What should a cover letter cover?

Break through the crowd of cover letter with these tips!

Only send a cover letter if they ask for one.  When they ask for a cover letter, it’s usually because your resume is going to be screened by software or a low level HR clerk, neither of which is equipped to interpret your resume to determine if it matches the job description.  Instead, they want a shortcut.

The purpose of your cover letter is to give them that shortcut. Therefore, a cover letter should be a clear, concise and coherent summary of a match between you and the key/essential requirements of the position. 

Think of it as a fact-matching exercise

List their key requirements in one column then correlate your experience and skills in metric terms with those requirements.  For example, if they require a degree in a field, name your degree and year of completion’ if they ask for X years of experience with a certain software, provide them with your number of years; if they want to know what kinds of projects you’ve worked on, be specific (name of project, duration, objective, your role, budget, results); and so on.  Once you’ve done the two-column exercise, you can formulate a one-page cover letter.

You then refer them to your resume for details.  The cover letter is not for you to emote about how much you admire the company and what a great candidate you are.  The purpose of the cover letter is to give them a good reason to read your resume where you demonstrate your  “job specific knowledge” and provide evidence of why you can perform the required “duties and responsibilities”.

Customize

Cover letters and resumes need to be customized to a job posting.  They are marketing documents that help differentiate you from other competitors.  In order to optimize your chances of breaking through the glut of applications and rise above the noise, get professional help!

Interviews–listen, laugh, & land the job!

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of narrative in career development.  Telling good stories in an interview can be essential to getting a job offer.  Here’s why:

“I must sell myself.”  This is the mindset of most individuals when they go into a job interview.  They presume that the interview is primarily about them.  After all, the opening question is usually some variation of “Tell us about you.”

I know it’s counter-intuitive but the interview is not really about you; it’s really about the needs and priorities of the organization conducting the interview and, more specifically, about the needs and preferences of the manager that you might report to.

When I coach my clients through interviews, I ask them to take some time after the interview to write down the questions they were asked.  For example, here are some questions a client was asked at a recent interview for a Business Systems Analyst (BSA) role:

– What are some of the challenges I have had with communicating to stakeholders?

– What are some of the challenges I have had communicating with employees? 

– How do I deal with not sticking to a deadline and how do I communicate this with stakeholders? 

– How have I contributed to the productivity of my previous team? 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what a BSA does.  What matters here is that these Qs reveal the concerns of the employer, they reveal the internal challenges or pain points this company is experiencing in their current client service operations.  They want to make sure that this candidate knows how to deal with such challenges and can solve these problems, not make them worse.

Most people think of an interview as a test, a one-way street on which interviewers ask questions and the interviewee must give the ‘right’ answers in order to pass the test and get a job offer.  Again, I know this is counter-intuitive, but an interview is actually a conversation or dialogue conducted by an employer who is trying to get to know you well enough to decide if you are ‘safe’ to hire.  Your goal in the interview is to make it easier for the employer to hire you because you are, in fact, a ‘safe’ candidate, someone who will make the manager’s job easier not harder.

Because I had prepared my client for such Qs, he told stories of himself in action solving these types of issues and getting quantifiable results for his previous employers.  He even managed to insert some humour into his stories. 

Think about this:  who is the most popular person at a party (besides the host providing the food and beverages)?  It’s usually the best joke teller or storyteller.  We live in a narrative culture, immersed in stories all around us—it’s what binds us together socially.  The strongest communicators among us are often the most popular, sometimes the most likeable.

Everybody enjoys a good laugh—just like the strong communicator at the party, you will become instantly likeable in an interview when you share a funny anecdote that gives people a chuckle.  A human hires humans not resumes. 

In summary: the best way to increase your chances of landing a job offer is to tell compelling stories of you in action solving problems for previous managers that are relevant to the manager you are interviewing with while getting quantifiable results…and generating a few chuckles along the way!

Where are the jobs?

I learn from my clients about what is really happening in the job market. Based on their experiences, here are some significant trends that may help you with your career planning, job searching, or advice for your children.

