Find Your Dream Job, Episode 183:
Passive vs Active Job Search Strategies, with Lesa Edwards
Airdate: March 20, 2019
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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 Lesa Edwards about passive versus active job search strategies.
Lesa Edwards is an expert in career management and job search. And she coaches her clients to be as strategic as possible when looking for work.
Lesa says as you plan your job search, it’s important to understand the difference between passive strategies, like replying to job board listings and active strategies, like an informational interview with a targeted employer.
You need to do both, says Lesa. And the amount of time you invest in each approach depends on where you are in your career.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Lesa Edwards about how to make the most of both passive and active job search strategies.
Lesa Edwards is the CEO of Exclusive Career Coaching. She’s an expert in career management and job search. She also hosts the weekly podcast, The Exclusive Career Coach.
Previously, Lesa was director of university career centers in Georgia and Missouri.
She has a master’s in public administration from Columbus State University and a bachelor’s in music education from Florida State University.
She joins us today from Tallahassee, Florida.
Lesa, thanks for being on the show.
I am thrilled to be here, Mac. Thanks so much for inviting me.
Yeah, well, it’s a pleasure. Our topic this week is passive versus active job search strategies.
You wrote an article about this and actually did a podcast episode that I found very intriguing because I’d never heard anybody talk about job search strategies in this way.
Let’s start, Lesa, by defining the two groups of strategies. What do you mean when you talk about passive job search?
Sure, so, I think of it as if you’re in a vehicle and if you’re in a passive job search strategy, you’re in the passenger seat, you’re not in the driver’s seat, so you’re moving and you are making progress but you don’t really control where the vehicle goes. You don’t control when it leaves or when it arrives or where it stops along the way. You really are just a passenger in the process.
What are examples of passive job search strategies?
Most of them work around the job boards and this is what most people know how to do in terms of job search, and it’s really, for most people, that’s all they know how to do. If you think of going onto Indeed.com or LinkedIn’s job board or Monster or CareerBuilder. Or going to company websites, if you’ve identified a few companies that you like and you want to check out their online postings on a regular basis. Those are all kind of passive strategies.
Any time when you’re looking at, whether it’s online classified, Facebook ads, any kind of job ad that’s just posted somewhere, you really have no control over that. You have no control over when the job is posted, what they’re looking for. You’re just going to apply. It’s a very passive strategy.
You’re not telling people not to use these strategies but it’s important to recognize that they can only take you so far. Is that right, Lesa?
Exactly. When I work with my clients on developing their job search strategy, we create a mixture of these active strategies that we’re going to talk about in a minute, and these passive strategies that I just spoke of, and the amount of time I want you to spend on active versus passive is going to vary depending on where you are in your job search.
When you’re entry level person, maybe you’re still in your 20s, I would like you to spend about 25% of your time on active strategies and 75% on passive strategies. If you could make it to 50/50, that’d be fantastic, but I really want, even when you’re right out of college, I want those active strategies to become part of your vocabulary, part of your muscle movement.
Then, when you become more mid-career, then it really should be 75% active, 25% passive, and when you get to those top levels, and I’ve worked with a lot of CEOs, CFOs, Vice Presidents in my career, really it’s going to be all active. Virtually nothing is going to be passive.
Okay, I want to talk a little more about that mix depending on where someone is in their career, but let’s step back and revisit active job search strategies. Tell us about these. What are they?
To use that analogy again, the active strategies put you in the driver’s seat, so you determine when the vehicle leaves, how fast it goes, where does it stop along the way, when it arrives at its destination. You have so much more control over that vehicle, and the active strategies all really center around networking and that’s a term that most people are familiar with on some level but I find that very few people have a very strong, active, networking strategy. They sort of know how to do it, they kind of get it, but not really.
Whether we’re talking face to face, setting up meetings with people, having conversations, and when I say face to face, that could be over the phone, it could be a zoom call, but it can also be sitting in a coffee shop with someone. It can also be things like career fairs, LinkedIn networking, so I always separate out LinkedIn. There are two pieces; there’s looking at jobs on LinkedIn, which is passive, and then building and cultivating your network and reaching out to people about opportunities with your network and that’s an active strategy.
