For this column, I interviewed Gale McGuire, division director of the world-wide recruiting firm Robert Half International; and Sandy DiCosola, president of Tucson-based Summit Contract Management, to give us their tips on how to “sell” yourself — or market yourself if you don’t like the word “sell.” The goal is to offer tips about finding job openings and winning your first interviews. We’ll deal with how to manage face-to-face interviews another time. 

Sam Williams: Sandy, your background is in contract management and you are an expert at finding and winning bids and requests for proposals (RFPs). You’ve never worked in direct sales, per se, but still have to generate revenues. How would you, as a provider of a professional service, advise others on how to “sell” themselves?

Sandy DiCosola: You’re right. I’m not entirely comfortable with direct sales. For most of my career I worked for defense manufacturers and, among other things, prepared responses to RFPs on behalf of hundreds of sales people. So here’s a tip: Whenever you see a job posting, treat it as you would an RFP, because that’s what it really is. The company has carefully thought about what the job requirements are and has spelled them out for you in the position description. If your cover letter, résumé, e-mails and voice messages speak directly to those points, you are much more likely to get an interview. In the world of RFPs, not addressing each of these requirements is called being “non-responsive” and the proposal is rejected out of hand.

SW: Gale, what are your thoughts?

Gale McGuire: Sandy is right. For example, if you apply for a job at Raytheon, your résumé must address the bullet points contained in the job description. Many companies now have automated scanning programs that look for these points. If they’re not there, your résumé won’t even make it to a human recruiter. If there isn’t an automated scanner, the recruiter will see that the key points aren’t covered and will stop right there.

SW: Does that mean that each résumé has to be tailored to fit the job requirements of each position?

McGuire: Absolutely. You need to take your standard résumé and rewrite it to contain all of your work experience and especially those achievements that speak to the job requirements.

DiCosola: One way to do that is to copy and paste the job requirements into the top portion of the first draft of your revised résumé and/or cover letter. Then below each requirement, explain briefly how you are qualified. At the end, delete the job requirements and clean up your draft. That way you will be “responsive” to each requirement.

SW: That’s a great tip. So Gale and Sandy, how should you go about finding job postings and RFPs?

McGuire: First you need to decide what you want to do. Classic books like “What Color is My Parachute” are still useful for that. Then identify those geographies in which, and types of companies for which, you would like to work. Then you can use Google, Book of Lists or online databases like ReferenceUSA to build a prospecting list.

SW: Usually an Excel file works just fine to hold your prospecting information. You can use a single row for each targeted company or a person within that company. ReferenceUSA often contains the names and titles of all department heads reporting to the president or owner of the company. Find their website and then the “careers” or “job opportunities” pages. Make a point to visit those pages once each month.

DiCosola: Yes, but that requires a lot of self discipline and a great memory, because you may be looking at 50 to 100 or more sites. There are services that scan for new RFPs of the types that you specify and then “push” notices of new postings to you. Is there anything like that for job postings?

McGuire: Yes, there is. Go to www.indeed.com (indeed – one search –all jobs) or www.simplyhired.com and check out their services. There is also a service called www.feedmyinbox.com that will scan those job boards that have RSS feeds and push new postings to you.

SW: Let’s say that there is no posted job requirement and that you are contacting the company directly. How should you handle that?

McGuire: Many jobs are filled without having been posted. First, you have to research the company to identify departments where you are likely to have the best fit. Then you’ll need to find the name of the department head or hiring manager. Do not send your résumé to HR at this point, because they won’t know what to do with it since there is no job posting yet. Next, you will have to rely on your own experience to create an imaginary job description. With a little thought you should be able to list the key attributes required for success. During your research of the company, you may also identify some problems that you are pretty sure the company is experiencing that you can help with. Add those to the imaginary job description. Then craft your résumé and cover letter to suit the requirements of the imaginary job posting.

SW: So, what do you do after you have sent out your carefully crafted cover letter and résumé?