Job Market: Governments claim unemployment is at record lows. Employers complain of skill shortages and their inability to fill job vacancies. Job seekers complain about finding decent jobs. What is going on?

a. More hiring is happening…if you have a professional or technical skill with work experience. Recruiters and employment agencies are definitely filling positions for employers who want experienced credentialed employees. While recruiters and agencies demand recent employment experience, many employers are more open to employment gaps from candidates—especially women who have taken time off to start or care for family.

b. E-commerce is hiring young adults with technical diplomas. There is not doubt that it is easier to get a job these days if you are a 20-something with a 1-year diploma in Mobile Application Development and Design than if you have a 4-yr Arts degree.

c. STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) careers are definitely on the rise, and so are jobs in all areas of healthcare. However, immigrants with qualifications in these areas still face formidable barriers to employment, but less so in the technology sector.

d. Employers won’t pay for training. One of the reasons that employers claim there is a shortage of skilled labour is because most of them won’t pay for training. It is cheaper to pay skilled workers a higher salary than add the costs of training.

e. Employers with rich market capital—the Googles, Facebooks, Apples of the world—will pay for training because they can afford it. They also have to pay high salaries because their offices are located in large urban centres with high housing costs, which is another reason companies are having trouble attracting skilled labour.

f. Employers are biased. Even young adults with technical skills are having a hard time landing that first career job because employers still prefer experienced workers. Having said that, ageism is alive and well in the labour market. Older workers looking for jobs have to rely less on their work history and more on demonstrating to potential employers how they can add value to their operations.

g. Beware of short term jobs. The employers that complain loudest about lack of skilled labour are often the same ones who are moving to replace labour through AI, automation and robots. It’s important for students to analyze the trends in a sector before investing in a career that can be easily replaced by technology in the near future.

h. Employers will not do what’s necessary to attract and retain young workers. Many GenZ and millennials still live at home and pay few bills, so they often leave a job if they don’t like it (because they can afford to). And they don’t seem to like cubicle cultures in big hierarchical organizations. Many millennials are starting their own companies, often with friends because they prefer smaller companies that have a more “engaging” culture of community and collaboration. Most large employers are not yet willing to make costly investments or structural changes in their practices to retain these workers; therefore, they complain about skill shortages that are due not to a lack of labour supply but a lack of employers willing to change their people management practices.

i. Growth of government siphons off skilled labour. Federal, provincial and municipal governments continue to practice deficit spending and drive up debt in order to expand programs and projects that employ lots of people who might otherwise fill jobs in the private sector. In Ontario alone, the number of public servants increased by 5 times over 10 years under the recent Liberal government. The appeal to workers is obvious—the public sector is one of the last workplaces to offer job security.

j. The gig economy is expanding. More workers in all age groups are developing multiple jobs or streams of income because certain social, technological and economic trends are forcing them to do so. Employers are learning how to embrace and manage contractors. In the war for talent and skills, employers are starting to offer contractors better terms and working conditions.

How To Leverage Your Goodwill Network Into A New Job

Don’t overlook the obvious. Reach out to people you know, including family and friends, as well as people you have worked with or helped in the past. This is your goodwill network, i.e. people who want to help you because they like, love, respect you. Your job is to make it easy for them to help you!

Let me illustrate with a real-life example. I recently worked with a young woman who moved from Vancouver to Toronto in August this year. She had a specific job target to work as an Underwriting Assistant in commercial insurance.

She started applying to postings online in September but got no callbacks. She was convinced that employers would not hire her until she had completed a CIP credential (she was 1/3 of the way through). I assured her this was not a major obstacle to her job search.

Instead, I explained to her how employers get hundreds and often thousands of resumes in this kind of stagnant economy and look at only a few, maybe the first 25-50. In this kind of economy, employers can afford to be choosy and they will not hire until they feel ‘safe’ with a candidate. It is so important to understand why this is the case and how to overcome it.

Her previous job had been with a B.C. regulatory agency but she did have 1.5 yrs experience with an insurance company prior to that. I suggested a more effective job search would be to contact her previous employer and other insurance industry contacts in Vancouver and ask them if they knew anyone in Toronto that she could talk to.

I revised her resume to highlight the knowledge, skills and experience she offered as an underwriting assistant, specifically how she could help underwriters do their jobs better, get more clients, serve them better, and make more money.

She started by contacting family members that worked as insurance brokers, which led to several referrals and 2 interviews but no job offers. I suggested that she follow up with people that she’d contacted the first time around but who did not respond, to remind them what she was looking for. It’s sometimes difficult, I said, to understand that your job search is your top priority but other people are busy with their own priorities. Reminding them of your request is not bothering them, it’s simply making it easier for them to help you.

By doing exactly this, she learned from her previous supervisor at an insurance company that they were opening a small office in Toronto. He immediately forwarded her new resume to the head of that office. She was invited to an interview. I prepped her, a week later she got a job offer, and she started her new job the following week!

