There is a life lesson that everyone should learn at some point – and I truly believe your personal success is directly tied to your ability to learn this lesson as early as possible in your career. In my office, I like to call it “gauging the temperature of the conversation” but most people reference it simply by saying “reading between the lines”.
When I first came to my new office, for about the first 2 weeks I was there, a specific person called the office almost every single day to see if we were hiring. I noticed that the people answering the phones would recognize the name calling and audibly groan and slump in their chair as they reached for the handset. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and I told everyone in the office to forward the call to me next time he called … which was the literally the next day. I politely told the guy that we were not hiring, did not foresee a change in our workload that would alter our circumstances, but if he would like to forward an updated version of his resume I would keep it on file should a position become available that suited his skill set. And I meant every word of it at the time.
I thought that would be it for a while … wrong! He still kept on calling, seemingly oblivious of the specific instructions and information I had shared with him.
In a way, I admire his persistence, but at a certain point, he became a nuisance. As a result of his actions, there is no way he will ever get hired at our office. At a minimum, he doesn’t listen to the message being delivered and can’t follow instructions. At worst, I find him an extremely frustrating person. Since I have the ability to choose the people who get to work in our office, his actions have had the opposite desired effect. Part of the reason I decided to share this story with you was that this person called the office yesterday and since he wasn’t gauging the temperature of our conversations, I stopped messing about and told him to stop calling our office, that his behavior had created such ill-will with the staff that we would no longer consider him a candidate for any possible future positions. I don’t normally like speaking so curtly to people, few ever actually deserve it … but I would rather get a homemade Turkish prison tattoo on my face from a blind right-handed inmate who only had their left arm than have to deal with this person every day … and call me old-fashioned, but I don’t really want a homemade prison tattoo on my face.
So what’s a pro-active person to do? Here are some tips that should help you “gauge the temperature of the conversation”:
Do your calls get taken?
When you call, is the person you are trying to reach ever available? Do you always get their voice mail? Are they never at their desk? Depending on what happens – or doesn’t happen – when you call, the person you wish to speak with doesn’t want to talk to you. This would be the time to either scale back on your persistence or ask if there i s someone else that would be more appropriate that you could speak with. It’s possible that you aren’t calling who you should be.
If you do get someone on the phone and they tell you there aren’t any current positions at your experience level, or that they are fully staffed – ask them if it would be alright to follow up with them in 3 months to see if circumstances have changed. [It doesn't really matter the amount of time but be specific]. If they say they’ll contact you … move on.
If you are trying to land a spot at some super-duper-über firm and know that you are unlikely to get the right person to either talk to you or read your resume since you are an unknown and your information will go on a pile of 1,000’s of others, you have to find some other way to make a connection with that firm … the technique of “pester” rarely works. Most of the time, it’s all about who you know that get’s you to the right people and once you’re there, you can dazzle them with your skills and personality. The easiest way to describe this is by telling a story: Many years ago there was an architect in town whose work I really admired. I was the Chair of a prominent AIA committee and decided that I would use my position of authority to invite this architect to be a judge for my event. He agreed, and I had chance to casually spend several hours talking with him. Fast forward a few years and now we are good friends – he even offered me a job to come work for him.
The point of all this is not “how to get a job” but rather that it’s very important to pay attention to what is and isn’t being said when you are talking with people. The biggest hurdle I see that most young people have to clear is the ability to be sitting with someone and understand what they are saying, even when they aren’t saying it. More times than not, this skill will be the thing that will either put you in the right room or keep you out of it.