Hmm… I‘ve got to tell you that during my life whenever I found myself in a situation where I needed to answer that question, I knew two things: 1. I’d gotten sloppy and ended up talking to a Gatekeeper (HR Dept.) and 2. I probably wasn’t going to get the job (see number 1.)
A Gatekeeper is someone who can say no but lacks the authority to say yes.
When I’ve done my work properly as a job seeker, I instead started with The Decision Maker who is much more interested in my strengths and what I could bring to the table to help her company. My goal was to visit human resources after I’ve been hired not before.
Street Smart Logic:
Whether you’re looking for a job or trying to sell something to a company start as close to the top as you can and work down. Start at the bottom and all you’ll run into are people who can say no. And even if they get excited about the offering; they lack the power to say yes.
Imagine these two scenarios:
1. You send in your resume that manages to signal your experience and expertise to the HR screener out of 100 or so identical resumes. You get kicked upstairs to interview with the gatekeepers (and in a big company there are layers of gatekeepers). Then you have the additional job of signaling your worth out of say 10 or 20 applicants before you actually get to the person who you’re really looking to talk to. And none of those gatekeepers really has a vested interest in whether or not you can do the work, their main interest is to forward an applicant on that will not embarrass them.
2. You figure out how to score some face time with a high level VP or even better with the CEO. Your elevator speech is honed to a fine edge that signals knowledge of the job and delivered with easy competence. He sends you downstairs, with a note that says, “This guy looks promising, why don’t you schedule some time to talk to him.”
Which approach has the best chance of success? (If you guessed one, I suggest you prepare yourself for a lengthy job search.)
Oh, you say, that sounds good but it’s far easier said than done. How the hell do you get to the VP let alone the CEO?
The first part is how you see yourself.
Are you a person with a valuable set of skills and experience who is willing to hire on to do a job of work, that looks interesting, for a level of pay commensurate with those skills?
Are you a lowly peon hoping that the all powerful company will grant you the boon of letting you work for them? Please, please hire me I neeeeeed this job. (From personal experience, I’m embarrassed to admit that that the second attitude doesn’t work.)
The second part of the answer is that you network, gather information, and network some more.
Your goal is to find out what the job entails, how to signal that you can do the job and show how you will do it.
After that’s done you reach out and try to find someone who can introduce you to one of the players.
Sound like a lot of work? Yes it is. It’s far easier to send in your resume to the slush pile of resumes. And hope you get a call back.
The one unshakable rule of being street smart is that you don’t try to sell to strangers, and certainly that no one hires a stranger.
Hiring someone to fill a position is a very risky deal for a manager. There are so many unknowns. Hire the wrong guy, and not only does the job suffer from an incompetent’s work, but the manager takes a blow to her own reputation. It’s her department that doesn’t perform up to expectations; any failure is her fault.
Your challenge is to help her make the decision, by being professional.
The homework before the employment process is all important. I’ve landed jobs over the heads of more qualified candidates (at least on paper) because I understood the process.
Incidentally, I’ve never gotten a job via a headhunter’s search; headhunters aren’t your friend, just another gatekeeper. I say that, even though I’ve always taken the time to give a considered list of candidates when one has called me. By the way, I always call the people whose names I’ve shared to warn them, that’s just one more aspect of networking.