How to Get Inside Hiring Employers

If a company is not interviewing on campus, it doesn't exist. This is obviously an untrue statement. Yet this is the subconscious job search approach of many college students who attend the on-campus job fair, then take their five or ten or twenty on-campus interviews, cross their fingers and hope something happens. And in doing so, the entire job search universe has been restricted to only those companies that are coming to campus.

There are far more employers out there than those that are visiting your campus. To fully maximize your job search, consider all companies as potential employers. Reaching out beyond the campus bounds requires more effort on your part, yet the potential payback is considerable. In addition to increasing your overall odds of finding employment, you are also increasing your odds of finding the right job with the right employer.

Signing up for on-campus interviews is relatively simple, while it often requires a great deal of effort to penetrate the external shield of a company that is not actively interviewing on your campus, especially if you have no internal leads or contacts. But keep in mind the potential rewards in pursuing off-campus employers. You have the opportunity to target specific employers in specific industries in specific geographies. Simply put, it is proactive job search by design, rather than a reactive job search by default.

Getting through to a key contact should not be a blind shot in the dark. This is an exercise in quality contact, not quantity. It doesn't matter how many arrows you shoot if none of them hit the mark. After all of your preparation to date, make sure you drive home your point by aiming for the right target.

Aiming for the Right Target

Your main contact within the company will depend primarily on the size/structure of the company and your career focus. For those companies with large, well-established entry level hiring programs, there may be one or more persons focused solely on hiring you, the college student. This function is covered by a College Recruiter or Campus Relations Representative who is usually part of the Human Resources Department. This is the person responsible for driving on-campus recruiting. This is the person whose job it is to screen out and disqualify. To pare down the long list into the short list.

The College Recruiter's criteria may be limiting—even to the point of counting you out before you even get in the door. Your main objective in making any contact should be to secure an in-person interview. And you cannot accomplish this if you are quickly screened out. Why would you be screened out? Most common is the school you attend. "Your college is not on our list." Or your GPA. "Too low for our standards." Or your major. "We are not hiring any of those this year." Or timing. "We have already completed our entry level hiring for this year." Rather cold, but it's the reality of the typical College Recruiter. You may get nothing more than "what is on the board" of current entry level needs to be filled. But do not consider it the end of the line. The true bottom-line decision-maker is the Hiring Manager, typically the line manager in the department that is hiring. Establish the College Recruiter as your target contact only as it serves your needs. If/when it becomes a dead end or point of no further progress, you should be willing to immediately move on to the Hiring Manager as your target contact.

While it is almost always more difficult to locate and contact the Hiring Manager than to simply make contact with someone in HR, in the long run it pays to put forth the extra effort. Contacting HR is what everyone does. So if you do the same you merely join the competition in targeting a department whose primary task is to screen you out—and your odds for success will likely be quite low. But direct contact with the Hiring Manager is golden. You are actually talking to the person who can hire you.

Hiring Managers determine hiring needs. Hiring Managers have the most latitude in determining what background will adequately fill the company's needs. And it is Hiring Managers who have the actual authority to hire.

Make the Hiring Manager your ultimate target contact. And do not give up easily.

The Two-Step Targeted Contact Process

You should follow a two-step process in making initial contact. In the first step, do all of your research and information gathering, including identifying your potential target contact at a particular company. The second step is the actual direct contact with your target.

In the first step, you will often need to call the company to gather the needed information such as the name and title of the target contact. Even if the receptionist or other contact person offers to immediately connect you with your target contact, you should refuse: "Thank you, but this is the only information I need at this time." Speaking to your target contact should always be a separate step. It may seem rather futile to waste a phone call just to find out who your target contact is, so let me explain the reason for using this two-step method.

Think about what happens on the other end of the line. You have made an inquiry as to the name of the Hiring Manager, your target contact. As the person on the other end of the phone, I might give you the information requested, then offer to put you through to that person's phone. You say that would be fine. Now I ask (if I have not already) who you are and what the call is about. "May I tell him/her what it is regarding?" Just like that, you have been screened. And not only for this call, but possibly for all future calls. I tell the manager that there is someone on the phone asking about titles and names and that the person is looking for entry level employment. The manager tells me to take a message. I do. And your chances of ever getting through to the Hiring Manager are now greatly diminished.

Why is it so different doing it in two steps? Because when you use a second, separate step in calling your target contact, you can ask for the person by name, which puts your call on a different level from the information-gathering call. You have a great deal more leverage in getting through to the person and past the "Guardian of the Gate" who might have otherwise screened you out.

So use the two-step target contact process. Why spend the time to focus just on finding and getting through to your target contact? This is the pivotal activity that drives the next step of securing the off-campus interview. Sometimes it will be easy and sometimes not. The following pages will give you several unique tools for handling a wide variety of circumstances in gathering this information to help increase your odds of success in reaching the next step in the process.