In summary, make a list of everyone you know and tell them your job target, i.e. a specific role with a specific org or kind of org, then ask them, “Do you know anyone I can talk to?” Make it easy for them to help you. By giving them this targeted niche, all they have to do is go through the Rolodex in their head and pull out names. Then follow up!

If you need help following up in an efficient and effective manner, then call me 1-800-798-2696 or email george@jobjoy.com

Job search success! A true story of the right mix of strategy & tactics

Looking for job postings online, following up on tips, asking for referrals, attending workshops in your hometown is still hard work, even in such familiar surroundings with a built-in goodwill network of family, friends and former colleagues.

Imagine how much harder it is to job search when you move from another country, even with solid credentials and experience. I experienced this very challenge myself when I moved to Australia from Canada in the 80s with no prospect of a job. It took me 8 months to land something commensurate with my degree and experience.

Each person is different of course and has a specific set of credentials and experience, and each one is operating in a unique set of circumstances. But, in my personal and professional experience, the right mix of pro-active job search strategy and tactics executed with persistence and patience always pays off in a good job. Here’s a true and recent case:

In May 2015, Paul relocated from the UK to Toronto when his wife got transferred with an international company (can’t use his real name due to his wife’s terms of confidentiality). Paul had resigned his UK position as a Senior Building Surveyor with an engineering company that managed construction projects in the public sector.

After getting his two young sons settled into T.O. school and life, he started looking for work in his field in line with his visa conditions. He did a smart thing and followed up on leads from his UK contacts but they did not materialize into any job prospects.

He also sent out dozens of resumes but got no call-backs. When I looked at his resume, there was an obvious issue—Building Surveyor is not a job category in Canada, so he wasn’t getting screened in for interviews. But, more importantly, there is an oversupply of construction professionals in Canada, so employers didn’t need to consider prospects from the UK.

We quickly modified his resume and LinkedIn profile to better position/package him for the T.O. market as a Senior Project Manager-Construction because it combined the key technical, account management, and leadership responsibilities of his UK role.

When he sent out his resume and followed up with phone calls, employers now took his calls and talked to him. These conversations taught him a lot about the employment culture in Canada, and what was similar or different to his experience in the UK. It also demonstrated to him the importance of being pro-active in a job search for senior roles.

Consequently, he dialled back his online job search and put together a list of target companies. I encouraged Paul to leverage his natural charm and strong communication skills into “networking” in his neighbourhood. I explained the benefits of doing so. Sceptical at first, he started telling his neighbours and parents at his sons’ school what it was that he was looking for and asking them directly if they knew anybody in his targeted companies.

Besides building his confidence that his UK experience offered value to the Canadian marketplace (because his neighbours took him seriously), this pro-active approach generated a number of referrals, including one to a local recruiter who specialized in placing senior people in construction. This recruiter introduced Paul to a small firm headed by two partners from the UK. They were immediately interested in Paul but didn’t have a position that fit his experience.

I explained to Paul that this was code for “we don’t know you well enough to feel safe enough to hire you.” I explained to him how 40%+ of jobs are created for senior people who walk through the door, who get into conversations that uncover a firm’s key corporate goals/priorities and the major challenges that get in the way of them achieving those goals, and who can then spot the work opportunity in the intersection between the two…because a job is nothing more than activity organized around solving problems to reach corporate goals.

After meeting both partners several times in a professional manner in their offices and in a social setting over dinner, Paul was sent a job offer, which he accepted at the end of November. Interestingly, they left him to define his job description during his first 3 months on the job!

At JobJoy, we specialize in customizing a job search to the right mix of strategies and tactics that will land you a job that corresponds with your value. Call George today to discuss your situation 613-563-0584.

Why does networking work? – Part 2

In my previous article, I provided job change advice and explained why the biggest source of external hiring for employers is not from resumes submitted online but from referrals. In short, networking works because it focuses on the needs and priorities not of you, the job searcher, but of the hiring manager.

As a certified job change expert who has been a hiring manager, I want to explain why referrals are so highly regarded by managers. If you’ve had to hire individuals, this will make a lot of sense to you. If you’ve never had to hire anyone, then try to put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager.

A manager’s job in any organization—public, private, or nonprofit—is to help that org reach its corporate goals and objectives. That’s why managers get paid the big bucks, have fancy job titles, and get lots of perks…they have a lot of responsibility to ensure their employer thrives. If they don’t succeed, their employer doesn’t succeed, and their career is in jeopardy!

