This post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
As a former recruiter and now career coach, I’ve seen job seekers successfully get exploratory interviews even when there isn’t a posted opening. Then, if the meeting goes well, these job seekers are front of mind when something does open up. If you’re a job seeker, you want to get these exploratory interviews. The most obvious way is to be referred to the recruiter by someone they already know and trust. A warm introduction is very helpful, and you always should first try to get referred. But what if you don’t have an inside connection? Three recruiters reveal how they decide who to interview:
Bucky Keady, Vice President of Human Resources at Time Inc, notices a thoughtful cover letter/ email:
The cover letter/email always matters particularly when they do reference someone in the industry they know and I respect. It is also impactful when their letter talks about one of our brands in a knowledgeable way. I definitely prefer the 1st contact through email as I will spend more time reflecting on what a candidate has to say. A good resume with experience that our company needs always trumps.
Stacy Lauren Musi, Managing Director of search firm Chadick Ellig, looks at the resume for background, skills and experience:
A candidate will be seen for one of three reasons: if they fit a search we’re currently working on, if they fit something we recruit for often even if we’re not working on that area right now, or if they’re strong and someone we should just know about. We always like to know good people!
Dara Williams, Senior Recruiter at Gilt, has selected candidates on the strength of a phone call:
I once received a call from a candidate expressing interest in one of our Gilt City Sales Curator positions. She had no previous sales experience but listed what areas she could be an asset based off of the job posting. Her ability to dissect the job posting and provide me with specific examples of how her previous experience could apply to this role, all in a five minute pitch sold me. It also proved to me that she would have the fearlessness to succeed in a sales capacity. This candidate was hired 1 week later.
Most Recruiters do not have the time to take unsolicited phone calls but candidates can find success by practicing and fine-tuning their “pitch”. It is imperative that candidates find direct correlations between their experience and the job posting and ensure that it is conveyed in a concise 2-5 minute call.
It’s important to note that the Gilt candidate was going for a sales position, so her ability to pitch on the phone is directly relevant. All three of the recruiters emphasize this relevance factor – if you’re hoping for a meeting, you want to be clear about what’s in it for the company. Amidst dozens of openings, each recruiter might have time for only a handful of exploratory meetings.
Keady sums up nicely what aspiring job seekers can do to maximize their opportunities:
Think about what it is you can offer to the company you are reaching out to, what sets you apart, what tools do you have that will immediately benefit the company and highlight that upfront. I want to know you are obsessed with our business, passionate about our brands and have experience we can use immediately.
Know your target company’s business. Demonstrate your desire to work there. Have the substance (skills, experience, expertise) to contribute. If you can do all of this, don’t wait for a job opening to be posted. Refine your cover email, resume, and pitch, to relay all of this to the recruiter, and land those critical exploratory interviews.