McGuire: You should follow up by phone. Nine times out of 10, you will not connect with the manager and you’ll have to leave a voice mail message. That’s where things can go seriously wrong. If you stumble or don’t give a concise summary of who you are and how you can help, that may be the end of it. Write a script for yourself containing the key points you want to make: your name, a statement that your résumé will cross their desk or be in their e-mail, three of four of your key experiences or achievements that apply, and a phone number for them to return your call. Work on your elevator speech until you can deliver it in 25 seconds or less. Then, call your home phone and leave a voice mail message of your elevator speech. Play it back. Wince and laugh. Do it again five to 15 times until you have it down pat. Discard your written script along the way and don’t read from it when you deliver the real thing. If you read from it, it can sound canned or, even worse, you can lose your place and panic! If you don’t like the message you have just left, you may be able to press the # key to access voice mail options that allow you to erase it and start again before “sending.” 

SW: What if you actually connect? Won’t this be regarded as a “cold call” from a sales person?

McGuire: Technically it is a cold call. But most managers know that the caller isn’t a sales person and is looking for employment. Most have been in the same situation themselves and are sympathetic. And there’s no place like Tucson for giving those in need a helping hand. Take only about 10 seconds to identify yourself and the reason for your call: “Hi my name is so-and-so, and I’m in a career search. I only need two minutes but am I catching you at a good time?” If they say they are busy, ask if there is a better time to call back. If there is, be sure to call back precisely at the time you agree to. If they don’t pick up, leave your rehearsed elevator speech. If they do pick up, deliver your rehearsed speech, but be prepared to modify it as circumstances suggest. “Thank you. Very briefly, I have worked as a (state a couple of relevant positions you have held in the past) and I’m especially qualified to do (list three to four key things). I’m calling to ask you to look for the résumé and cover letter that I just sent.” Never ask “Did you receive my résumé?” because that may put them in an uncomfortable position.

SW: What happens if they say that they don’t have any openings at the moment?

McGuire: That’s their most likely response. In that case you might ask “Do you think you may have any openings later?” or “May I check back in a few months to see if you have any openings?” The answer is usually, “Sure, please do so.” Before you say “Thanks very much for your time. Good bye,” ask “Can you think of anyone in your field who might have an opening?” Then add these important memory joggers, “For example, someone working in A, B or C industries who is a manager of X, Y or Z?” You’d be surprised how productive this last part can be.

SW: That’s great advice, Gail. Do you have any more tips?

McGuire: Five others. The first is to set a work plan for yourself for each day just like you did when you were employed. Check off each item as you complete it. Keep your daily work plans so that you can review them later and demonstrate to yourself and your spouse, if you have one, that you have been hard at work and productive. The second is to actively include your spouse in your job search efforts. He or she will feel a sense of involvement and will see how seriously you are taking your career search. The greater his or her sense of involvement, the greater their feeling of control and sense of well being. It’s also a great learning opportunity for your kids. They’ll learn that losing a job isn’t the end of the world, and here’s how you go about finding another. The third is to have a mentor. It can be your spouse. It can be a recruiter like me. It could be a career planner like Linda Dewey at ProActivity. The fourth is to network. Call friends, colleagues, your CPA, attorney and anyone who might know of someone who might help you. Schedule brief meetings with them over coffee or lunch to ‘pick people’s brains.’ Openly state that you are looking for a job. Print up business cards that summarize your job search goals. Go to as many networking events as you can. Finally, let’s not kid ourselves. This is a stressful time. Exercise daily. Eat right. Laugh a lot.

SW: Thanks very much for your time and these  great tips, Gale and Sandy.

Contact Sam Williams, president of New View Group LLC, at swilliams@newviewgroup.net or (520) 390-0586. Also, contact Gale McGuire at Robert Half International at (520) 548-3490 and Sandy DiCosola at Summit Contract Management at info@summitcontractmanagement or (520)-797-3408. Williams is looking for topics readers would like to see covered as well as questions and comments. New View Group provides revenue development consulting to CEOs and sales skills and sales management training to B2B sales teams. Read his blog at blog.azbiz.com. His Sales Judo appears the first and third weeks of each month in Inside Tucson Business.