So, managers are busy managing plans, priorities, projects, programs, schedules, budgets, people, equipment, machinery, and more! They spend little time hiring unless, of course, they experience high turnover of staff (which is usually symptomatic of deeper problems in the org), or they are in a high growth phase and need to staff up quickly.

In addition, most managers are not trained to hire, don’t enjoy it because of what’s at stake—one bad hire can make their life miserable or ruin their career!—and, while they may have some real talents for managing priorities or budgets, it doesn’t mean they have a knack for hiring.

The point is: hiring is problematic for managers! Hiring is stressful. Many managers are on the edge of burnout from performing their regular job duties, and the added stress of hiring puts a bigger load on their shoulders and can push them over that edge into serious health problems. What to do?

As human beings, when things are difficult, we find ways to make them easier by cutting corners, or shifting our efforts, or streamlining process. So, managers turn to each other for support. Let’s say I’m a manager suddenly faced with the prospect of hiring a half dozen new employees to service a new account. I’ll call up a friend and say, “Hey. Bill, I’ve got tickets to the next big game, let’s go blow off some steam!” So Bill and I end up hootin’ & hollerin’ & blowin’ off steam cheering for our Ottawa Sens hockey team…but my job is important to me. Pretty soon I start telling Bill: “I’ve got to do a bunch of hiring. I hate it. It’s so hard to find these technical specialists, so hard to hire them, so hard to keep them!”

And Bill responds: “Hey, shutup, I’m trying to enjoy the game! Listen, I know this guy, known him for years, he’s very competent, reliable, dependable, he might be just what you need. I’ll give him your phone number. Do yourself a favor when he calls next week, take his call!”

And, I go, “Phew! Thank goodness for Bill, he makes my life so much easier. I won’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know his referral because Bill knows him. And I like Bill, I respect him, I trust him. If he’s vouching for this guy, it’s as good as me knowing him myself. I can’t wait for him to call next week. I’m going to seriously consider hiring him.”

That’s why referrals work, not because of you and your resume. But because a hiring manager is getting a referral from a source he likes, respects and trusts. The hiring manager’s professional life is suddenly made easier, he can move one more item from the To Do list to the Done list.

How do you contact people in order to get in their pipeline? Click here.

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and get a better job!

As a certified job change expert, I am an advocate of a two-pronged approach to Job Search: be passive online and pro-active offline. During this holiday season in Ottawa and elsewhere, here’s 4 job change advice tips to increase your chances of landing a good job, changing to a better job, or advancing your career with your current employer.

1. Go to office parties, professional association year-ends, social club celebrations, neighborhood gatherings. People are almost always in a good mood during this festive season, more open to conversation, more relaxed about sharing their professional goals and corporate challenges. Use this time to build rapport with people who have the power to hire you or network for referrals to people who can. Networking is not rocket science but it is a skill. You’ve already learned many skills in your life, learn this one too! It has a great Return on Investment of your time and energy.

2. Get into conversations that can be converted to job offers. Keep the business talk light but focused, or make a date to talk in more depth after the holidays. Listen for cues, e.g. planned expansions, new projects, progress blockers, and all the issues that generate work in an organization. New business goals and priorities always face challenges, problems, issues and pressures–discussions around priorities vs challenges is where you next job offer will formulate. Gather information, take a few minutes to record notes on your phone, or write them down on a card. Then take some time over the holidays to think about what you’ve heard. Many organizations are preparing to hire in the New Year. You probably won’t start your new job during the holiday season, but it’s quite possible to receive an offer early the next year.

3. Follow up in a few weeks time. Don’t mix business with pleasure. Use the social gatherings at the end of the year to build rapport, then follow up in a business-like manner early in the New Year. Use the info you gathered during the social events to formulated some talking points, ideas that address some of the opportunities and challenges you heard about. The seeds you plant at parties can pay off big time by the time the next hiring season rolls around in Spring2015. Use social media not to establish rapport but to maintain the rapport you developed face-to-face at the holiday get-togethers. Send a message to these contacts inviting them to coffee or lunch reminding them what you talked about during the holiday season or raising an issue that you think might be interesting to talk about.

