Your Targeted Companies List – Providing the Bulls Eye

Each Networking Meeting Fine Tunes Your Aim 

A major element job transition is building relationships with whom you should know and who should know you.  Because your time is critical, in either active or passive search, you need to aim to meet the right people.  You get a chance to either get connected to or find the person who sits in your bulls eye in each networking meeting.

Your Targeted Company list: Provides the Bulls Eye

A targeted company list provides your networking contact with the companies, possible roles, industries, cities and people where you want their help. 

  • As always, you start with practicing the 80% rule (if you do not know, give it a quick read)
  • The 80% rule allows you to focus on what’s most important to you: Improving your aim
  • Using your targeted company list – you can ask for help.
  • Click on the link in the line above and review the Targeted Company list – it will help with the rest of the post

Targeted Company List: More Powerful in Networking than a Resume

Resumes are important, but are a secondary tool in networking.  Networking is focusing on relationships needed and your resume is not always clear what connections you need.

  • If you ask ten people to read your resume, you will likely get ten interpretations of the job that fits you.
  • Perhaps 1-2 people will identify what role you want, the rest will create their own perception and it does not align with your own.   Why risk spending precious networking time unwinding an incorrect perception?
  • For the 1-2 people who get the roles right, you want to make sure you give them guidance as to whom you want to meet – your resume is designed to give other information.
  • Resumes fit into networking as ‘proof’ that you have selected the proper roles to target and gives your networking contact confidence to offer connections.

Targeted Company List: Making it Easier for Your Networking Contact

A good networking mantra is “Help them to help you”.   The easier you make it, the more likely you will get more from each meeting and follow-up activities.    The targeted company list is a great start to making it easy because you have removed the following tasks:

  • Figuring out what companies fit your resume
  • What role fits your resume
  • What is the right department and/or person within the company

If you do your research on your networking contact in advance, then you will only ask her/him for contacts on the list that they are more likely to have based upon their work.   Only ask them what they can deliver – they will let you know if they can do more. 

The List Begins a Broader Conversation

A targeted company list should always be presented as a starting place for your discussion.   You provide a very specific set of companies to both focus on and use as a jumping off point for new ideas.  Many people gave me alternative companies, industries or contacts after they saw my list.

Giving people something to react to is always easier than starting from a blank sheet of paper.  The real power of the list is that it makes your networking time more effective.  It’s also a tool that can be used before, during and after your search.  With on-line storage tools, it’s easy to send links to your most recent list.

Is a Targeted Company List Mandatory?  No.  Will it shorten my search?  Yes.

A targeted company list takes time to build and it can be tedious to find all the data points.  When done well it really is the key to fine tuning your aim and getting value out of a meeting. 

The reality of networking is that it is easy to find people with whom to network, it is harder to make progress toward your objective.  Your targeted company list makes progress easier.

Good luck today.


Resume Tip – Job Titles Matter

Job titles matter because they have a major impact on job search.

Fact #1: Virtually every profile and resume is part of or placed into a searchable database

  • Whether searching where candidate information was originally posted (e.g LinkedIn, traditional job sites, etc.) or looking within the applicant tracking system
  • The scope and locations of candidate information continues to grow sites pop up beyond LinkedIn, traditional job search engines (e.g. Monster, etc.)

Fact #2: Your job title is one of the primary tools to screen you into a pool of eligible candidates.

  • Job title is the logic place to start to screen in eligible candidates who are either at or could move into the open role (e.g. Marketing Director, Senior Financial Analyst).

These two facts are why your job title matters.  In the spirit of “Help Them, Help You” a few tips to make sure your title actually helps you.

  • For the in-transition candidate with their own consulting firm: Ditch the CEO, President, Principal, Founder, etc. title as there is a risk that you will screened out, if your consulting title is not the same as your prior title.  Use the title from your last role to describe the type of consulting: Director of Finance – Consultant.  That is the title where your experience lies and will be truly judged.


  • Companies/Industries with ‘honorary’ and ‘functional’ titles (e.g. “Vice President – Manager of Finance” role): Using the honorary title only will exclude from jobs where you truly qualify.  If you are applying to a like industry (e.g. Financial Services), then put the title in your role description, but keep the functional title.


  • Companies/Industries with unique title (e.g. “Level 12 Analyst”): Adjust your title to fit an external position so it is easily recognizable to outsiders. For this example, your title would be: Senior Financial Analyst (internal title: Level 12 Analyst).  You can keep the internal name, to help confirm your employment or title.   Many government jobs would fall into this category.


  • Large company title for smaller company position: The issue is when you are at a large firm which has big roles, but title below that of a smaller firm (e.g. Director role that would be Vice President in smaller firm).   First, use information for the database only to get screened in by title (See this blog post: Great Resume Tip – Words for Database Only).  Second, in your title add some description: Director of Finance of $5 Billion firm (similar title in $500 million firm: Vice President of Finance) – give them a reference point in revenue.  Third, in your description of the role, the first bullet should be your scope (direct employees, expense budget, etc. – anything to show the size is similar).


