO need clearly defined in his brain.” Related possibilities include companies in need of a turnaround or about to go through a major financial change, such as a public offering.

But how to find these prospects? During Hurd’s initial search for small, pre-IPO companies, she kept abreast of the daily finance news and scoured venture-capital Websites. Then she developed a shortlist of companies that might be going public and subjected them to additional scrutiny. Admittedly, researching private businesses requires more initiative and inventiveness than looking up the facts on public companies — but if you’re willing to consider job prospecting, you’re probably well-stocked on those qualities.

You’re probably also aware that when you’re looking for a job, research goes hand-in-hand with networking. Hurd made it a point to examine the board of directors (or advisors) of every company on her shortlist, looking for familiar names. She also talked to “every lawyer I knew,” accounting firms, and venture capitalists for additional insight on her target companies.

Then Hurd wrote a letter to the chief executive officer of each company — 15 in all. Although one CEO was “impressed with her taking the initiative” — impressed enough to call Hurd and later make a job offer — that “first contact” can be tricky.

Executive coach Nick Papadopoulos, who also runs workshops for Execunet, recommends leading off with a note that’s brief but packs a punch:

• Begin with a headline statement that sums up your value.
• Within the body of your note, state the benefits you’d bring to the company.
• In the conclusion, specify the date and time that you’ll telephone.
• Finish with a P.S. that ties into the opening.

Don’t send a resume, Papadopoulos advises; you simply want to lay the groundwork for a conversation about the company and what you can offer. (By the same token, says Eugenie Brown, don’t get too excited if you’re told, “send me your resume” — it’s an easy way to give a prospector the brush-off.)

Follow up with your phone calls, and expect some “No, thank yous.” As a guideline, Papadopoulos recommends that you target 30 companies. Within that group, perhaps 10 calls will make it past secretarial screening; three phone conversations will secure you a face-to-face appointment; and, ideally, you’d generate at least one job offer.

Prospecting for a job takes extra gumption, but when it pays off, says Hurd, “there’s a real feeling of satisfaction” that you didn’t settle for what the help-wanted ads had to offer. Adds Hurd, “It’s also the basis of a very trusting and productive relationship with the CEO.”