Find Your Dream Job, Episode 189:
Finding Your Career Champions, with Lora Poepping
Airdate: May 1, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.
That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Lora Poepping about how to turn your connections into your job search champions.
You’ve heard it a million times: You need to ask others for help when you look for work.
So you start talking with people about your search. Everyone is polite and friendly. But nothing happens after these conversations.
How can you move the people you meet to help you? Our guest today says you need to know what you want, explain it clearly, and get others to talk about themselves.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Lora Poepping about how to turn your connections into your job search champions.
Lora Poepping is the founder and president of Plum Coaching and Consulting.
Lora’s company helps clients around the world with job search, career coaching, resumes, and LinkedIn services. Every member of Plum’s 13- person team has been a recruiter and knows how hiring works.
Lora joins us today from Seattle, Washington.
Lora, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. Thanks for being on the show. Now, tell me, Lora, what difference can good champions make in a job search?
Well, they make all the difference. So, we believe and I believe, after doing this for quite a while now, I don’t want to age myself, but having done both recruiting and job search coaching, we believe there are 5 different methodologies of a job search.
One of the most critical and most important are finding those champions, the people in your community of connections, and you’ll notice I don’t say network.
I actually cringe when I hear the word “network” because it’s such a nebulous term. Because, Mac, as much as you may like me and I like you, your network of people down in Portland are not necessarily going to buy into being my connections and my champions. You might because we’re connected directly, one to one.
Networking to me is a very arduous term, whereas champions or connections or community of connections is a much more reasonable way to buy into job search.
They’re very important. They’re one-fifth of our methodology, which is a pretty significant component of job search.
Okay, well, let’s talk about connections. When you’re working with people and you say, “Let’s identify your connections and turn them into champions,” who are the connections that you’re talking about, Lora?
Well, I actually like to use this analogy and it’s a pretty simplistic one; if you were to call somebody, I don’t know if everyone remembers that, you can pick up the phone and you can use it to actually call people…
Do you remember that, Mac?
I do, Lora.
It’s old-timey but you don’t have to have a curly q mustache to use your phone in that way, but if you think about the people who would pick up the phone when they saw your number come up, or they would be brightened up by the fact that you were calling, or return your call, which is also very important. If those people are responding in that way, those are your connections.
That’s your community, and they may not respond immediately, just due to various circumstances, but that’s the lens that you can look through to identify and think about who is in your community or who are those champions?
They can also be, by the way, they can be a whole range of people. They can be former colleagues, they can be friends, they can be people on the sideline at soccer games.
People who come to me and say, “I have no community….”
I go, “Do your kids play sports? Yes? Well, that entire sideline of people, those are people in your community. They can be your champions.”
As well as family. I mean, we sometimes forget that if your family can’t be your champion, who can be? I’ve actually leveraged my own husband, my sister, my cousins, to serve as champions for me.
Okay, so, these are people who are part of your life, maybe part of your professional life but also in your neighborhood, maybe in your faith community, your kid’s sports leagues, people with whom you have a personal connection of some kind, aren’t they?
Right and the thing that I love about the idea of champions being those connections is that it’s very authentic.
I think all of us have had a situation where we reached out to someone that wasn’t in that ecosystem of connections or champions and it felt a little awkward but if you look at those people who are showing up as your champions or are your connections, they’re like the low hanging fruit of job search. Because they want to be your hero.
Well, let’s talk about connections because you can have both connections, Lora, but they may not become champions even when you have that personal tie. How do you take people and inspire them to become your champion during a job search?
Oh, that’s great. Well, I like to tell everyone, our clients, that people want to be a hero and here’s what I mean by that.
If someone approaches me and tells me they’re exploring the job market and let’s say, I’m going to choose something, they’re in marketing and I know of someone else who is hiring for marketing professionals or I know of a position that I’ve seen posted somewhere. LinkedIn is one of my favorite tools, not that LinkedIn has the most number of job postings but I’ll just use LinkedIn for an example.
If I have a connection to someone who’s looking for an employee and I know of someone who is exploring the job market and I can make that connection happen, then I become a hero in 2 different ways. I become a hero to the person who’s looking, I become a hero to the person who’s trying to fill the position, and I feel pretty sweet about myself.
