Follow Up Mistakes to Avoid, with Mike Bird

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 302:

Follow Up Mistakes to Avoid, with Mike Bird

Airdate: June 30, 2021

Mac Prichard:

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 you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You reach out to someone to ask for help with your job search.

You get no response. So you follow up. And nothing happens.

Did you do something wrong?

Mike Bird is here to talk about follow-up mistakes to avoid in your job search and what to do instead.

Mike is the founder of CoachOiseau Career Coaching and the co-host of The Career Builder’s Podcast.

He joins us from Montreal in the province of Quebec in Canada.

Mike, let’s jump right into it. We’re talking about follow-up mistakes to avoid when you’re asking someone for help during a job search. What are some of the- just to set the context for the conversation- what kind of help do job seekers typically ask for?

Mike Bird:

Great question, Mac. So, when you’re in the middle of a job search, you could be doing outreach to people who are in the industry you’d like to work in if you’re not already a part of it. So, you could be working trying to get the attention of people who hold a job title that is similar to what you’re trying to pursue, you could be reaching out to recruiters who may be trying to fill positions you are interested in, you may be trying to get on the radar of the hiring manager themselves. So, there’s really a variety of different people that you can go after, but at the end of the day it comes down to making some form of a cold outreach where people don’t really know who you are until the moment the message arrives in their inbox.   

Mac Prichard:

You work with job seekers, you work with employers; do you think, Mike, that most people do want to help others during a job search?      

Mike Bird:

I’d like to say, for the most part, yes, and I think it really depends on how you position yourself in your initial outreach.

If you are coming from a position of trying to create a collaborative situation, you’re not trying to be demanding of the person you are engaging with, and especially if you share some things in common, humans tend to like humans that are like themselves. And so, if you can establish some of these kinds of things and find some common ground, then yes, generally speaking, I think people are pretty reciprocal in the way that they like to help others.

Mac Prichard:

Why do you think people don’t respond to our requests for help during a job search? What’s behind that?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, I would say it’s a couple of different things.

One is, sometimes the ask that you might be making, if you are making an outreach attempt, is not really clear, it’s not easily understood. It may be too complicated, it may demand too much energy, and attention, and probably time from the other person, and it may be too large of an ask. That’s really the second component.

I mean just imagine, Mac, if I were to walk down the street, and you’re watching me, and I’m walking up to people, and asking if I can have hundred dollars. I don’t provide any context, and I just ask people, one after the other, “ Hey, could I have a hundred dollars?’, “Hey, could I have a hundred dollars?” It’s probably not something that’s gonna get an affirmative result very often, if ever.

And so, I think a lot of people are guilty of coming out and trying to ask for something like a referral for a job opportunity, without really having a relationship that’s in place with that person. That’s usually what has to come first.     

Mac Prichard:

What if you’re unclear about what to ask for? Should you reach out to people or do you need to do something first before you do that?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, so that’s another great question.

I think that when you’re approaching someone that you don’t really know- in sales is the concept of personalization and hyper-personalization of messaging- so, if you do have a sense of sort of who that person is, what their associations may be, perhaps you do have something in common that you weren’t really aware of initially, it can be definitely worth the time to do some background check and research.

Just maybe the person went to the same school as you did, maybe they come from the same country that you’re from, maybe they speak a language that you’re familiar with, or they’ve been to a certain place, or they like a certain sport. There are so many ways that you can sort of create a hook, something that associates you with the other person, and then that allows you to, from the initial establishment of the relationship, to put forward a clear ask.

And just to kind of double down on that for a moment, a clear ask is not something like, “Hey Mac, I saw your podcast recently. I’d be really curious to know if I could just get you on the phone at some point and maybe talk about some of the things that you’re doing?”

And you can tell just by the way that I’m saying that, that there is a lack of clarity, there’s a lack of confidence. If I come to you, Mac, and I say, “Mac, that was a really amazing episode you did two weeks ago with that guest, (whatever their name was.) Would you be open to having a five to ten-minute phone call? I’d love to see if I could learn a couple of things and see how I could support your show moving forward.”

Mac Prichard:

So look for connections, know what you want. And how important is it to know whether the person can help you with that specific request?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, it’s very important. Ultimately, if the person is not able to help you, let’s take the example of a technical recruiter. So, recruiters, they have positions that they’re trying to fill, they’re very specific, if they’re, let’s say they’re trying to fill a full-stack development role, and you are someone who comes from the world of network security, you’re like an IT technician, you probably are not going to be a good fit for that person who is trying to recruit for a development position. They don’t have something that can be of service to you. They’re not really doing something that is appropriate for what you are best suited for in the labor market, and your time, if you’re that IT technician, is better spent trying to find recruiters that are trying to fill IT technician roles. So, it is really important that there be some sort of overlap because, at the end of the day, there has to be something in it for both parties, for the follow-up to be answered.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your best advice, Mike, for somebody who might be starting out, and they’re unclear how to get that clarity about who to ask for, and how to find those connections? What’s your number one tip that a listener might take to ensure that they do get a response?

