In case you didn’t know, for at least 4 hours a day, for eight months after completing my Master’s degree, I dedicated myself to applying to jobs in cultural resource management archaeology. Researching companies, writing resumes and cover letters, searching for job posts, trying to connect with other archaeologists, and reading everything I could about landing a job became my part-time job.
I was obsessed with becoming an archaeologist. It had been a dream since before I was in kindergarten. I’d devoted my education towards becoming a knowledgeable anthropologist and did everything I could in college to get archaeology field experience. After getting my grad degree, I devoted my efforts to finding a job where I could use what I’d learned.
Right before I landed my first full-time position, I started heavily networking with other CRMers in my area. I traveled to conferences, went to talks at local universities, and even drove to a couple Forest Service offices to introduce myself and talk with people who did archaeology for a living.
At the time I was living in northern Idaho, far from any large cities, so the number of archaeologists I could connect with was fairly limited. I was applying to positions across the country and trying to figure out the disposition of archaeologists I’d never met before. Of course, I was busy researching their previous work, finding articles they’d written (if any), and asking my small network if they knew anything about the hiring managers at these companies but it was hard to try and guess which angle I should work in order to make my application stand out.
Throughout this whole process, there is one thing I rarely tried. I never thought about the power of picking up the phone and simply calling the hiring manager.
Reach out, Reach out and Touch Someone
As any Gen-Xer or Boomer can tell you, Bell and AT&T ran a long-lived commercial campaign that told us all to “reach out and touch someone” through a phone call. For years, we had to suffer through these commercials that have deeply embedded themselves in our subconscious for decades. The commercials were so cheesy and the accompanying song was quintessential of 1980s commercials: trite, emotional earworms that burrow deep into your psyche. But, those commercials and annoying song have long been burned into the brains of anybody who watched T.V. in the 80s.
(NOTE: During my job search, I was a lot like the little boy in this commercial whenever a CRM hiring manager called me back after I left them a message):
My job search took a turn for the better when I finally realized the power of using the telephone to call CRM companies and talk to the hiring manager about their job postings. The idea seems simple enough: You see a job posting for a company >> you read it and decide to apply >> Rather than simply writing a resume tailored to the job post, you actually call the company and ask if you can learn more about what they are really looking for.
As my wife will readily tell you, I’m hard headed and have a tough time making phone calls because I think I sound stupid on the phone. I have an even more difficult time leaving messages for the same reason. My own psychological condition prevented me from making phone calls that would have collected data that would have made my resumes look better to the hiring manager and could have made fruitful connections that might have helped me in the future. This really hindered my job search for months until I embraced the power of hearing the human voice.
Make a list
Sounding like an ignoramus on the phone was my greatest fear. After all, I was begging for a job so I wanted to present myself in the best light possible. This was pretty easy when meeting CRMers in person because they could see that I knew how to shower, was eager to learn, and was not a psycho. There’s no way to convey this in an email or letter.
I was also afraid I would forget what I knew about their company as soon as a real person picked up the phone. I wanted to impress them with my knowledge of what the company and its employees had done, but was worried I would start talking like a deer-in-the-headlights as soon as they picked up the phone. I worried about droning on as I normally did on the phone, which would turn a golden opportunity into something that made me look bad.
In order to overcome this fear, I made a list of some specific information and what I wanted to know before I dialed the number. This list included:
- The company name, office locations, and highlights from their website
- Branch employees and their specialties
- The advertised position
- How my experience, education, and skills matched up with the job posting
- Any connections I had to the area, employees, or project types ( If I was a fan of the local baseball or football team, I made sure to know something about how they were doing, players that were kicking butt, or lamentations about how pathetically they were last season. You can just mention the topic and if they say, “I don’t care about sports”, leave it be.)
(NOTE: You would not believe how far sports knowledge can take you. Gender/sex does not matter when it comes to being a fanatic. Sports fans are of all types so don’t overlook the opportunity to make a connection through sports. You may not like sports but stuff like that can be the difference between cleaning toilets like I did after graduation and cleaning Paleoindian artifacts.)
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Specific questions I wanted answered. What exactly did I want to know about the job?
(ANOTHER NOTE: It may seem inappropriate to talk about money, but you really, really want to know the salary range for any job that says something like “pay rate will be based on experience”. If the job pays crap, you don’t want it because financial hardship isn’t something you want to willingly sign up for. Remember, you are building a career here and you can’t do that if you cannot pay your bills. Also, taking super low wages only fuels the downward spiral of CRM employment and encourages lowballing.)
The goal was to make an impressive introduction over the phone that made me sound personable, skilled, and, basically, somebody they wanted to hire. The best way to do that was by creating a list of information that I could use to make a good first impression over the phone. A combination of personable small talk that shows you know the company, a little about yourself and what you can do, and specific questions about that specific position that will help you craft a successful application package.
If at all possible, you want to figure out what they are looking in an ideal candidate. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What does your ideal candidate for this position look like?” If they want to save time and money by hiring the right employee, they will tell you in no uncertain terms what they’re looking for and what they do not want to see.
Also, do not be disheartened if they flat out say you don’t have what they’re looking for. If you get rejected, ask what they ARE looking for. This gives you an idea of the skills and experience you need to get this kind of job, which can be very helpful in the future.
Finally, make sure you write down what you learn. Don’t rely on memory to serve you well when you’re redrafting your resume and cover letter for this position.
