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Locating Job Prospects:

Transposing two of the commands in the ritual used by the execution squads of old — "Ready! Aim! Fire!" — yields some guidelines for those in the employment hunt.

"Ready!": Initial Research

"Where do I begin?" is the hapless cry of many a job seeker who has yet to learn that the job search is a marketing effort: you are trying to sell yourself. And marketing is fundamentally a communication process: you want to bring your unique combination of talents and skills to the attention of prospective employers so that they hire you at the desired price.

But, before trying to frame the content of the message you will deliver, consider some preliminary factors about communication. The primitive saying, "If you throw enough mud on the wall, some of it will stick," is too crude, expensive and lazy in practice. Start by trying to define your target. Visualization is more than a New Age buzzword. Attempt to see in your mind's eye the type of business and the kind of person that you want as an employer and that would want to employ you. Enrich your mental image until you can picture a real person to whom to address your message.

Then imagine your prospect as heavily involved with other activities; he is not even aware of your presence; you've got to get his attention. Another element of effective communication now comes into play: intention. You have to want to turn the prospect's head away from the things that are distracting him (the thousand other applicants, for example) and in your direction. Since you have defined your prospective employer earlier, you will have guessed at the things that attract him or repel her, what buttons to push, which to leave alone. It is time for flare, imagination and daring, all done with taste, of course. Like a professional showman, the job seeker pulls out all stops to capture the undivided attention of the prospect.

Finally, turn to the message itself and its need for impact. Be it via resume, cover letter or personal interview, you have only seconds to day your piece. It must possess an excitement, an urgency, that generates a similar emotion in the prospect. Personal intensity is easily observed in the dynamic advertising found on radio and television; we all know the difference between a vibrant and a boring speaker. In printed form this factor is less apparent, but it must be there, and any number of good books and articles exist on devices—wording, graphics, placement, etc. — for creating effective and dynamic resumes, cover letters and portfolios.

"Fire!" The Testing Stage

Face it, getting ready is done in creative isolation and the assumptions you make about your prospect may be way off the mark. Knowing this, the job seeker can err in two ways. The perfectionist simply stalls in the "Ready!" stage; since nothing less than perfect is acceptable, nothing is done at all. On the other side is the gambler who blindly assumes all his assumptions are correct and launches a complete campaign on untried suppositions. The first fails from too little action and the latter from too much.

After getting ready as well as can be expected, the proper thing to do is "Fire!" — but on a limited basis. It is not all out war; it is experimenting with the weapon in a monitored situation on the rifle range. If the phone lies dead on the hook for the two weeks after you sent several test resumes, your assumptions are off somewhere—in method, message or market. Time to revise.

Accurate testing requires meticulous record keeping so that significant information is not lost or misinterpreted. Track where the lead came from, what you sent, how you sent it (email or snail mail), even the day of the week it was sent (people supposedly mind their mail more in mid-week when there is less of it). When you get a response, even if negative, try to determine what prompted the person to call back. Capitalize on this aspect in future efforts. The few seconds required for proper record keeping will save hours in further prospecting. Without such tracking, you may assume that a certain website's job listing are pulling responses when actually it is your local newspaper.

"Aim!": Hitting The Target

Adequate testing and retesting during the "Fire!" stage not only fine tunes your marketing weapons but further sharpen the profile of the prospect formed during the "Ready!" stage. Broad-shoots can be eliminated for a smaller but more qualified group of prospects. An individualized approach can now replace the wasteful blanketing of every website available. You can now "Aim!" for the bull's eye with a steady hand.

It has been said that a company or committee never makes decisions or hires anyone; it is a live person within the company that decides. Prospecting is the process of finding these individuals. By proceeding through the three stages—"Ready! Fire! Aim!" — a job seeker should soon find a willing employer in his sights.

-Vic Smith
A Tucson resident, Vic is a member of Society of Southwestern Authors, a published educational and technical writer as well as novelist.