Leveraging persistence as a job search tool

I've been in sales and sales management my entire career, but everyone is in sales during a job search or an effort to win a promotion. One thing I've observed is that persistence is unquestionably one of the most vital characteristics of successful selling. Many times that extra phone call or some creative follow-up has played a key role in enabling me to win someone over. However, if you're not careful, that persistence can make a prospect perceive you as a pest.

For the past several years, I've coordinated my church's job networking ministry. One of the many questions I'm asked by job seekers is how persistent they should be in following up with a prospective employer. Waiting for voice mails to be returned or trying to get feedback after an interview can be one of the most frustrating parts of a job search.

Can a few extra voice mails or e-mails to the hiring manager have a negative effect? Absolutely. So the question is, What is the right amount of follow-up without crossing the line and becoming a pest? Well, my suggestion is that in addition to using your common sense, you should "mix it up."

A great example of this strategy was recently provided by public relations expert Marilynn Mobley, a vice president at SecureWorks in Atlanta. She was gracious enough to allow me to share her story with you.

Marilynn's youngest daughter, Sydney, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, has been on a campaign recently to get her parents to buy her a cell phone. She knows the family rules: No cell phone until she's in high school, and then she's permitted to use it only in specific situations.

Here are some of the effective tactics she has used to achieve her goal of getting a mobile phone:

  • When asked to write an essay on a topic of her choice at school, she wrote "Why All Teenage Girls Should Have a Cell Phone." She emphasized the safety issues and pointed out the fact that pay phones are rare and working pay phones even rarer. She proudly showed off the A she received.
  • On a field trip to Savannah, she called from a friend's cell phone to let Marilynn know they would arrive back at the school in 45 minutes, then added, "If I had my own cell phone, I wouldn't have to borrow Lindsay's. She sure is nice to let me use her minutes, isn't she?"
  • She got into the car after cheerleading practice one day and announced, "Did you know I'm the only girl on my squad who doesn't have a cell phone? I feel so left out."
  • When dropped off at the mall with one of her friends for a couple of hours, as she got out of the car, she said, "I'll call you if we need you. Oops ... wait ... I can't. I don't have a cell phone."

Marilynn acknowledges that Sydney's persistence was admirable, and she is definitely going to get her a cell phone.

Sydney has probably taught everyone looking for their next job a few things, too. In a job search, you want to consider all of your delivery options. For example, you can send an e-mail one day, a voice mail a few days later and a handwritten note or an article of interest with a Post-it note attached as well. Mixing up your delivery methods keeps your message fresh. The point is to have fun with this instead of getting frustrated.

How often you send a message will differ for almost every situation. However, you're usually safe if you follow up once every five to seven business days.

Another effective method of getting your target's attention is to get someone to speak on your behalf. Even the late Johnny Carson got Ed McMahon to introduce him every night on The Tonight Show with "Here's Johnny!" Who can introduce you? Search your network or try to find someone who works at the company to play that role.

The best job searches are the ones where you target an employer and then exhibit your passion by being persistent. Just remember to mix it up!

Jay Litton is responsible for IT enterprise sales in the Southeast U.S. for Macrovision. Jay shares his 20 years of sales and sales management experiences so professionals can market themselves better. Permission to reprint is provided by notifying Jay at jlitton@macrovision.com and including this paragraph in your reprint.

Parts of this column were contributed by Marilynn T. Mobley. She can be reached at mmobley@secureworks.com.

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