Make sure you are not wasting someone’s time
Every CRMer I know has more to do than they have time to do it, especially PIs and project directors, so it is paramount that you do not waste anybody’s time with your questions. Keep your conversation as short as possible. This can be hard to tell but pay attention to verbal cues that tell you whether or not the person you’re talking to is losing interest (pauses are an excellent cue to listen for). Voice inflection, sounds that they are no longer paying attention to you (ex. “uums” or “aaaahs” right after you ask a question), or the sound of a computer keyboard clacking in the background are good signs that the conversation is over (or, never started in the first place).
Keeping your conversation down to 5 minutes or less is a great way to collect information while not wasting anybody’s time. You can have a longer talk if the other conversant is willing, but plan on saying everything you have to say in less than 5 minutes.
Also, don’t be offended if the people with the power to hire you do not return your call or are not willing to talk to you. There are a lot of managers who simply will not take the time to talk about job prospects and openings within the company for prospective applicants. It’s just not what they do and that is perfectly okay. For every one supervisor that stonewalls you, there are at least three more who are willing to have a quick conversation with somebody they might be working with in the near future. You are going to get rejected but, more often than not, you’ll get to talk to somebody. Just be persistent (without being annoying. More on that below).
Don’t ask somebody to violate conflict of interest rules
Sometimes, it is considered a conflict of interest for hiring managers to discuss job postings. Academic and agency jobs typically fall into this category. Larger corporations with human resources departments may also have restrictions on talking about job postings.
You don’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position and ask them to break the rules, but do not be afraid to call hiring managers for government positions because you never know if these guys have the freedom to talk. Any information is better than no information, even if the answer is no, so don’t be afraid to give it a shot. Don’t be offended if they refuse to talk with you about it either.
Be persistent but not annoying
There is a line between making a couple simple calls for information and harassing somebody about a job. Remember, CRMers are busy and do not have very much time to talk about job postings. If you don’t get a “live one” on the line when you call, do not be afraid to leave a message. There’s nothing wrong with making a couple calls and/or messages. It’s difficult to tell you how many calls are too many. To some CRMers, one inquiry is already too much. Others are so busy they’d totally forget about you if you hadn’t left 3 messages already. Regardless of how many you make, be sure you write down how many calls you’ve made and messages you’ve left. You do not want to be that annoying, desperate archaeologist who keeps harassing companies about their jobs postings.
The goal is to make yourself look good, not paint the picture that you will be a nuisance. Do not cross the line between persistence and annoyance.
Digital connections are not the same as phone calls
Connecting online, through social media, email, and other platforms, should be an important part of your job search strategy. It’s something I tell every prospective CRMer to do because it is much easier to connect with other CRMers on these platforms than it is to reach them on the phone. Nevertheless, digital networking should not supplant face-to-face and telephone conversations. You can do a much better job of conveying your personality though your voice over the phone than you can on the internet. Like I said, my job search made a big turn for the better AFTER I started calling companies directly and inquiring about job postings.
Social media and other digital connections are important but they should be used to create opportunities for face-to-face or telephone interactions. Your voice is a much better vehicle for showing your true personality than Facebook posts, tweets, or listserv messages.
Inquiries are not cold calls
Nobody likes cold calls (i.e. calling a stranger out of the blue to ask them something). This is why the “Do Not Call List” was created and why everybody hates telemarketers. If you can’t even stand a little popup on the websites you visit, you can imagine how happy your future boss will be to get a random call from somebody asking them about their ideal job candidate.
A job posting gives you a chance to call a CRM hiring manager about a specific topic. Even if they do not know you personally, they will be more willing to talk about an opening than they will to simply chew the fat with you over a random cold call. The job posting gives you a reason to introduce yourself. Some folks may disagree, but I think it’s okay to call a CRMer you’ve never met in order to discuss a job opening at their company.
I strongly advise against making any kind of cold call. The best way to connect with people in our industry is at conferences, public talks, meetings, or volunteer archaeology projects. The safest way to connect with CRMers you do not know is via social media. A worse but socially acceptable way to connect is through a paper letter or email. The very worst way to attempt a connection is through an unsolicited phone call. Don’t be that guy. Never make cold calls.
Reaching out over the phone helped me. It can help you too.
My archaeology job search truly made a change when I decided to overcome my fear/disability about talking to people over the phone. This was a big step for me, but it may be nothing to worry about for you. Each person is different. When I told her about the topic of this blog post, my officemate said she has always known that. She said she feels much better talking about jobs over the phone than she does via email or social media. I am exactly the opposite.
There are probably some cultural resource management project managers and principal investigators out there who are cringing at the sight of this blog post. They’re already stretched to the limit and here I am telling job applicants to call them over the phone to talk about their job postings. Basically, I’m advocating more work for them.
In reality, talking with potential job prospects actually saves them time, money, and effort when it comes time to fill open positions. Hiring managers can use this short conversation (like I said, only give them 5 minutes) to weed out applicants who don’t have a chance in hell of getting an interview. It is also an opportunity to identify several applicants who are well-suited to fulfill the job duties. Basically, you are holding a short mini-interview that will save you hours when it comes time to conduct interviews.
We all need to use every trick in the book in order to make our cultural resource management job search successful. Calling hiring managers over the phone in order to collect information about the job before you apply is not only smart, it saves time for the applicant and the hiring company.
What do you think? Is calling a company over it’s job post a good idea? Write a comment below or send me an email.
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