Life-Sparring is all about the exchange of ideas and concepts to optimize life in all aspects.
Creative ideas come especially handy when life throws some lemons at you. Being out of work is a such a test, especially in Hong Kong where you do not enjoy unemployment benefits like in Europe and even more if you have a family to care for and a mortgage to pay. A good friend of mine, JB, just recently was in this exact situation.
I met JB through a mutual friend of ours, who introduced us thinking we might get along. And along we got. In our first lunches, one of the main discussion topics was JB’s job hunt. With his employer at that time restructuring, JB needed a new professional challenge, preferably quick.
What impressed me immediately when talking job search with JB, was his positive energy and his unique approach to the existential challenge. An approach that not only proofed to be successful for JB but is also replicable by other job searchers for a wide range of positions. It was an absolute no-brainer to ask JB if he would be interested in sharing his job hunting strategy in a Life-Sparring round and luckily, he agreed.
Enter JB Deal, the master of what I call “the deal making approach to job hunting”:
JB, is it fair to say, you are not a big believer in traditional forms of recruitment?
Well, I tried most methods and found a lot of channels not very effective.
I applied on LinkedIn many times and never got any reply on any application to a job posted on Linked-in. It almost seems as if posting open positions on LinkedIn is more of a marketing ploy for companies than serious recruiting. The same goes for most job portals.
And direct applications via the career pages of target companies are also quite problematic. From personal experience, I would say that you either need to be extremely lucky or have plenty of time to wait for the dream job to become available if you focus on a short-list of target companies.
Keep in mind that most that job openings that are posted on a company website is also open for internal applicants and current employees or they referrals often have priority.
How about head hunters? Any luck with them? Or do you agree with my experience that headhunters are like potential mates? They only show up when you are committed otherwise?
I contacted several headhunters and got a reply maybe from two out of ten that I contacted. I wasted time filling in my resume and reading the email alerts.
If you want to find a job through headhunters, you need to be extremely lucky to have the perfect profile for a position the headhunter is looking for. If by any means you are a near perfect fit, make sure to call the consultant and follow up with them closely. But at the end of the day, one needs to remember that headhunters are here to get paid by their customers, so they will take no risk with candidates and offer you mainly positions that are similar to what you are doing and increase your salary just enough so that you would switch.
I totally get it. I think contacting headhunters makes only sense if you are not in a rush. If a headhunter reaches out to you for a job, your chances are much higher as you at least passed their initial filter. Having no luck with headhunters and online applications, what exactly was your strategy that landed your current job?
The first step was a good amount of soul searching. Before starting your job hunt you always should spend the time to understand, what your passions and strengths are and what you expect regarding career progression, company culture but also compensation package and office location.
A critical area to reflect upon is the type of industry and company that is a good match for you. What are you trying to do with your life? For instance, as someone once said, if you are an entrepreneur, you create and fight for your dream to happen. And as an employee, you join a team to make the team’s dream come true. So better choose carefully what dream you are after.
In preparation for negotiations, I also collected salary information on people with a profile similar to me and looked at the job histories of mentors/role models who have been in a similar position ten years in the past. Seeing how successful people developed their career from a similar base, helped me a lot understanding what realistic next step for my career could look like.
The second step is to identify a small number of companies that you think would be potentially interesting employers. There you look to see if you are connected to any insider through your network.
Networks play an important role in your strategy, right? This is nothing you can build-up overnight, or?
True, networks are very important and need to be built over time. Just be friendly and embrace new contacts with openness and over time good things will happen. Often it is the most random contacts that proof valuable at one stage in life.
Having an insider at a company you are targeting is a powerful asset. They can tell you better than anyone else how the corporate culture in the organization really is like. My standard questions were invariably: “How would you describe the company culture?” and “What are the most important challenges your company is currently facing?”
Ok, now you identified your targets and made sure you and the company have a cultural fit. What comes next?
The next step is to identify the target person to your application, the decision maker. Depending on the company that can be the CEO, a VP of HR, a director or a manager. Do your research and get the contact details, either a phone number or an email address. Of course, having your insider friend be ready to introduce you is best.
