Contacts Help: Lessons Learned from a Job Search

I’ll be starting my new job soon at the Space Telescope Science Institute. During my job search, I kept data and took notes, so here are my main lessons learned.

Contacts Help

Contacts improved my chances for an interview by a factor of about 10. I applied for lots of positions. At companies where I had a contact, or where a contact could introduce me to someone, almost half of my applications turned into interviews. At companies where I couldn’t come up with a contact, less than 1 in 20 turned into interviews. That’s about a 10-to-1 difference: 10 times more likely to get an interview if I have a contact than if I don’t.

Contacts were no guarantee that I’d get an interview, but they improved my chances by a lot.

It was still worthwhile to apply to places where I didn’t have a contact, because some of those turned into interviews anyway. My odds were lower, but one success would have been enough.

It’s easy to see why contacts would be so helpful in getting an interview. When every job opening gets hundreds of applications, the thing that’s going to differentiate you is the person who tells the hiring manager, “You ought to talk to this person.” That is what makes your application stand out from the rest.

Yep, LinkedIn

LinkedIn was my tool of choice for finding contacts at prospective employers. For every job of interest, I looked up the company on LinkedIn to check for first-degree connections (my own connections) and second-degree connections (connections of my connections). For second-degree connections, I’d ask my intermediate connections for an intro.

I paid for the Job Seeker Basic level, mostly because it let me flag my LinkedIn profile as a job searcher. I can’t say for sure it helped. Maybe it helped colleagues see that I was looking for employment, but I don’t have any evidence that it helped (and no evidence that it hurt, either). I’ve returned to the free membership now that I’ve found a job.

Use All Your Search Resources

Most of the jobs of interest came from automated job searches and job sites. It was great when my contacts tipped me off about a job, but there were only so many of those. (A colleague tipped me off about the job I got, but there were lots of potentially interesting jobs out there that nobody had tipped me off about.) For me, LinkedIn, TheLadders, and USAjobs.gov were the main automated searches that turned up jobs of interest. Together, they accounted for almost half of the jobs I applied for.

TheLadders costs money, so one might wonder whether it was worthwhile. For me, it helped find job openings, but that was about it. Arguably, TheLadders is supposed to bring you to the attention of recruiters who know you’re serious, because after all you’re paying for the service. That didn’t seem to happen for me, and you’re more likely anyway to get a job through your network than through recruiters. Joining TheLadders might have been a bad bet, but my view was to line up a good range of job search sources.

Jobs from other online sources were, individually, smaller contributors, but in aggregate they still accounted for another third of my job applications. These other sites included indeed.com, Dice, CareerBuilder, SimplyHiredNonProfitTimes, and the job sites of various trade periodicals. In each case, I set up an automated search to send me jobs.

The rest of my jobs of interest, roughly one-fifth, came from contacts who tipped me off about job openings, at their own company or elsewhere. This was the smallest group, but it’s the one that paid off in the end.

It’s Gonna Take a While

Expect your job search to take a while. (Welcome to 21st-century America.)

The Urban Institute says that as of June 2013, “long-term unemployment remains at record high levels,” with more than a third of unemployed workers out of work for six months or longer.

The New York Times reported that “The average unemployed 55- to 64-year-old who got a job last month [June 2013] had been out of work for more than 11 months, versus 6 months for the average 20- to 24-year-old.” The article quotes an economist from the Bureau of Labor Statistics who says “the older you are, the longer it takes” to find a job.

That old advice to save up to six months’ worth of income in case you lose your job seems insufficient now. Fortunately, my wife remained employed and we had savings.

CRM Lite

I couldn’t have done this search without keeping track of where I applied, what my status was, and where I needed to do follow-up. Essentially, this was a job for a personal CRM tool (Customer Relationship Management).

There are tools out there, like Salesforce, that do this on a corporate level. I even tried the minimum participation level at Salesforce. It worked, but I suspect it’s still overkill for someone who’s just doing CRM for one.

On my iPhone, I used Contacts Journal. It helped me track my interactions with various contacts, and keep to-do lists for follow-ups.

I also kept a spreadsheet listing every job I applied for. I included the job title, the company, URLs for the company or job listing, contact info, and a status description.

All of these tools required that I keep my data up to date. For me, the effort was worthwhile, because I couldn’t have memorized all that.

Good Luck!

If you’re out there searching, I wish you good luck! (Oh, alright, I’ll wish you good luck even if you’re not currently searching.)

Jim

LinkedIn Endorsements and Anglo-Saxon Compurgators

Confessions of a history buff…

The usual complaints I hear about LinkedIn endorsements are that people endorse you for things they haven’t observed themselves, or they endorse you for skills suggested by LinkedIn, when you’ve made no claim to those skills.

For my part, I’m grateful for the endorsements on my LinkedIn profile.

The endorsements feature reminds me of the Anglo-Saxon idea of compurgators. Certain civil and criminal matters were resolved by setting the number of “compurgators” you’d need to produce. These were people who’d vouch for your side of the story. They might just vouch for whether they believed you, even if they didn’t witness the events in question. If you could line up enough people to stand by your side, your story became more persuasive. If you couldn’t get enough people to step forward on your behalf, suspicions were aroused about your honesty and innocence.

Was the compurgation system open to abuse? Certainly. A guilty person who was popular or persuasive might still fetch enough compurgators. An innocent but unpopular person might have trouble finding anyone to help out. Yup, it was imperfect (unlike our modern justice system, which is 100% perfect, right?). But all in all, the compurgation system was a crowdsourced system of justice, in which you achieved validity by getting the crowd’s support.

And that’s pretty much what the LinkedIn endorsements are. Maybe your contacts are vouching for your skills, or maybe they’re vouching for you. People speaking up for each other and trying to help each other are good things, despite an imperfect system.

But now I’ve gone and revealed myself as someone who reads history for fun.

Jim