Mike Bird:

So, assuming that you find people who are trying to accomplish the same thing that you are, in this case, they are trying to hire for a particular role, and you think that you are a pretty strong candidate for it, and maybe you really don’t feel that way just yet, or you’re unsure exactly is your best plan of attack…

I often have clients start with trying to write about a fifty-word paragraph on what they think their unique value proposition is, get great clarity on what that is. You could be, I’ll just kind of go back to the IT technician. I’m a level-two service desk technician. I have three years of experience working in large multinational companies. And I speak three different languages fluently. Okay, can I boil that down into something that’s twenty-five words long? And then get it down again into something that’s in the more ten to fifteen-word range? And that starts to become the – I don’t want to say, “ elevator pitch,” but that starts to become the initial delivery when you reach out to somebody.

You get to say very succinctly, very clearly, what you do, and if they are looking to fill a service desk technician role, you’re making it very obvious that you’re someone who might be an appropriate candidate for them.

Mac Prichard:

I love that example. Do you find it’s hard for people to do that work, to take, particularly mid-career or people who are further along in their careers, what they’ve done and boil it down to, first a twenty-five-word statement, and then just one or two sentences?

Mike Bird:

Yeah. It can be very hard, and that’s where having a coach, or someone in your corner who can kind of be some sort of a feedback mechanism or sounding board for you can be really beneficial.

At the end of the day, we all have blind spots, and if we want to do something different, if we want to do something that is outside of what we know naturally of ourselves, then we have to explore things that we’ve never really explored. And that’s what some people, like a coach, and I’m not saying that’s the only way you can access this information, but having people who are willing to be an extra set of eyes on your professional career can be very helpful here.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about the mistakes that people make, and we do this in the spirit of kindness; we’ve all made our share of errors. I certainly have in my career and in looking for work, and we want this to be as constructive as possible.

I know the first mistake that you identified in an article that people can find on your website is thinking that it’s all about you when you’re reaching out for help in your job search. What do you mean by this, Mike?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, so I mean, people tend to want to help other people, but if the request that you’re making, as the person that’s writing that outreach message, really has nothing of benefit for the other person, for people who are super busy, who are just tied up doing all kinds of other things, it’s probably not making a lot of sense for them to divert their time, which is their most valuable asset, it’s anyone’s most valuable asset in this world, in my opinion, to someone who they don’t really know. So, when you’re making an outreach message, putting the other person first is often the best way to establish some sort of connection that can bear fruit, and it might not happen immediately. It might happen in the longer run, but when you actually express a desire to get to know the other person and be helpful to them in some way, that’s when you’re most likely to succeed.

Mac Prichard:

Give us an example of how you coach your clients to do that, or you’ve seen people do it.

Mike Bird:

Yeah, I mean I can actually give you a personal example just from my own career is, in trying to reach out to people who are, I’d like to see them be guests, for example, on The Career Builder’s Podcast. I’ve engaged with some people for example who were releasing a book at a particular time and I know these are very in-demand people- they’re asked to speak frequently. But because they’re launching a book, I knew that there was a moment here where I could give them a chance to promote their work on my platform, and that created a situation where they were, all of a sudden, a lot more open to contributing and working with me.

When you’re, let’s say a job seeker reaching out to a recruiter, recruiters make their money by placing people. And if you can make yourself a really easy-to-place candidate, and make it super clear that you are, you have a great chance of actually getting somewhere, and getting some traction with that person.   

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s pause there. Mike. I want to take a break, and when we come back, I want to get your advice about how a candidate can demonstrate to a recruiter that they offer what the recruiter needs.

So, stay with us, and when we return, Mike BIrd will continue to share his advice on follow-up mistakes you should avoid in your job search.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List’s studio and we’re here talking with Mike Bird.

He’s the founder of CoachOiseau Career coaching and the co-host of The Career Builder’s Podcast. He joins us from Montreal, in the province of Quebec, in Canada.

