Most job seekers look for a position through a combination of networking—both in person and online—and trolling job boards. But many overlook a third, more proactive strategy that's often more effective: pitching the company you want to work for.
Why apply when you haven't heard of an opening? Because approaching an employer makes it easy for them to hire you. Your dream company may have an open position they haven't yet advertised, and pitching them puts you ahead of other job seekers. Or perhaps the bosses don't realize they need a worker with your skills—until you show how it would help their bottom line. Either way, contacting your target company shows you have initiative, and that's a quality employers always look for.
"If someone approaches me proactively and says, 'Hey, I'm really good at X, Y, and Z,' I'll definitely schedule a meeting and get together, even if I'm not ready to hire immediately," says Heather Schwager, who used to work in corporate human resources and now hires as executive director of the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, a non-profit organization outside Washington, D.C. "I feel like it saves me a step."
The proactive approach worked for Cindy Massey, a 44-year-old Seattleite who was laid off from her marketing job in December 2008, a devastating month for the country in terms of job losses. After nearly two years of fruitless job hunting, she began working with Seattle-based career-transition consultant Paul Anderson, who, through his company ProLango, teaches job seekers to pitch employers, among other strategies. Massey's target company stated on its website that no positions were available, but she contacted them anyway, using a combination of networking and digging, mainly on LinkedIn, to determine the best person to approach. In a personalized cover letter, she explained why she wanted to work for the company, how they'd benefit from her skills, and even described her dream position, which she called Director of Happiness. (To read Massey's pitch letter, see Cover Letters That Worked: Marketing.)
The boss called her that same day, and within weeks Massey was working as online community manager for MindBloom, an online, social game with a healthy-lifestyle focus that calls itself a meaningful FarmVille. Massey's business card identifies her as—you guessed it—Director of Happiness.
"It really came down to a targeted search," says Massey, who has been in her new role since the beginning of this year. "I think too many job seekers just don't do that."
Career coaches and hiring managers agree the key to pitching yourself well is telling the company exactly how you'd contribute. That requires a lot of research: understanding the company's needs, goals, and competitors, as well as who works there. "Just being excited about a company isn't enough," says Amy Curto Leyack, founder of recruiting firm ECOrecruiters, whose husband landed a job with a winery using this approach. Your ultimate goal, she says, is convincing the employer that they'd be crazy not to hire you.
Part of the reason this strategy is effective is because you're positioning yourself to get hired before an opening hits job boards, beating out hundreds, maybe even thousands of job seekers who'd otherwise apply.
"I do think there's a lot of passive openings out here where [employers] would make the hire if they found the dream candidate," says Jerry Hauser, CEO of The Management Center, which helps non-profit leaders with management practices, including hiring. "[But] as with many job-search tactics, if you're a strong candidate, [approaching your target company] can be very effective—and if you're not a good candidate, it won't make any difference."
What's the best way to pitch yourself to an employer?
Research, research, research. "[That's] the thing that's going to make it the most successful," Leyack says. Read the company's website, browse LinkedIn for clues, and talk to current and past employees. Understand the company's goals and how they're trying to reach those goals, so you can figure out how you'd fit in. And when you're ready to pitch, open your e-mail with a line that shows you've done that research, that you're familiar with the company and its direction.