It’s March, so if you’re graduating soon you should be well into your job search. When asked for advice, I always give the same response to job seekers. Few of them take my advice, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying. This post isn’t intended to be a comprehensive guide to finding a job, and it really isn’t that specific to medical devices. It’s just one person’s view.
I am surprised that so many candidates expect to get in the door of a company by flinging a resume at an HR department. As a hiring manager I dread poring through piles of resumes, the vast majority of which aren’t even close.
Getting someone to hire you is like getting someone to buy a product. An employee is a big investment, and employment decisions are not taken lightly. As a job seeker, you are the both the product and the sales rep. The hiring company is the prospective buyer. In sales, you identify suspects, qualify them into prospects, then sell the prospects on the unique value of your product. Imagine a sales rep trying to close a sale by flinging a brochure at the purchasing department. How is that different from flinging a resume at HR?
I advise job seekers to think like a sales rep. Here are some specifics.
Make a list of the top 20 or 25 companies where you think you would like to work. In New England, you can start with the MassMEDIC membership list (your suspects), and narrow down the companies based on your own selection criteria. I suggest looking at size of company, stage of company, market sector(s), technology employed, commuting distance, current company performance (a company that continues to lose money may not be hiring) and anything else that’s meaningful to you. You can make a backup list of the next 25 too, but I think 25 is a good place to start. For each of the 25 companies, you now have an answer to why you want to work there, based on your selection criteria. I make the assumption that you did a good a good job selecting companies that would be a good fit for you, so these 25 are your “qualified prospects.” Doing this right is a lot of work, because you need to investigate a lot of companies. But it’s worth it.
Outside New England, you can start with lists of companies in northern California, southern California, Minnesota, and other regions. Every sales reps starts with a large list of suspects, and narrows it down to the likely buyers. Sales reps need to focus their efforts, and so do you.
For each of your 25 targets, develop a strong answer the question of why they should want to hire you. This is your “sales pitch.” Highlight your experiences that are particularly relevant to the target company (usually their market or their technology). If you don’t have right relevant experience, but you have real interest, do some research – learn enough about the market and the technology to demonstrate that you are seriously interested.
Prepare lots of questions. This is pretty straightforward advice, but you’d be surprised how many candidates don’t have any questions. When you finally get to meet the target company employees, you’ll want to ask them how their business is going, how their product compares to their competition, what the company’s plans are, and what it’s like to work in the company. When you meet with contacts at non-target companies, you should ask similar questions about their business. I’m sure it’s easy to find help preparing questions, like this article from Monster.
Practice directed networking. The goal of your networking should be to identify and get introduced to people connected to your target companies. I can’t emphasize how important it is to make contact with your target company via a personal introduction, preferably from someone who knows you well. Personal introductions are highly influential “social proof.” When you meet people for networking, find out if they know someone at your target company and if they will provide an introduction. If they don’t have a contact, ask who else they think you should meet. Perhaps the next degree of separation will be appropriately connected. LinkedIn can be helpful, identifying target company employees and previous places of employment. Join relevant LinkedIn groups to get a more detailed view. Connect with key recruiters too. A similar approach to networking is described in this article from TheLadders.
Calibrate your expectations continually. Ask trusted colleagues whether your background seems like a good match for your target companies and target position. Listen carefully to the feedback. I’ve seen too many candidates attempt to pursue positions for which they just weren’t qualified. It’s not pretty. If the product is not right for the customer, the sales rep will never earn a commission.
When you meet with someone from one of your target companies, demonstrate a sincere interest in the company, ask your questions, and make your pitch. Ask: “What position in your company do you think I would be fit best?” This puts your contact in the position of imagining a role in the company for you. It’s a good selling technique. If it goes well, find out who your hiring manager would be, and asked to be introduced. Find out the steps you need to take to get into the hiring process. End the meeting with a list of action items, and make sure to complete them afterwards.
Be persistent but not annoying. Be confident but humble. If the fit is good but the timing is not right, ask if you can follow-up with them in six-to-eight weeks. If the fit isn’t good, ask what you are missing and what position makes more sense. When a sales rep believes her product would be a good fit for a prospect, she continues to work the account. You should do the same.
Don’t forget to thank your networking contacts for their help, and keep them informed as you progress through your job search. If you can, find ways to reciprocate. Once you find a job, keep in touch with the contacts you made during your search. Here’s some advice from TheLadders.
I’ve been a hiring manager for many years, and I am consistently dumbfounded by the lack of preparation that many candidates display. Fortune favors the prepared. Prepare yourself as a sales rep and a product, and you’re more likely to make your most important sale.