Then you need to work on the actual application. First, I need a business plan that will convince my insider friend that I can create value for the company and to hire me would be a good investment. And with that, you also need a top CV that highlights how you are a good fit for the position and a cover letter that shows your motivation.
Stop right here! The business plan is what makes your approach unique. Tell me more about this part.
I mentioned earlier that I always ask two questions. The first one is about the company culture to confirm that I have set foot in the right place. The second question is my door opener: "what are the challenges the company is currently facing today"?
Once I know what causes the senior executives sleepless nights, I have acquired a very valuable piece of information.
Any new hire must add value to the organization and if I as an applicant convince my potential employer that I can contribute to the company, a job offer is literally on the table, even if prior no job opening has been published.
So, you really focus on the value proposition, illustrating not so much who you are but what you can do for the organization?
Yes, the key is to formulate a concrete business plan. I usually prepared presentations with two perhaps three main ideas to address the challenges the company was facing. For the first presentation, I aimed at a short but sweet deck with five to ten slides.
This initial presentation can’t be too detailed. Firstly, because the information I have collected is limited, and you don’t want someone to be able to say, “no it will not work” or “this is outside of the expectations”. Secondly, the information in your presentation should be just enough to get the senior executive thinking “Yes, what a great idea! Tell me more.”
During the first meeting, my goal was not only to get my counterpart interested in my ideas but also to collect more information about the company and the problems the executive sitting in front of me was facing. At the same time, I also needed to build my image and sell my past achievements and strengths, especially those related to the relevant challenge. The key was to build trust.
And here is an important advice: while your clock might be ticking it would be very unwise to rush! A candidate selling himself or herself should never ask for compensation first, he or she needs to make sure the senior executive has already said “yes” or is mentally on the road to say “yes, I need that man/woman”, and let them be the first to ask about your salary expectations.
With the additional information and the feedback, I received from the executives in the first interviews, started working on the Version no 2 of my presentation deck. The moment I got out of the meeting, I started to work full time on my preparation for the next meeting: re-adjust the business plan, adjust the numbers, and gather new bits of info to support the ideas. At that point, my presentation grew to up to 20 slides. However, it is always a good idea to keep the presentation short and sweet and to keep single slides simple instead of overloading them with complicated content.
As with the previous presentation, a challenge is to present a business plan that will benefit the company while selling yourself as a savior who could finally put an end to those sleepless nights thinking about the company’s problems. On the other hand, you must carefully manage the flow of information that you share with the management to ensure that you stay ahead of the game on the project.
This process should be repeated as often as necessary until you receive a rock-solid offer. Remember that each time you need to bring value to the meeting. I, for example, spiced up my business case for a potential employer by hiring designers on Fiverr.com (an outsourcing platform covered in an earlier Life-Sparring round) to come up with an amazing logo. I also went to visit stores to analyze the competitors’ product mix and shared key findings with my potential employer.
You just recently started a new job, did you use the method exactly as described?
Yes. For my current job, the first meeting was a short one, it was piggybacked on a meeting they had scheduled with a potential partner in Shenzhen, on a Sunday. It lasted only a few minutes, and at the end of the first meeting, the owner invited me to come visit him at his company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, and two weeks later, I was in Hangzhou presenting my second presentation.
At the end of the second meeting, the owner invited me again to visit him at a fair in Guangzhou three weeks later. At this point, the business plan I prepared was fine-tuned and agreed upon, and we also came to terms regarding my package.
While in this case it only took three meetings to get to finalization, it could have easily taken four or perhaps five meetings. The fact that I had known the business owner for 15 years was a big advantage as there was already some level of trust to build upon. In parallel, I had built a relationship with several would-be employers and worked on several plans but I ended up going for the one that was the best fit for my expectation regarding corporate culture, lifestyle, package, and industry preference.
Thank you JB, for sharing your experience in such rich details and of course all the best for your new challenge. Do you have any parting words to the readers, before we ring the final bell of this first ever Life-Sparring round with an actual sparring partner? Is there a way, readers can reach you, other than by commenting or reaching out on this site?
As a matter of fact, I have: Just don’t be afraid of going outside your comfort zone. When you do, amazing things will happen. And yes, readers can reach me on my WeChat: jbdeal.