Things like going to professional association events, whether it’s your own professional association or it could be something like a chamber of commerce meeting.
I always send my clients to SHRM meetings, which stands for Society for Human Resource Management. I don’t care what field they’re in, if they can get into a room that’s filled with Human Resource people in their community, that’s a plus. So I want them to go to SHRM meetings, Rotary, Kiwanis. Those are all professional association meetings that can be a great networking venue.
Those are some ideas of some of those active strategies.
I love your suggestion about going to SHRM meetings because, I’m sure you hear this too, so many job seekers tell me, “If only I could get in front of the hiring manager, I could make a connection.”
And they’re right, I think when you do have facetime or you have some relationship with the hiring manager, it makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?
Absolutely, and if you go to SHRM, at least all the meetings I’ve gone to, and I have in the past been an active member of SHRM…I’m not right now although I’m considering that strongly for 2019…typically when I guest comes with someone, they have the opportunity to stand up and introduce themselves and certainly if they were in a job search, they would say to the room, “I’m looking for an entry-level position in whatever.”
I’ve even been to meetings where they had the opportunity to leave their resume at all of the tables in the room. So there are all kinds of opportunities around SHRM and it’s not all that different from other kinds of networking meetings that you can go to.
If you get a chance to stand up and introduce yourself as a guest, say, at a Rotary meeting, you’d better be saying, “Hey, I’m currently job searching for a position in…” If you’re able to share that with the world. If you’re being a little more covert about it, you have to a little bit of a different strategy but you’re still in a room full of potential hiring managers.
When you were describing the different active job search strategies, except for connecting with people or communicating with people, rather, on LinkedIn, most of those strategies involve stepping away from the computer, don’t they?
Yes, and the idea with the LinkedIn networking is that that’s where it’s going to go. It may, again, not be face to face in the sense that you’re sitting across the table from someone but ideally, that’s going to lead to a telephone call or zoom call; of course, geography is going to play a part here but the idea is that you are making, quote-unquote, face to face connections with these people and one of the things that I teach my clients is a very, I call it a bow and arrow approach to networking as opposed to a Tommy gun approach.
Rather than just sort of spraying everybody with your resume and spraying everybody saying, “I’m looking for a job. If you think of something let me know,” I teach my clients how to be very strategic.
They do their homework ahead of time, so when they show up in that coffee shop with that networking contact, they’ve already looked on that person’s LinkedIn profile and figured out, who is the person they want to be introduced to based on who their networking contact is connected to.
They’re asking for a very specific request in that meeting and then that gives that networking person something very specific that they can do to help that person and also, if you’re the person who just made that request, you’ve got something you can follow up on.
It’s kind of hard to follow up with someone when you’ve said, “Hey, if you think of anything let me know.” It’s much better to follow up and say, “Hey, remember I was talking about…you were going to introduce me to Suzy Smith at ABC company. I look forward to that introduction.”
Why aren’t you a fan of the Tommy gun approach, Lesa? Because so many people, I think, do follow that strategy. They think, “Okay, it’s a numbers game. If I can send out X numbers of resumes this week and go to X number of events, eventually the odds will favor me and I’ll find a position.” Do you agree or disagree with that?
Well, if we want to keep with the Tommy gun analogy that I like to use, I think there’s a little bit more possibility for casualties with the Tommy gun approach.
People call that “spray and pray,” too.
It can be very messy so I like for my clients to begin with the end in mind. They know the companies that they want to go to work for, they’ve done their homework around those companies that provide them and that they can provide…you know, it’s a perfect fit. They know exactly where they want to work, and they work backward from that to find the people in their current network that can help get them to the decision-maker in those companies.
You see, when you take that approach, you’re being very strategic and you’re just pulling that bow back when you get the right person in front of you and you’re just shooting one arrow and you’re being very deliberate about that.
I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with the Tommy gun approach but for me, I’d much rather concentrate my energy in a much more strategic fashion.
Probably takes a lot less time in the end too, doesn’t it? Do you see that with your clients?
I think it, yeah, I think absolutely because you’re being so much more deliberate about it and you’ve got this all mapped out, literally, mapped out on paper so you know how you’re trying to get to that decision maker and it’s much cleaner and neater.