4. Be prepared. Luck favors those who prepare ahead of time, so learn to interview now before you go to parties because informal chitchats at parties can quickly convert into (in) formal interviews. Hiring is driven by the needs and priorities of a manager. Learn how to tap into those needs and leverage them into a job offer. Just this week I heard from a client in Florida who’d been seeking a position as an IT Project Manager. He’d sent out 50+ resumes and had 8 interviews but no job offers when he hired me to give him interview coaching. We reviewed his interviews, and I could clearly see what he needed to improve in his interview performance. After one session of coaching, his next interview resulted in an excellent job offer with a major telecom firm!

Managers Control Timing of Hiring: Get in Their Pipeline

This is one of the key principles that I use when helping my clients find permanent positions. Every hiring manager has a pipeline that they fill with prospective employees because (1) they are always looking for good people, and (2) they know they must hire them at some point. It’s not a question of IF but when.

A year ago, one of my clients got laid off after 25+ years with the same employer, a large defense contractor. My client was devastated but keen to get a similar job ASAP. He did what most people do, and sent out dozens of resumes to online postings with no positive results. He got extremely discouraged, even angry. He’d never needed to look for a job before, and it was a very negative experience for him.

I’m not saying he or anybody else shouldn’t look online but the U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 5% of people in the workforce are hired by submitting resumes to online postings. Therefore, I suggested to my client that he spend only 10-20% of his time & energy looking for a job that way, and to be more pro-active in his job search by networking for referrals to find job opportunities, not job vacancies.

I have written elsewhere on the difference between a job vacancy and a job opportunity, and how to find them. The key here is I coached my client on how to reconnect with former clients and brief them on his new employment priorities and preferences and ask, “Do you know anyone I can talk to?” One such approach resulted in a referral from a contact in Halifax to a hiring manager at a naval engineering firm in Montreal.

My client arranged a coffee meeting during one of the manager’s routine visits to Ottawa last November. That manager indicated there may be some job opportunities opening up in the near future. My client came to count on this vague verbal hint at a job. He followed up by email and phone for several months and heard nothing back…and got very discouraged again.

I reminded him that getting another job was his top priority but the hiring manager had other pressing concerns, another crisis to deal with, another fire to put out. And, he may be waiting for the conclusion to a very large deal that could take more time to come to fruition than he or anybody expects.

I encouraged my client to maintain the rapport he established with that manager by sending him an update every 2 months. In the meantime, I suggested to my client that he keep looking for other opportunities. He was able to land a few short-term contracts.

Then out of the blue this week, that hiring manager called this week to offer him a permanent job starting next month almost to the day of their coffee meeting a year ago!
You can’t control the timing of a job opportunity. It will materialize according to the needs and priorities of the employer.

Your job as a job seeker is to get in the pipeline, maintain a relationship with the hiring manager, keep your skills current, and persist with your job search.
In this stagnant economy, persistence pays off!

How to Holiday Party Your Way into a Career Job!

Mark Buzan came to me at age 22 and about to receive his political science degree and wanted to work on Parliament Hill.

He wasn’t really clear about what he wanted to do. “It was pretty scary,” he told me. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to do something in politics or journalism.

During our first conversation it became apparent that he wanted to work for a Member of Parliament (MP), but he had no idea on how to get a job, on Parliament Hill.

As far as he was concerned, thousands of people graduate with a degree in political science every year and they all want a job on Parliament Hill and the ones who get them are people who are very active in politics, or who’s families have political connections. So what chance did he have?

But he had a problem that was bigger than no political connections. He sort of knew what he wanted, but he didn’t have a target. If you want to hit the bull’s eye you have to have a target. You can shoot an arrow, but it isn’t going to hit the bull’s eye unless you have a target.

So we had a very important target to find. I did an assessment of his talents and determined that the best job fit for him was as an executive assistant. Then, we set about taking action to hit the target. And, it worked. He came to me in November and by the end of January he had a job offer as a aide to an MP.

Our plan to hit the bull’s eye began with some big parties. All the political parties in Canada have Christmas parties on Parliament Hill. And they’re open to the public. So I told him to go to the Christmas parties of the political parties in which he was interested and mix with them. At a party, people are more relaxed, more likely to interact on a social level, and more likely to be open to hearing your story. At one of the parties he met the senior member of the staff of Jason Kenney and eventually got a job as an executive assistant in that office.

But obviously there’s more to getting the right job than just going to parties. So our plan was very specific.

Mark had some special training in tax policy and tax law and had some ideas on changing tax laws. First I told him to find out which MPs had the tax reform portfolios for their parties. Then we put together a letter summarizing Mark’s research and ideas about tax reform and sent it to those MPs requesting a meeting. Then I provided him with a script of what to say to get into those offices for a meeting. Mark spent about 20 minutes with each MP and talked to about 6. He then debriefed me on all his meetings.

