Expert job search advice.

Orville Pierson

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The key to a highly effective job search with Orville Pierson

The Key to a Highly Effective Job Search with the Man Who Taught the World to Network

Before I start the interview, I need to tell you how I met Orville.

In 2012, right before I was about to relocate for my husband’s job, I purchased his best-selling book “The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search”. I was hooked. I followed the advice in his book and landed a role in a completely cold market at a top employer. I became a super fan of the Pierson method.

In 2018, I quoted his book on LinkedIn.

Well, actually, I misquoted his book on LinkedIn. And the post got quite a bit of traction.

He sent me a respectful note to let me know my error. I was quite mortified as I consider him to be one of the most influential people in the career space over the past 50 years.

He was beyond gracious. We’ve exchanged a few e-mails over the past year and a half and every single time I learn something new. When I approached him about being a feature in this series, he responded with, “I’m always happy to support people who are helping the unemployed get back into good new jobs as quickly as possible.”

I am still a super fan of his work. His book is still the #1 book I recommend to my clients. And the interview below is full of job search gold. Orville, in his role at Lee Hecht Harrison, trained hundreds of career coaches who literally impacted millions of job seekers around the world. My hope is that this interview impacts you as well.

Sarah: As the former Senior Vice President, Corporate Director of Program Design and Service Delivery for Lee Hecht Harrison, the leading global career services company, you authored dozens of job search training materials and videos providing services to over 1 million job seekers. You’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly– from your experience, what is the most common mistake job seekers, at all levels, make in a job search?

Orville: This is a great question, one that produces information very useful to your readers. I have a definitive, unequivocal response to it, which I will tell you after I tell you how I learned it.

In that job you mentioned, I had the privilege of working with hundreds of career coaches. Dozen and dozens of them had been in the field for 10, 20 or even 30 years, working one-to-one with clients from the day they lost a job to the day they accepted a new one.

If you were to put those highly experienced coaches in a room and ask them about the most common job hunting mistake, I think they would be pretty much unanimous in saying that it’s a failure to do enough networking or a failure to start networking early enough in the job search. This commonly happens with all levels of job hunters, from students to senior executives.

There are numerous reasons that job hunters make that mistake. Networking has been misunderstood and abused for many years, so many people have had bad experiences with it. People confuse networking with information interviewing and cold calling. The most popular books on networking are written by salespeople and entrepreneurs and focus on methods useful in those fields but not in job search. There are even career coaches who recommend doing “networking” in ways that I think are embarrassing as well as ineffective.

Job hunters need to find ways to get past all of those obstacles. They need to understand what networking really is and how to most effectively use it in job search. And they need to start using it right away, at the beginning of the search, because it is an essential part of any effective job search. 

I think there’s second very common mistake. That one is conducting an unplanned, reactive search with the vague objective of “finding a job.” To combat that, I teach people how to create and manage a planned, proactive job search project clearly focused on jobs and organizations likely to work well for the individual who’s looking.

Sarah: Your book, The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search, was written in 2006. While many job search books quickly become outdated, the advice in your book is still valid and seems to stand the test of time. Why do you think that is?

Orville: It’s because I focus on the human side of job hunting, zooming out to see how people involved in the hiring process operate — and teaching job hunters how to be effective in dealing with the people and organizations doing the hiring.

There are many methods and techniques used in job hunting, and technology that supports (or requires) those methods and techniques. These change over time, sometimes changing very rapidly. Job hunters sometimes need to learn the latest versions of them. But that’s not what I teach.

I teach the human side, and while technology has changed, people have not. The decision makers doing the hiring still worry about the same things they worried about 10 or 20 years ago. A “bad hire” still costs a lot of money and is still a serious embarrassment to the manager who makes one, so that’s a common worry. Job hunters still worry about the same things they always worried about — and still tend to make the same mistakes that job hunters have made in the past. Effective job hunters need to find ways to get beyond all of these worries, their own and the decision makers.’

So I don’t teach people the nitty-gritty details of how to do a job search. I leave that part to others. I teach people how to be as effective as possible when doing a job search. And that part has not changed at all.

Sarah: How do you think things have changed over the last decade for job seekers?

Orville: The Internet has made it possible to easily research targeted organizations and people. Job hunters who know how to do the research have a significant advantage.

On the flip side, browsing dozens and dozens of websites can be an enormous time-waster, offering activities that feel more comfortable but are ineffective as a substitute for the telephone, e-mail and face-to-face communication that’s essential to a successful search.

There are also cyclical changes in the job market and in various industries and sectors, so I teach job hunters to do a reality check on their plans and adjust their personal job market accordingly.

Sarah: One of the things I love about the Pierson method is that you advocate for “tracking job search progress with numerical measures”. Why is this important?

Orville: There is compelling evidence that the majority of job hunters do not make enough of the right kinds of effort. This is often because they do not have any quantitative information on how much effort is required. But then, seeing no success, they decide that they’re aren’t qualified or need a better resume — when in fact the issue is simply the amount of effort they’re making, not their qualifications or resume.

For example, I once talked to a very discouraged job hunter about why his responses to posted openings had produced no interviews. 

“How many postings have you responded to,” I asked. 

“Lots and lots,” he replied.

“How many last week,” I asked.

“Six,” he answered.

“And the week before?”