  • Military roles:  These are probably the toughest to convert, there are some great tools (for example: to assist veterans with the transition.

Ultimately, you will be judged by your skill set, these are few tips to help make sure you get screened in.

Good luck today.


Proving An Attractive Resume to Be True

A resume is your advertisement that needs proof to be effective.

Consider any advertisement that captures your attention to learn more by promoting the attributes of a product being faster, easier, etc. that fit a need you have.   Your next step is to see the product in action since there are multiple products making the same claim and you want proof it meets the claims.  No doubt you have experiences where the claim and proof have matched, so you proceed to buy.   The same rule applies to resumes: capture attention and then give proof to those who want to know more.

First, a resume that captures a reader’s attention:

  • There is no shortage of articles, books, consultants, etc. to get insight on how to write, so let’s focus on the proof by going to three sources: trusted recruiter, HR and colleague in role who would hire you/colleague in similar role to get their honest opinion if it does anything to want them to learn more.
  • I recall sitting with Marcia Ballinger (Keystone Search and author of “The 20 Minute Networking Meeting”), it was providing less, not more, and being specific and relevant terms that improved a resume’s appeal – the goal was to think from the viewpoint of the reader to whom you are sending.  This is why you need a couple of different viewpoints and most likely a couple different versions of your resume so you give the reader something of interest.

Second, proving your resume to be true:

In terms of priority, here are the areas to build the proof behind your resume.

  • Your network: This is the most important item since a positive recommendation from a former employer or colleague with whom you’ve shared your skills (work, for non-profit, etc.).  Talk with each person, preferably face-to-face, to ask them for their recommendation and provide them specific areas where you want them to emphasize your skills (don’t worry about personal traits like integrity, etc. – your colleague will only give a recommendation if they feel that is true).  You can even write a short and specific recommendation to put on your LinkedIn profile.
  • Examples of work: With file sharing sites, like Dropbox, etc., you can share examples of your work or additional details about your background that do not fit on resume.  To show the scope and depth of my experience in Finance, I built a simple a grid with the typical functions of a CFO in the 1st column and the next columns with years of experience and specific examples.  I also have actual work (I’ve sanitized by removing name and sensitive data) to show how I approached an issue and style of communication.  I usually embed the hyperlink to the proof of work in my cover letter, e-mails, etc. – just to get them immediate access.  I was surprised to find that people looked at the files more often than I expected.  Here’s some starter ideas for presenting your background differently: Alternatives for Presenting Your Background
  • Social media: It’s free and easily accessible by everyone.  Set up account(s) specifically for business and use them to show content.  I wrote “Using Twitter to Promote Yourself” several years ago and the principles apply for any social media outlet.  Remember, don’t expect people to be following you in real-time – they will scan what you’ve written or posted.

A good resume gets you in the door, your proof shows it’s where you belong – the proof is what helps set you apart.

To get started, go through your resume and highlight those points of your background.  For each important point in the resume, write down what proof you can add by personal network, work examples and social media.  No one is going to have a set of proof of work like you – because you apply a unique set of skills and experience into your work.  For the more complex items, follow the rule to help them to help you: Include a simple guide to explain the work’s purpose and how to review.

Hope this helps and good luck today.


Beating Them to the Punch – Looking for Hiring Triggers

Companies have natural triggers that will cause them to look for talent.  See below for my starter list of triggers.  Your goal is to look for companies who have recently experienced one of these triggers (say last 12 months) and network your way in to the impacted departments.

Your expectations when finding a trigger has occurred should be as follows:

  • Every company will respond differently from one another and perhaps differently to each trigger.  Companies who are strong in pre-planning or response, you want to get inside as close to the event as possible.  This is where your network will pay rich dividends in getting you necessary insight.
  • Decisions on talent may take several months or more so a company can learn how something impacts their business.  A good rule of thumb is that areas impacting revenue or customer service are usually tackled first so the top line does not falter, typically followed by getting control of cash and financial results.
  • Not every trigger will go public before it happens (e.g. acquisition), however, this is where you study your targeted firms and play a bit of “what if”.  For example, if a company has experienced good growth from a core set of products, then it’s a reasonable supposition that they will need to either develop or purchase new markets and/or products to maintain that growth.  Seeing the event before it happens will put you at the head of the line.
  • You will need to understand how your experience fits with an event (e.g. how you’ve helped a company correct lower than expected profitability) – as you get more information on the company situation, you can adjust which experiences to emphasize in your resume and pitch.
  • I would be cautious with any event that is simply a company announcement.  Many of these do not come to fruition, therefore, keep you investment of time in check until you can validate how much of the announcement will come to pass.
  • Keep tabs of local business media for both the company and its competitors for both specific and potential events.

These triggers are directional indicators (sorry, no matter how hard we wish, not absolute) that helps you both find and prepare for potential opportunities.