Okay. Well, again, we touched on this at the start of the interview, there’s nothing wrong with passive job search strategies versus active ones. It’s all about how you divide up your time, isn’t it, Lesa?
Absolutely. So when I think of those of you listening who might be just out of college or you’ve been out of college just a few years, you, A) first of all, a lot of the jobs that are posted are more entry level so there are more availability of positions for you online than there are as you move up, so that’s one thing to consider.
Second of all, you haven’t developed this, (probably haven’t developed) as robust of a network as you will later on, so I want you to begin to use those muscles from the first job you apply for or, ideally, before you graduate college. I want you to use those networking muscles for getting internships and part-time jobs, but certainly as you start your career, I want you to begin to flex that muscle because here’s the deal, if you don’t use those muscles and you completely rely on the job boards, when you’re 22, that may be effective and it’ll work.
You’re going to get down the road in a few years and you’re going to find that it’s completely ineffective and you’re stymied with what the options are so I want you to start building that networking muscle and it will serve you for the rest of your career.
Let’s pause there for a moment, Lesa. I want to take a break and return to this and talk, not only about what else college students and new graduates should do but also what people who are mid-career and further along in their career should do when considering how to pursue passive versus active job search strategies.
Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
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Now let’s get back to the show!
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking today with Lesa Edwards. She’s the CEO of Exclusive Career Coaching.
Lisa is also the host of the weekly podcast, The Exclusive Career Coach. She joins us today from Tallahassee, Florida.
Lesa, before the break, we were talking about passive versus active job search strategies and you were taking us through an example of how a new graduate or college student might divide up their time between the two sets of strategies.
What else would you like to add about someone like that?
One of the other concepts that I teach my clients, and this really applies to any level that you’re at in your career, is what I call the plus one approach, and this has to do specifically with those passive strategies. So, we’ve all heard about the hidden job market.
Well, it’s a thing and it does exist and depending on which resource you look at, could be as many as 85% of all jobs are in this hidden job market. It’s really the unadvertised job market, but those are positions that, for a number of reasons, are not posted on any kind of site that you’re going to find, and so the way to access those positions is through the hidden job market, or is through networking.
The other thing that I like to do, when you are applying to those jobs that are online, so, let’s just assume that of all the positions that are available, we’re only going to see 25% of them. We’re also looking at the positions with the most competition because the entire world can see those jobs if they’re posted online.
The plus one approach gives you that leg up. So the idea here is to get creative and if you’re going to apply online, what is one extra step that you can take that most of the other candidates won’t take that will make you stand out? Is there someone you can call to put in a good word for you? Is there some connection that you can leverage that will help you to get noticed?
I always, when I think about this, I always think about the coordinator that I hired back when I was in higher education and she was not at all what I thought I would be looking for based on the job description I had posted. But she had 25 years of experience, and here I thought it was an entry-level position because we didn’t pay very much.
She had 25 years of experience in the airline industry as a flight attendant and flight attendant instructor but I started getting these calls from leaders in our community to tell me that she’s someone I should take a look at and, lo and behold, I ended up hiring her and she was there when I left. That’s just one example of that plus one approach in action.
How can you make yourself stand out?
Here’s the two benefits to doing that: not only is it going to increase the likelihood that you’re going to get a few extra seconds of view time on your resume, which is critical when you consider that they’re only looking at your resume for 5 to 13 seconds, somewhere in there, depending on which expert you look at.
The other thing I think is great about the plus one approach is, it serves as an acid test, because if you’re looking at a job announcement and you’re thinking, “That lady on that podcast told me I had to do one more thing. I don’t want to. It seems like a bother.”
Then I think that’s your clue that you’re not all that interested in that position or maybe you just don’t think you really have a shot at that job, so I’d rather you take that amount of time that you would have spent filling out that job application, because let’s face it, they’re a pain in the butt, and then put that time into an active strategy or applying to another job that you really are excited about.
I want to talk more about the split between passive versus active strategies depending on where you are in your career but I love this idea of the plus one approach.
What other tips would you have for job seekers who have just hit send on that online application? And they are excited, they want to do something besides doing what, the example you cited, of someone who was able to get people to generate calls or make calls, rather, on their behalf to an employer.