“Four, I think.”

It turned out that he had responded to a total of about 30 in the previous six weeks. He didn’t know that no one should expect an interview after only 30 posting responses. One interview for every 50 responses is the way it is for most people. In a situation like this, job hunters needs to increase their weekly number of responses and keep a count of them. If there are too few appropriate postings, they need to rely less on postings and more on other search activities.

There are a number of other similar performance benchmarks for other aspects of the job search. Job hunters are more effective when they understand and use all of them.

Comparing your activities to numerical performance benchmarks established by effective job hunters allows you to see that you’re running an effective search every week, week after week. This is important, because job hunting can be discouraging. It helps to have clear evidence that you’re on the right track even though you haven’t yet landed a job.

Most work projects have some kind of numerical progress measurements: revenue, square feet completed, costs, number of chapters written, etc. Smart managers use these to manage the project. It’s important to manage the job search project in a similar fashion, using numerical measurements.

Visit Orville’s website for printable progress measurement reports.

Sarah: You advocate for decision maker conversations and networking meetings. What are some of your favorite open ended questions that job seekers can ask during these coffee chats?

Orville: Decision makers are by definition people who could hire you. Every conversation with someone in this category should be treated as if it were a job interview. This is true whether or not you believe that the person has a job opening and no matter how brief the conversation is. So research the person and organization beforehand. Let them know that you are well qualified. And tell them how much you would like to work for them.

Networking conversations are different. When having this kind of informal conversation with someone you know, the most important questions are designed to learn more about organizations you have targeted. You might ask the person to look at your target list and comment on it. Or you might simply mention some organizations and see what the person knows about them. When they have information, ask where they got it. Do they maybe know someone who works there, or used to?

You are not asking whether they organizations are known to be hiring. Everyone hires people sometimes. You are collecting information on your targets. And along the way, you’re looking to see if people can introduce you to someone who works there.

Successful networkers get introduced to insiders at targets, and the insiders introduce them to decision makers. Because they have collected information all along the way, they select appropriate organizations and make a good impression on the decision maker when they meet that person. In the end, they are most often hired by a decision maker who was not known to have an opening at the time the two first talked.

Sarah: Your book, “Team Up”, which is an informational guide on how to start and conduct a job search work team. You report that people who are in job search teams find employment 20% faster than people searching alone. Why is this? How do you suggest job seekers find a productive group?

Orville: They find jobs faster because the Job Search Work Team serves as an advisory panel, a personal and task support group, a project management team and a core network. The better team members get to know each other, the more they can assist each other.

As a team member, you are more likely to stay focused and on the right track, maintain a reasonable level of search intensity, keep your search moving and become more effective at job hunting. Each week, week after week, you get better and better at managing the job search project. A diverse team has members with diverse skills, so members learn from each other.

I know that there are organizations in some cities — Houston, Chicago and Hartford for example — that have Job Search Work Team programs open to the public at little or no charge. In my Team Up book, I explain how you can start your own team or get the benefits of a team through other means.

Sarah: While I am definitely not an economist, there are some strong markers in economy indicating that we may be headed towards a recession or a hiring slow down. What are some things that savvy (employed) job seekers should do to prepare?

Orville: They should create a written target list of organizations where they’d like to work. They should know which job titles interest them and they should create a resume and LinkedIn profile appropriate to those jobs and organizations. They should never take the list to work or keep in on a work computer. And they should not tell co-workers they are considering a job search. But they should look for opportunities to talk informally to others about the organizations on the list and look for opportunities to meet people in those organizations.

If they meet decision makers — or anyone else — in other appropriate organizations, they should tell those people how very happy and successful they are in their current jobs — and mention that, should they ever leave their current job, they’d “love to work in a company like yours.”

Sarah: The 2017 Mind the Workplace report, released by the nonprofit group Mental Health America (MHA) and The Faas Foundation, surveyed more than 17,000 U.S. workers in 19 industries and found that 71% were either “actively looking for new job opportunities” or had the topic on their minds “always, often or sometimes” at work. Do you think that the problem is that we are good at getting jobs but not good at aligning our interests with the company or job description? Or do you think that the problem is more systemic?

Orville: I haven’t read any of those citations, but I’m not convinced that this is a problem.

I don’t think that everyone should be “actively looking for new job opportunities” all the time, though it’s not a bad idea to do some of that. I definitely think that everyone should have the topic on their minds at work at least sometimes — and do some of the things I just suggested. This is simply good proactive career management in a culture where shorter tenures in jobs are the norm and layoffs are a commonly used management tool.

Sarah: What is the best career advice that you’ve ever gotten? Did you take it? (Asking everyone this question)

Orville: The best career advice I’ve gotten has always been focused on a particular, specific situation. Even though I’ve long been surrounded by expert career coaches, the best career advice has always come from my wife. She is knowledgeable about careers and has assisted me with my books. She’s a sparkling, multifaceted gem of a person, and after 43 years, knows me pretty well. So, yes, I am usually smart enough to take her advice.

If you enjoyed Orville’s “interview”, follow or connect with him on LinkedIn. You can also visit his website to learn more about his books “The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search” and “Team Up”

Did you like this”Curated Career Conversation” series post? If you did, click follow for more conversations. I am excited about my upcoming “interviews” and I know you won’t want to miss them!



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