One of those MPs set up a meeting with his legislative assistant–his right-hand person–which turned out to be one of the people Mark had schmoozed with at the Christmas party, so they already had a rapport. Mark had several more meetings with that legislative assistant, eventually leading to a job offer.

Mark loved what he was doing, but after a while decided that he needed more challenges. He wanted to become a lobbyist.

We put together a portfolio and then he created his own company called Action Strategies. He received a couple of small assignments and built up a track record. Then at 29, he got hired as lobbyist. His official title was Public Affairs Coordinator for the Canadian Hydropower Association. Several other positions followed and, today, Mark is an Executive Director of a national organization for health care professionals.

All of that was very deliberate and intentional. It wasn’t luck. It was intentional, having a clearly defined target, a vision of what he wanted, then taking specific actions to move him closer to his vision until—bingo! He hit the target.

Sometimes you have to take some risks to get what you want. Some people wouldn’t go to a Christmas party uninvited. You have to do unconventional things to get noticed. Not all of the time. But it increases your chances of getting hired.

How to Network into a Job during the Festive Season

An MBA client told me this past week that she has sent out 200 resumes since August and received no callbacks for interviews. Believe it or not…this is a normal result in this kind of job market!

If she had done the same thing 20, or 15, or even 10 years ago, she would’ve received a good number of calls from internal and external recruiters because the economy was still hot and expanding, and there was strong demand from employers for skilled labor. Not anymore, not now, unless you’re in one of the few hot job categories.

Instead, this MBA client, as well as most other individuals, need to move from a passive job search to a pro-active job search. Some 80 percent of jobs are now found through networking. I explain this pro-active job search in detail in my free webinar ‘Secrets to a Successful Job Search.’

The principles outlined in my webinar are especially effective during the holiday season. Why? Because this is the time of year when goodwill towards all men and women is real, doors are open, and people want to chat. The timing for meaningful contacts related to job search and career advancement couldn’t be better.

Hiring managers and decision-makers attend office parties, social events and community celebrations. They take their hiring needs with them wherever they go. Problems, challenges, impact issues, pressure points continue to get in the way of managers leading their organizations to successful goals and objectives. They are always scouting for new talent, for people who can make their lives easier, and help them succeed.

Remember, this is the season for giving. So give people will give you time and attention. Listen to their stories. Politely ask questions that probe their concerns. Find out where you can help.

If you can, offer to help. People will appreciate and remember your generous offers to assist and support. This is how you build rapport, deepen relationships, foster trust—and generate job offers!

Productive networking is about building relationships not performing transactions. Leave a positive impression, strengthen ties, share ideas, give people a reason to remember you. Face time is quality time. Stay focused, be alert and don’t overindulge in food or beverages. Conduct yourself professionally at all times. Dress conservatively (unless the job sector rewards non-conformity!).

The ROI is simple–just one meaningful dialogue can create measurable value from every networking event.

* Avoid situations where you might be stressed, rushed or distracted from your networking mission.
* Seek out meaningful conversations that leave a strongly positive impression.
* Be ready to pick up insider-only knowledge.
* Try connecting those you know to each other.

I spoke recently with a client who received a generous job offer from a contact he had worked with on a committee related to a local branch of their professional association. He gave generously of his time and energy over the past two years, and his efforts did not escape notice by this hiring manager.

These holiday encounters could be your big break to chat with current or former employees at your target companies; exchange business cards with an industry leader; or, arrange a future meeting with someone difficult to reach. Brief interactions can be springboards to great relationships if you find ways to provide support and thereby sustain the connection.

If you want to optimize your networking efficiency, be prepared:

– Have specific job targets in mind
– Be ready to make clear, compelling points to attract attention.
– Have a set of probing questions that uncover job opportunities.
– Think about what you can give in terms of time and energy
– Listen actively so you are apt to pick up on a need you can address and keep up your end of the discussion.

In addition, have a ready supply of business cards that have your contact information as well as a few bullet points on the reverse depicting your interests, areas of expertise, or other memorable data. Make your card easy to read, and make sure your phone number is large. Ask others for their cards, and make a few notes on the back to remind you why the card may be important.

Remember, it’s the quality not the quantity of relationships developed, pursued or renewed. It’s not just what you know and who you know, but who knows what you know that produces new opportunities in today’s job market.

Happy holidays, happy giving and happy networking!