What else have you seen your clients or others do to help move that online application forward?
Well, I will tell you about one of my favorite secrets to tell people, and that is what I like to call “professional stalking.”
The key with professional stalking is you must never tell the person you’re stalking that you’re stalking them because then the police get involved but my point is that it is very easy to see, when you’re thinking about decision makers at companies, people who are in a hiring position…people’s lives are on social media. It’s not that hard to figure out where someone is going to be at any given time.
Are they active in Rotary? Okay, which one and when does it meet? Are they active in the chamber? When’s the next meeting? Are they a member of SHRM? And you show up at a place where they are likely to be and get in front of them.
Of course, you never say, “Hey, I looked you up and figured out you were going to be here so here I am. Hi.”
But it can be a way to quote-unquote, “bump into someone,” and have that face time. I kind of think of that as a last resort because it can be a little complicated to make it happen but it can absolutely happen.
If there’s a company that you really want to be in, you really love, and you’re having trouble getting in front of somebody, you’re having trouble getting noticed, think about, “How can I take that professional stalking approach and show up somewhere where they’re going to be?”
An example I always use is, I talk a lot in my social media posts about a particular coffee shop in Tallahassee that I work in. I’m not employed there, I work there on Wednesday mornings and work there with another colleague of mine, and so if you wanted to meet me and you were really sharp, you would show up at that coffee shop on a Wednesday morning and say, “Oh my gosh, there you are. Hi, how are you doing?”
That’s one of my favorite approaches.
Another way I’ve seen people do that is, they know the company where they want to work, and they find people from that organization who are serving on the professional boards of…or rather the board of the local professional organization that represents that industry or they know that those folks go to the events sponsored by that chapter and they make a point of going there and they just don’t wait to be approached, they go with an ask in mind and they know they want to meet that person and at a professional mixer, it feels a lot more natural to do that than perhaps going to the coffee shop. But I think both strategies could work.
They both can. Absolutely.
Well, as you know, Lesa, at Mac’s List, we run a job board here in the Pacific Northwest, it serves people in Washington and Oregon and we’re very proud of the value we offer but we’re also big believers in the hidden job market and it does exist and we find that the people who get the jobs they truly enjoy, do step away from the computer. They don’t spend 100% of their time on job boards like ours.
Any other tips for people who, once again, who sent off that application via a job board listing? Or just in general, to make these active job search strategies work for them?
Yeah, I think, one thing I want to say about the passive search real quick is that I used to tell folks, if you had 50% of what they were looking for, that you had a shot at the job and you might as well send in your resume and your application.
I don’t say that anymore. I really think you need to pretty much have everything on there and you want to make sure that it’s very explicit and that you have the things they’re looking for.
I always tell people, “Take 15 minutes, look at that job description, and make sure those keywords, as appropriate for you, are contained in your documents so that you’re going to show up in a search that you’re a qualified candidate.”
Here’s my best tip for networking, and this really has to do with that 30-minute coffee meeting. So, we’ve got a face to face meeting and this is specifically with someone you know. I always want you to start with your networking, as we talked about it being a yellow brick road to get to the decision maker, I want it to start with someone that you know. This is a colleague or a former boss or something like that, and you’re having that face to face meeting. Let’s say you’ve got 30 minutes of their time, I want the first 20 minutes of that time to be about the other person.
This is a beautiful thing because you don’t want to be a barnacle in this process. You don’t want to be a networking barnacle, you want to give as much as you get. If you make 20 minutes about you, you’re going to still have time to say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job. I’m really interested in ABC company and I see that you’re connected to that. Would you be willing to make an introduction?”
That’s going to happen, and they’re going to fall over themselves to be helpful to you because you’ve just spent 20 minutes listening to what’s going on in their world. You might have a suggestion for a resource, a vendor, a best practice, maybe there’s a person they need to hire and you know the perfect person.
If you just listen about what’s going on in their personal or their professional world, you’re going to be able to provide value and it’s not all going to be about you.
