This morning, a client asked me for a few ideas about a sadly under-utilized jobsearch tactic: dropping in, unannounced, on a prospective employer (say, “AlphaOmega Technologies”). Some may consider this too aggressive (or even rude), but I beg to differ: the surprise drop-in is a brilliant manoeuvre because most of your competitors would prefer to eat live cockroaches (which, apparently, are quite the delicacy in some cultures).
Essentially, a drop-in visit is a sales call. And before you roll your eyes or bolt from the room, hang in there with me for a moment while I address the much-maligned concept of “sales”:
Whether we realize it or not – in life (not just during job searches), we’re all in sales. Whenever we’re trying to persuade anyone to do anything (buy my widgets!… sell me your gadgets!… join our geocaching club!… let’s go out on a date!… stay the HELL away from my daughter!)… it’s a sales job.
So whether you’re hunting for your next paycheque or pedaling your darling invention, it’s time to chase those plaid-jacketed, Have-I-Got-The-Car-For-You stereotypes from your mind and think WIN-WIN (you may need that job, but they need you just as badly).
Now that you know you’ve decided to embrace your Inner Sales Pro, let’s continue.
Before you visit AlphaOmega, research things ahead of time just as thoroughly you would if you were going for a formal interview. Study the company and its recent (and possible future) activities. Analyze the specific job that you’re interested in. Identify your prospective boss (if possible) and learn what you can about them. Try to find out who the heavy hitters are.
The ideal person to meet isn’t necessarily the one at the top of the food chain; it’s whomever you’re likely to end up working for – or someone else, in that same functional area, who has reasonable clout (a.k.a. an “influencer”). You want to try to get some face time with this person, to make a quick pitch and press the flesh.
Concerning salutations: If you suspect that “Mr.”, “Ms.”, “Mrs.”, or “Miss” might in fact be a “Dr.”, confirm this ahead of time. Physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and PhDs all enjoy the lofty sound of their hard-earned honorific.
Just like the pre-arranged interview, your unannounced visit is the time to be
- confident (even if those butterflies in your stomach are crashing into one another)
- assertive (vs.aggressive – there’s a BIG difference)
- relaxed (even if you’re wishing you’d reached for the antiperspirant instead of the deodorant)
- friendly (even if your dog routinely cowers when you enter the room)
- grateful (for the opportunity to visit them) and above all,
- yourself (authenticity works wonders)
Temper your high hopes with low expectations, the two exceptions being a)that you’ll give it your best shot, and b)that you’ll enjoy your visit, even if they completely blow you off (which would be a timely red flag that you’d probably hate working for them anyway). Your foremost objective is simply to make a good impression on whomever you meet, be that
- the CEO, Mr. Carl “Daydreamer” Smith
- the Director of Research, Dr. Susan “Stressed-Out” Baxter
- the Office Manager, Ms. Alicia “Momma” Gonzales
- the Receptionist, Mr. Stuart “Gatekeeper” Hansen
… or maybe even several of these people at the same time (gulp!) because this often happens, especially in small companies.
Ask Mr. Hansen (or, if AlphaOmega is too casual or cash-strapped to have a Receptionist, ask the first person you meet) for a word with Mr. Smith / Dr. Baxter / Ms. Gonzales – and when you meet them, make it upbeat and brief. Confidently shake their hand, look them directly in the eye, and flash those spinach-free pearly whites!
Shorten your pitch to about 10 seconds of who you are and the role you’d like to play with their organization. Here’s a nice, tight opening:
Hello Mr. Smith… (DON’T say “Carl” because when first meeting him – even if he looks like he hasn’t slept much lately and is sporting a white T-shirt, ripped jeans, and Birkenstocks – because it’s respectful and will gently massage his ego). Follow that with something like
- I’m a 10-year Red Seal journeyman welder and I’m very excited about AlphaOmega’s upcoming shipbuilding project.
- I’m a retired science teacher and would like to possibly come on board with AlphaOmega’s technology outreach initiative.
- I’m a corporate finance specialist and I’d like to help AlphaOmega keep a lid on the cost of capital.
- I’m an experienced office manager and I’d love to help AlphaOmega with streamlining its front-office activities.
- I’m an experienced commercial real estate sales professional and could help AlphaOmega sell its SimCity project in record time.
If possible, phrase the “why are you here” part in terms of how you would benefit the company (this strategy makes the last three bullets above more powerful than the first two. And ditch the self-evident (“I thought I’d just drop in to see you today”), the submissive (“may I speak with you for a minute”) and the suicidal (“I hope I’m not interrupting you”) phrases – they’re so tiresome and cliché.
At this point, they’ll respond either positively or negatively; they might chat with you for a bit, or they may say they’re too busy at the moment. Regardless of their response, follow up briefly concisely and concisely:
I respect that you might be busy this morning so I just wanted to say hello. May I leave my résumé, cover letter and calling card with you, or would you rather I just send them by electronic or postal mail?
At this moment, don’t be shoving anything into their hand – but be ready to whip it out of your slim, classy (leather, ideally) briefcase. If “briefcase” doesn’t really fit the role, then at least present your documents in some sort of relatively unwrinkled envelope that doesn’t like it was on the table at Starbucks when you spilled your coffee. It’s just classier.
Don’t expect that they’ll even agree to accept your stuff, because for a variety of reasons (ranging from innocuous to alarming) they might not. If they ask you to send it elsewhere, thank them and don’t take it personally. People are busy!
Yes, you should have a calling card (aka business card), even if you’re not “employed”. You’re always employed, even if your current “job” is the midday shuffle – pyjama-clad, disheveled, and hung over – to your dusty, arthritic computer where you push yourself through that umpteenth cover letter (and you’d rather be pulling your own teeth).
Allow, say, 15 minutes for this encounter (even though like so many middle-aged, wannabe Casanovas, it may only last for 30 seconds). And don’t get caught offside; be prepared for an unexpected, spontaneous initial interview (you just might hear “Thanks for dropping by. Would you like to grab a coffee?”)
In closing, drop-in visits needn’t be frightening; they can actually be lots of fun. So here’s a recipe for success: do your research, release your expectations, maintain your gratitude, relax your mind, and enjoy your visit! Even if you stutter, trip, faint, or suddenly disappear into a giant sinkhole, they’ll be impressed that you had the chutzpah to come on down!
Paul Raworth Bennett (Founder and Principal of NOVA Career Strategies) is a résumé expert, LinkedIn consultant, and Reach-certified Personal Branding Strategist (who was lucky enough to have Susan Chritton and Kirsten Vernon as his instructors). If you want to star in your own career, Paul would be happy to connect with you via the NOVA Career Strategies website, his Twitter account, or through his LinkedIn page.