Now, Mike, before the break, we were talking about thinking about the person you’re asking for help with, and not making it all about you, and you shared an example of reaching out to a recruiter. Can you talk more about that, and how a listener can do that effectively? Because many of us want to get in front of recruiters, and they can be distant figures and a lot of demands on their time. What’s an effective way of making an approach like that?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, so being really, really clear that you understand what it is they are trying to fill. If you, I mean, a lot of recruiters they often publish the roles that they are trying to fill, they won’t list the clients, obviously, that they are trying to fill those roles for, that’s kind of their secret sauce, but if you, let’s say maybe you find in their LinkedIn profile, I’ve even seen some recruiters using Instagram, talking about the posts they are trying to fill. If you approach them and say, “Hi Jane, I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you’re trying to fill,” (I keep using these IT roles because that’s kind of where I come from) “an intermediate Java developer role, ideally for a candidate with five years of experience. My name is Mac and I have seven years of experience, writing mainly in Java. Would you be open to seeing my CV and potentially looking at my candidacy?” So, there you’re just making a really simple connection. They want a Java developer with five years of experience, you have that and a little bit more. Why wouldn’t they put a little bit of time into taking a look at you?

Mac Prichard:

Great example. Another mistake that you’ve written about is that, in doing follow-up, many job seekers when they’re following up, they don’t respect the person’s time that they’re trying to connect with. What kind of disrespect are we talking about here, Mike?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, it can be a bit subtle, because it’s not like someone’s screaming at you a lot of the time saying, you know, “I want to get off of this phone call, I’ve other things to do.” Most people are pretty polite, but when someone promises to give you ten minutes of their time, it can be pretty damaging to the relationship if you take that ten minutes and turn it into eighteen or twenty-two. You know, maybe thirty seconds over, that’s not going to hurt anyone.

But at the end of the day, going back to what I said earlier, time just being such an incredibly valuable resource, for hiring managers and for recruiters, especially, we’re trying to find the needle in the haystack and they’re putting their time towards that.

If you burn through the time you have with someone, it can be, basically, a sign to them which says, “You know, I don’t really think that we can trust this person, as much as the person we were speaking with an hour ago, who made it really clear that they were interested in this role. They’re a good candidate, and they did it in eight minutes. I’d rather go back and work with that person who was super clear.”

So, that’s where it starts. I think a lot of people underestimate just how much damage you can cause when you go way over time.

Mac Prichard:

You’re in an interview or a conversation with a recruiter or somebody you’re having an informational meeting with, you’re looking at the clock and you’re at your limit, but there’s just one more point you wanna make or one more question you want to ask. What should you do? Should you just bring it to a close?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, my go-to question there is to simply ask permission. “Dear recruiter, I see that we are coming up on time. I want to respect your time, I want to honor your time. Is it possible that I could ask one more question and then we could wrap it up from there? I just have one last thing I want to get across.” And then see.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about interviews and conversations, whether in person or by Zoom. What about email? Can you jeopardize your relationship and screw up your follow-up if you write the wrong kind of email? Particularly length?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, absolutely.

So, same idea in the sense that, if you’re in a call and you’re going really, really long, you’re taking up a lot of that person’s time. If the email is super long and it takes a while to read, and even more damaging, if it takes a lot of time for the person to try and understand what it is you’re really trying to get across or trying to ask, then yes, that can be really tough.

Writing is difficult, in general, for a lot of people because the tone that comes across in the written word is different from what it is in the spoken word. We have the ability- when you and I are talking right now, I can use my voice to communicate certain things. I can be really enthusiastic about something, or I can slow something down and be more serious. We lose that, we lose a lot of our personality in writing.

And so, I think for a lot of people, it’s actually better to try and get people on the phone, as soon as they can, if they feel like they can’t really express themselves clearly through the written word.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have suggested guidelines for the length of messages?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, I mean, I often try and say one clear question per email. And that might take three or four lines in total to write, sort of in the 100-200 word range, maximum. 200 would be pretty long if you think about the amount of time needed to actually read two hundred words. For most people, that’s about a minute. That’s probably a long email. So, if you can go down into something that’s in the 20-30 second range. So, we’re maybe talking now about 50-75 words, that’s probably about the sweet spot for a lot of people when they’re just getting started making outreach and follow-up approaches.

Mac Prichard:

Another follow-up mistake that you’ve written about, that people make during a job search, and this one surprised me, is you see job seekers not responding back. They get an answer and then they drop the ball. What’s going on there Mike?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, there could be a bunch of reasons for this. I think sometimes, we get so excited that maybe someone actually has gotten back to us. Maybe it’s taken them a little while for them to get back to us, and so we kind of forget about what that conversation was all about, why we were interested in the first place.

For whatever reason, we don’t close the loop, and at the end of the day, people can always come back into our professional lives, later on, to have an impact on what we’re doing and potentially offer us an opportunity or a chance to collaborate. And I do think, to the best of our abilities, we should always strive to bring closure to conversations so that people realize that we’re not ghosting them. I guess you could say I’m trying to coach people away from ghosting because I think that that just also can damage a relationship.