I feel pretty good about myself and people love that feeling. There’s a currency, as it were, of how those connections make you feel and most people want to feel that goodness of making those connections.
If you are a job seeker and you think of it in those ways, look at it that way, then approaching people, what becomes really important is, you’re not imposing. You’re just letting the world know you’re in it by reaching out to specific people, like a Lora, like a Mac, like so many people in their ecosystem or among their community and being very clear about what they’re looking for, what they’re exploring, and giving those people the opportunity to be a hero.
Okay, so think, as you begin your search, about the people with whom you have those personal ties, who are your connections, they’re not part of this larger network but they know you and feel a connection to you. Then, know what you want, so that when you’re making choices about who to approach, it’s in pursuit of the goal that you’ve either set or you want to explore.
Is that a good summary, Lora?
Yes, clarity of message is probably one of the most critical parts of this effort. What I like to tell clients is, and all of our coaches tell our clients the exact same thing, that if you don’t have that clarity it makes people a little more resistant to helping you. It puts an obstacle in the way of that conversation because they don’t really know what it’s for, they don’t know how long it’s going to take.
Your job as a job seeker is making things as easy as possible for the person who you’re asking to help you or assist you or guide you or give you information and if you’re not clear as to what it is you’re exploring, or what you’re pursuing, or even being very crisp about your own message, you’re putting an obstacle in the face of the person who could potentially be your champion.
So, have a very clear ask for a meeting, as you would, I think, would for any business conversation.
Lora, what do you say to the listeners who say, “Well, I don’t know what I want and I’m hoping if I have a conversation with you or someone else who’s a connection of mine, it’ll help me clarify that?”
As far as trying to identify what you want to say about yourself, there is a very simplistic way to do it and that’s by taking what the market says it wants and leveraging those messages in service to you. What do I mean by that?
Well, the exercise that we have all of our clients engage in is what we call job shopping. The nice thing about it is there’s no commitment, you don’t have to buy anything but the wonderful thing about job shopping is you go out and you look out at what’s in the marketplace and you gather the data about what is interesting and sparks your interest.
What is engaging to you? What looks interesting? And where does your experience overlap the kinds of things that are interesting to you? And where the intersection happens between that job description and your experience is squarely…that’s what you’re looking for. That x marks the spot.
Then you’re able to be much more clear; there’s great clarity around what you want.
Okay, why don’t we pause right there, Lora, because I want to explore this more.
We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Lora Poepping about how to turn your connections into your job search champions.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Lora Poepping. She’s the founder and president of Plum Coaching and Consulting.
She joins us today from Seattle.
When we stopped, Lora, you were talking about job shopping and I love this idea because it seems like a great way to help people get clarity about what it is they want, which as we both know from talking to a lot of job seekers, and I certainly had this experience in my own career, it can be hard to figure out what you want to do next.
Tell us more about this process. You said it starts with looking at job descriptions in positions that interest you?
Oftentimes, people will start with, “I want a great company that honors my talents, opportunities for growth…”
They’ll name a whole wishlist of what it is they want but if you’re a recruiter like me and a candidate says that to me, it just frustrates me. It just says, “Well, you’re not being clear.”
Because I don’t really know what the job is that you want so I don’t know what to do with you because, as you mentioned in my introduction, the coaches that work with Plum, including myself, are all former recruiters and we’ve experienced this. Where candidates approach us and say, “I can do anything and here are all the things that I want.”
My perspective, as a recruiter and as a hiring manager is, no, no, no. You need to tell me what it is that you do. Be very clear about the type of role you want, and then I can figure out where to put you and then we’re going to talk about where your experience overlaps with the positions that are of interest to you.
We want to empower our clients to more effectively appeal to hiring managers and recruiters by having that clear, crisp, articulate message. If you just say, if you have this nebulous message around what it is that you do, what you like, and what you’re looking for, that actually doesn’t serve you.
What we look at is what really exists? What jobs actually truly exist? To create our own message that’s going to align with the marketplace.
Okay, so that’s a great way to figure out what you want and what the market is looking for. Let’s talk about connections.
You’ve identified the people who have either insights or experiences with the kinds of positions that you want and you’re ready to approach your connections.
How do you recommend a listener who meets with a connection start a meeting? Start a conversation about their search?
Well, actually, I’m going to back it up even further from the starting of the conversation in the coffee shop or over the phone or via Skype.
I’m going to back up and say, first of all, before you ever talk to anyone, think about that you are in listening mode right now and that when you approach someone to talk to them, you’re going to go into it with a curiosity about what they have to say, rather than thinking about how you’re going to push out your message.
Don’t think of it as a sales opportunity for you. Think about it as a listening opportunity to open the mind and heart of the person that you’re going to be speaking with. There’s nothing that people love to talk about more than themselves and when you allow someone to talk about themselves, what ends up happening is, they start opening up to you and what you have to say about yourself.
What’s really critical then, is that when you make a date with someone to talk about what they see in the marketplace, what’s happening in their industry or their company, when that person is done talking about themselves and they say, “Oh gosh, there’s only 5 to 10 minutes of time that I have left. Tell me, Lora, what are you looking for? What are you exploring?” And that’s when you have this really buttoned-up message that can be in one paragraph.
“Well, Mac, I have spent 20 years in HR and I am exploring HR opportunities in the manufacturing space because I have labor relations in my background and I’m looking for a senior director of HR in the manufacturing space.”
You’re that crisp and that clear so you’re prepped before you even go into the conversation.
When you do request one of those meetings, I always say, you have to be appreciative, and you have to be flexible, and you have to be intentional so that when you reach out to someone, you don’t just say, “Roberta, you and I have been friends for many years on the sidelines at soccer and I know you work for REI and I’ve always been intrigued by retail in REI and may I set up a 20-minute phone call just to hear about what your experience has been at REI?”
You’re really intentional, you’re really clear, and you can also add, “I’m exploring the marketplace and that retail place is something I’d like to investigate.”
You also add into that email, “Here are some dates, do any of these work for you?” The beauty of that is if that person can’t make any of those dates, they typically will make a date with you at a time that does work for them.
You’ve set that up and please stop me, Mac, if I’m going too deep.
No, I love that you’re describing how people can lay out what they want to do and where they want to go and I’m a big believer as well, in the power of listening and how that can help build connections but also help you learn.
I have to ask because I know our listeners are wondering this too, once you give the person you meet a chance to share their story and talk about their industry and company and their professional experiences of interest to you and they ask about your own job search and your goals, what happens next, Lora?
How do you turn that conversation and inspire this connection to become a champion and what should you ask for and what might you expect them to do for you?
That’s a great question. What I always tell people is, if you’re doing a great job listening, it’s kind of like a salesperson. When you go in to buy a car, the salesperson’s job is to really, really listen to you and what your triggers are what’s important to you.
As my clients are listening, or as I’m the person sitting down with a Mac and I’m listening to you, I’m picking up cues as to what’s really important and what message I should share with you that’s going to enable you to help me more effectively.
If you and I are having a conversation, I’m talking to you about the communications industry and you tell me what’s really important is digital marketing, I don’t know that’s not my area of expertise, and I say, “Oh gosh, you know, Mac, digital marketing is something that I’m quite familiar with. I’ve done a lot of digital marketing for my own firm. It’s really intriguing to me and I’m just wondering, is there someone else within the space that you’re in that you think is really important who would find it valuable for me to meet with and might find it valuable for them to meet with me?”
The ask is really important but making sure that you make it very neat and tidy and apparent and easy for the person that you’re meeting with to articulate your message to the connection that they can make for you.
That’s how you sort of set it up and then there’s a process after that as well.
Well, let’s talk about that. You ask for an introduction and you walk out of the room knowing that the person perhaps has suggested that they’ll put you in touch with one or two or even three other people. What happens after that meeting, Lora, particularly if you don’t hear back from the person you met with? How should people stay in touch or follow up?
I think it is sort of a mindset or a message that I think everyone needs to embrace, which is, asking the person, “How would you like me to follow up? What works for you? Because as you can imagine, in a job search or as I’m exploring these conversations, oftentimes can kind of trickle over time or dissipate in importance. What would you like me to do to make it easier for you for us to continue this conversation?”
Well, the good news is you don’t have to guess; you can ask and find that short route.
Exactly, so that’s before the end of the meeting, so that’s also a really helpful thing to do and then do it. If they say, “Follow up with me in 2 weeks. Give me 2 weeks. I’m going to Paris. I’m going on vacation. There’s going to be a massive snowstorm in Seattle so I’m going to need some space.” And then making sure that you create systems to track and how you’re going to follow up.
I’m a big believer in structure, I like structure so I have our clients work off an old-timey Excel spreadsheet. I think people oftentimes do job searches in their inboxes and in a folder and that can get lost. Calendars are great if you’re really adept at your calendar. I’m a big fan of One Note which is a Microsoft product, which is like a binder product, which has the capability of doing a lot of different things for your job search. We won’t get into the technology of that, but following up is really important.
Then, the other thing that I want to say is, again with that mindset of making it really easy for that person, is when you follow up, being really clear about what they said they wanted to help you and then if they come back and say, “Yes, I want to introduce you to my colleague Jessica.”
You say, “Oh, thank you so much, Mac. I really appreciate that. Before you do that, to make it easier for you to make that introduction, I’ve crafted this one-paragraph summary of my experience and what I do and what I’m exploring and what I’m specifically intrigued by and it will make it easier for you to make that introduction.”
I actually had a job seeker do that for me about 2 weeks ago and it made it so much easier for me to follow up.
I would imagine. I wish I could say they were mine but I don’t know who it is. I am glad to hear that that is happening.
Yeah, and this person, in particular, it wasn’t that hard to do. She just gave me a sentence or two about what she hoped to get from a conversation with 4 people she’d identified that she wanted me to introduce her to.
It’s so nice when someone makes it so easy for you. One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is that they make the assumption that that person really understands who you are and what you do and when they get back to their desk to make that introduction, sometimes it isn’t that clear to them and then they are, again, it’s an impediment to them moving you forward and so sometimes they’ll go to that mindset of, “Oh gosh, I’ve got to create their message and craft their message for them. It’s just easier for me to get up and go get lunch.”
You want to remove that obstacle by creating this messaging and make it easier for people to be your champion.
Well, excellent advice, Lora.
Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Well, we continue to love to coach job seekers and that is a thriving part of our practice so we have people all over the world that we’re able to provide our expertise and coaching to. We just love that work.
Then, interestingly enough, I think that because so many of our coaches are former HR people, former recruiters, we have started a thriving practice here in HR for small business. I spent a lot of my time running that practice, running both practices, and just absolutely adore the coaches and consultants who work with Plum. That to me, being their biggest fan, it’s a big part of what I do.
I know our listeners can learn more about you and your colleagues and your company services by visiting plumseattle.com.
Now, Lora, of all the tips that you’ve given us today, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember when it comes to turning those connections into job search champions?
The 2 things I tell people all the time is: be clear and be appreciative. I have seen people lose further opportunities, further job opportunities because they were not overt about appreciating what people would do for them and it’s heartbreaking. People spend their time helping you and you will lose a champion if you are not appreciative.
Whether it be in the initial request for a coffee or a call and follow-up after that discussion and follow-up after a follow-up. It is really amazing how people will remember that appreciative mindset.
The other as I really laid out, I think I definitely said this over and over is clarity, clarity, clarity, is so important because if you are not clear as to what you want and who you are and what you do, people will not be able to be your champion.
Well, gratitude is a powerful force, as is clarity.
Well, thank you, Lora. It has been a terrific conversation.
A terrific conversation with Lora.
Here’s the main point that stood out for me and that’s the importance of making it easy for others to help you.
She had a great example; if you want a meeting with someone and you’re going to make that request, be ready to provide either boiler plate language or prepare something after the meeting that you can send to your connection so they don’t have to think about why you want the meeting or what you have to offer or what you want to get from it.
You can do that work for them and when you do that, you’re much more likely to get a response.
Speaking of responses, let’s talk about resumes. I often hear from job seekers who are disappointed that they haven’t gotten an interview and candidly, sometimes when they share their resumes with me, I see some pretty basic mistakes. I’m not alone in this.
Employers, and we talk to them all of the time here at Mac’s List, tell us they see the same errors again and again in resumes.
Don’t make those mistakes yourself. Get our new guide, Don’t Make These 8 Killer Resume Mistakes.
It’s free and you can download a copy today at macslist.org/resumemistakes.
Well, thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest will be Susanne Aronowitz. She’s going to explain why your job search isn’t only about you.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.