So, 30 minutes, make 20 about them, 10 about you, and have a very specific ask. They may come up with something else. They may say, “Oh, I also know so and so.” And of course you’re going to jump on board with that, but you’re going to go into that meeting with a specific ask in mind.
Okay. You talked earlier in the interview about the split of time that people should spend on passive versus active job search strategies. How do you recommend, Lesa, listeners track their work during a typical week? How can they make sure that they’re not only hitting the right split but keeping track of their progress?
The key to me is the calendar and so whether you’re working a full-time job and still also looking for another position or you’re not employed and your full-time job is looking for a job, I want you to calendar things.
For example, when I’m working with my clients on their networking strategy, I want them to plug in and say, “Okay, I want to do coffee meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9 am.”
Or whatever it is. It doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to shake out that way. You know, the coffee meeting may be on Saturday, or it may be, instead of a coffee meeting, it may be drinks after work, but the idea is you put a slot in your calendar and you set a goal and then you’re going to work a week or two ahead of time to make sure that all of those networking slots, so, “I’ve got one lunch this week, I’ve got two coffee dates,” whatever the combo is, depending on how much time you can spend on your job search, you’ve got slots allotted for that.
And then when it comes to things like looking at job boards, I always tell people, “Look at 10 o’clock at night. You won’t be networking, you sure don’t want to be drinking coffee at a coffee shop if you can find one open at any rate, at 10 o’clock at night, so that’s a good time to check the job boards.”
I also suggest, all of the job boards are going to let you set up what are called job agents, where the jobs are coming into your inbox that fit your criteria. You can set up several of those with companies like Indeed and with LinkedIn. I don’t know if yours is set up the same way but for those major national ones, you can do that and then just check your phone when you’re stuck in traffic somewhere or waiting in line for lunch and see if anything comes up.
There’s a dead time that you can put to use and then if there’s nothing that day that applies to you, then you’re done and if there is something, then you can just make a mental note and at 10 o’clock at night, you can do the application process.
Well, the organizer in me really likes that approach because you’ve set a framework and limits for the day and it’s not an infinite amount of work. It seems manageable.
Yeah, and the other thing I would say is oftentimes when I talk to folks about giving themselves rewards for executing their job search strategy they immediately want to jump to, “I’m going to give myself a big reward when I get the job. I’m gonna do this big thing.”
And I point out to them that the job is the reward, that’s great. You are being rewarded because you got the job. I want you to give yourself small rewards on a daily or at minimum a weekly basis. For example: I checked off everything on my list today, I got my calendar, all my calendar items are done, and I’m going to go walk the dog, or I’m going to go do yoga, or I’m going to go hang out with friends. Whatever it is, but reward yourself along the way because I promise you, if you meet your daily and your weekly goals, you will have a job sooner rather than later.
Okay. Well, Lesa, tell us, what’s next for you?
So much going on. I have, by the time this comes out, I will have a brand new website that I am extremely excited about. As I think you and I have talked about, I changed my target market just to serve high achieving college graduates last year and so lots of things in place to help them with everything they need.
I ran two college career centers for 22 years so I know what they are and what they aren’t getting from their college career centers and I know where their heads are at when they’re in their 20s and they’re just trying to figure out this career piece and I absolutely love working with them so I’m developing some programs to help them and couldn’t be more excited about it.
Great. Well, I look forward to seeing your new website. I know it’s coming out very soon and it will be available when this show airs. People can learn more about you and find that website at exclusivecareercoaching.com.
Lesa, thanks for being on our show today.
Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure.
So many job seekers share with me how powerless they may feel when they’re looking for work and what I like about Lesa’s advice is, she gave a clear description of the strategies that are available and how best to organize your time to make the most of those two sets of strategies, both passive and active.
There’s no wrong strategy, it’s just, how are you going to spend your time so that you can get your next job faster and easier?
At the heart of Lesa’s advice is intention. Being clear about what you want. If you’re not clear about the job that you want, that’s okay, you just need to do some work.
We’ve got a new guide at Mac’s List that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.
It lays out a simple process for self-assessment, doesn’t take very long to complete, and it will help you get clear about your job search goals.
Get your free copy today.
Go to macslist.org/focus.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Phiona Martin. She’ll explain how to apply for a job when you’re overqualified.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.