When you close, you can be super respectful about it. You can say, if you are interested in pursuing the role still,  “ Yes, please, (Bob, the recruiter), I’m still very excited about this. What are the next steps?” Or you might say, “(Bob, the recruiter), I appreciate your message. At this point, I don’t really want to move forward, but I’d be open to discussing potentially working with you later on if there are other roles that you’re trying to fill down the line.”    

Mac Prichard:

Sometimes people mean to respond to a message, a day goes by, a week, and maybe several weeks, and at that point, the person might feel like, “It’s too late. It would be awkward to respond.” What’s your advice there, Mike? Is it never too late to close the loop, even if it’s been weeks or even several months?

Mike Bird:

In my personal opinion, it’s never too late. I think that as long as you are able to still write text on a keyboard, or speak to someone over the phone, you have the ability to just try and close things off. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to yield any kind of spectacular end to the conversation. I would, in that case, sort of apologize pretty profusely just about the delay, try to not make an excuse as to why it happened, but say that you appreciated their effort, their time, and that you wished them the best, and you never know where that might eventually come back to…it’s surprising how that can come back around later on in life.

Mac Prichard:

Another follow-up mistake that you’ve written about is, you see people often not having good energy or a positive approach. Talk more about this, Mike. What sort of examples come to mind?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, so I mean, in the article that you have mentioned during our conversation, I remember being approached by someone who used language like, “I’d like to steal your time, Mike.” “I really want to steal your time.” That change in energy is tough. I don’t really feel that enthusiastic or that compelled to respond in that situation to someone who wants to, quote, “steal my time.” That word, “steal,” has some pretty tough connotations to it.

I think it’s more encouraging, your chances of developing a relationship through outreach are better, if you take sort of a degree of enthusiasm, your desire to actually authentically connect with that person, and if you can put that through into your outreach, that’s great. You’re more likely to get a positive response.

So, going out and actually saying, “Would you be open to having a ten to a fifteen-minute phone call?” As opposed to, “Can I steal ten to fifteen minutes of your time?” has a really big difference in the way that it can be interpreted.   

Mac Prichard:

We’ve been talking about mistakes made during a follow-up or a job search. Let’s talk about some positive steps people can take. And the one question I get a lot, I bet you do too, from job seekers is, how many times should I follow up? I don’t want to be a pest but I want to be professional. What’s your rule of thumb here, Mike?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, I think if you are really passionate about something, and you really want to get some sort of response from someone, feedback, whatever it is, don’t be afraid to go until someone says no.

Until someone says no, there can always be a yes, or there can always be some sort of feedback or positive response. For people who maybe are not attached to the kind of objective, to the kind of role that they were pursuing, three times is a fine number of outreach attempts. You might go for three weeks, and reach out to that person once a week, and call it a day after that.

They’ve probably made up their mind that they don’t want to go forward.

But like I say, there’s another approach where if you’re really, really solid and you really want to go after something, don’t be afraid to demonstrate it until you’re turned down.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation. Now tell us, Mike, what’s next for you?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, I mean, I”m continuing to develop a podcast every week. Kind of like you, a new episode goes out every Wednesday on The Career Builder’s Podcast, and so, I would encourage anyone who is either looking for job search or career development advice to check that out, or to go sign up for the newsletter you were mentioning over on my website.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about your podcast- it’s a terrific show, you and your co-host do a wonderful job- and your other services by visiting your website and that is coachoiseau.com.

Now, Mike, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what is the one thing you want our listener to remember about follow-up mistakes to avoid during a job search?

Mike Bird:

Yeah, it’s relationship comes before referral in the game of building social capital and in the professional development space. So, if you are striving to actually build a real relationship with someone, you are much more likely to have that come and bear fruit, in terms of there being a professional opportunity. Be enthusiastic in the way you actually want to engage with this person, and you are more likely to have that kind of relationship.   

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Roshaunda Green. She’s an account manager for diversity and inclusion at SourceAbled and Rangam Consultants.

You’re ready to switch careers. You start applying for jobs in your new field, and you get no offers.

Roshauda says to be successful, you need to tell a consistent story about why you want to change sectors and what you offer.

Join us next Wednesday when Roshuanda Green and I talk about how to sell yourself during a career pivot.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

Asking for help during a job search is a no-brainer; we need others to help us make connections, identify our strengths, etc. But what should you do if you ask for help and get no response? Start by looking at your request, says Find Your Dream Job guest Mike Bird. Was it specific enough? Keep your requests short and to the point so that you aren’t wasting others’ time. Mike also suggests finding things you may have in common before sending a cold email. Focus on building relationships that will serve you long-term instead of depending on one-off conversations to get you that job.

About Our Guest:

Mike Bird is a Montréal-based career coach for new graduates and young professionals looking to confidently establish themselves in the working world.

Resources in This Episode: