A coaching client came to me with an opportunity that appeared to be wrapped in a problem. Christine was a financial services executive who had been downsized as a result of crashing markets.
Her opportunity? To attend a trade show that the top companies for whom she’d like to work would be attending.
Her problem? As she put it: “Kevin, if I go around just handing out resumes, I’m going to feel like I have an enormous ‘L’ on my forehead.”
So, here’s what we did.
Your New Approach
First, there are more problems with attending an event like this with a ream of resumes in hand than feeling like a loser.
While mindset is of the utmost of importance, even if you felt good about handing out your paper, the technique is littered with landmines in this instance. Primarily because the people working those booths at trade shows aren’t initially motivated to help find you a job (although, as you will see, you can get them there). Frankly, they’re probably just happy to still have their jobs (definitely the case in financial services). So your approach needs to be much more strategic.
We started by talking about the companies that would be there that Christine wanted to approach. This was pretty easy, since there was a list. Next, we determined which of the product lines or specialties in those companies suited her best (annuities, mutual funds, etc.). Then, we identified who the keynote speakers were at the trade show for each of these product types and what the focus of their presentation was going to be.
Finally, armed with all this information, Christine researched some interesting articles that paralleled these topics—some agreeing, some disagreeing, some that were one-offs. With all this homework done, we then formulated a plan—one that involved networking this trade show without ever saying “Are you hiring?”
See It In Action
Knowing which companies she was interested in, Christine’s plan was to approach each using this technique:
Christine: Hi there. Christine X. You know, every time I see you guys in the press, your Morningstar rating just keeps climbing.
Company Rep: Yeah, it’s been a tough year, but our managers keep doing well in spite of it. I’m John, by the way. Who are you with, Christine?
Christine: I was with Citi, but was RIFed [reduced in force] a few months back. I decided to come down here and check out what’s going on in the industry.
Company Rep: I see. (starting to retract, expecting the “Are you hiring?” question)
Christine: John, are you planning on going to the talk being put on by Dave Y about mutual funds?
Company Rep: (surprised he didn’t get hit up about hiring) I’m going to try, but I’m not sure if I have to man the booth or not. It looks pretty interesting.
Christine: It does. If you don’t get a chance to go, I’d be happy to share my notes. But I was also reading a recent article in Barron’s by James Z about mutual fund regulation. I’m not sure if Dave Y is going to get into that. James raised some great points. Did you read his article?
Company Rep: No, I didn’t, but it sounds interesting.
Christine: It was. I’d be glad to email it to you. Here’s my business card. Let’s trade, and I’ll be sure to send it off once I get back home.
Company Rep: Great. I’d appreciate that.
Christine: Sure thing. I’ll let you get back to your booth; I know you’re busy. It was great meeting you, and I’ll get that article to you sometime next week.
Company Rep: Thanks.
Why This Works (and Sets You Apart)
Christine’s approach in the example above was all about networking—establishing rapport and beginning to work through the cycle of “know, like, trust.” After the trade show, she will follow up with John via email and, if he’s open to networking, begin seeing who he knows and how he can help her. After all, in the spirit of “give to get,” she has begun the process by sharing information with him that he found valuable.
What this also does is position her to better understand what John’s company needs and how she does (or doesn’t) fit into the picture. She can then navigate more effectively towards the best opportunities for her, knowing where her skills fit and are needed versus giving some blanket elevator pitch that isn’t targeted towards the ideal job she’s seeking.
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