Hope this helps and good luck today.


Starter List of Potential Triggers That Can Create Hiring Opportunities

  • Acquired company(ies) in last 12 months
  • Major competitor acquired or making acquisitions
  • New management team (CEO, CFO, etc.) and/or major departure
  • Acquired by another company within last 12 months
  • Major investment in outside company
  • Rapid revenue growth (20%+ annually)
  • Lower than expected profitability
  • Significant levels of debt (limited cash flexibility)
  • Expansion into new line of business by company or major competitor
  • International expansion
  • Sale of business(es)/product line
  • Industry with rapid pricing and product changes
  • Consideration to go public

Your Networking Contact and their Ability to Absorb and Retain

One of the best lessons I learned in my finance career was “the details are important, just not to everyone”.  As I worked with different audiences to present results, while I had a similar message (the results and the drivers were the same), the ability for them to first absorb and then to retain and act upon was all in the delivery.

The same can be said with our messaging in networking or interviews.  We all have started with the simple message and can drill down – which is a good start.  But as you move beyond the simple, consider what the person has the ability to absorb and retain.  It’s usually within those details that set you apart from other candidates.  The question is how to give them what they both can quickly absorb and then retain following your meeting when the real action happens. (See blog post “Where is Value Created in Networking” for the importance of the post-meeting period).

First, it still no more than 3 points.  Regardless of how important, your message is competing with many others, so pick your spot and give a message that is relative to what you are seeking your networking contact to do for you (e.g. make a connection, offer references, etc.). Your contact may have the ability to understand a good deal of your background, but allow them to ask for a broader scope.

Second, through lots of trial and error, I found a person’s familiarity with a topic heavily influenced what was retained both initially and longer term.  Investing time to consider what they will be familiar with will help get your message across.  Given the action comes after the meeting, getting a message across that will stick is critical to success.  I sketched out this graph to how to think about the message I delivered and how often it may need to be reinforced.

Your networking connections will generally fall into one of these broad categories, so create your top 3 messages for each one and a few specific accomplishments under each.   These accomplishments serve as the proof points to the message (if you have examples you can share, even better) that a delivered as part of your pitch.

Writing in advance saves tons of time in prep.  I recommend you begin with the ‘Same Role, Same Industry” and then just simplify down. Again, remember as you simplify, think about what details (if any) are important to them.  Before the actual meeting, you can tweak the message based upon your contact’s background.

A few thoughts about retention, the people with similar roles or industry will be able to recall you easier due to the shared experiences which create a firm anchor for future reference.  For my fellow finance or industry colleagues, I am amazed at how much we seem to retain about each other’s backgrounds because of those shared experiences.  Of course, the retention fades in time, but the big items do stick.  For HR, I’m not throwing their ability to retain under the bus.  This is simply a reflection of the volume of candidates, resumes, etc. they need to review in the course of their job, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to retain everyone.  The same is true for a general networking contact, they see lots of networking contacts.  For both, HR and general connection, they are more likely to remember you because of a ‘personal’ connection (same school, contacts, etc.) than what you promise to bring a company since the two of you lack a common work experience.  These are the people where follow-up is critical to reinforce the simple message given.

All networking is trial and error, use this chart as a place to start your messaging and then adjust as you test it out.  When in doubt, lean toward less than more.  A good short message is always safe and if people want more they will ask.

Good luck today.


Where is the Value Created in Networking?

Networking is like any sport in that it is the practice before and after a match that gives you the best performance.   The chart below offers a view of where you create value in networking.  At first glance, you may think just opposite, since if you can only win during the game, would not the meeting be the most important event to creating value?

A typical networking meeting allows you to start or expand a relationship and launch a pipeline of possible job opportunities and the victory usually comes after the meeting.  The ability to get the relationship and pipeline going begins before you ever meet and the ability to grow the relationship comes after you meet.

Where is value created with Networking

The graph above is built from my 700+ networking meetings, in particular, its built on my realization of what made a networking meeting really pay off.

Before: Selection is the most important step in networking.  Selection begins with understanding what you want (career development, job search, etc.) and identifying the type of networking contact who can help you achieve that task.  Your goal is to make sure that your pitch/ask is something that your contact can act upon.  Then it’s research about your contact and prep.

During: Establishing that you came to network is what set the tone that you came to build a relationship.  The key purpose of the research is to find ways you can offer help to your contact, it’s that offer of help is what sets the tone.  The other most important item to create value is a simple message that will remain, so a ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to how much you share about yourself.

After: Get ready for action, because this is where it all happens and is the payoff to the work before. If your objective is a new position, unless you’re lucky, most contacts generally do not have any roles they know of when you meet, but they will over time.   You goal after a meeting is to continue to stay in contact and offer connection, insight, etc. from your continued networking.

The chart below is how the payoff will occur after a meeting.


  1. You and your initial contact will exchange connections as a result of your meeting
  2. You meet their connections using the ‘relationship building’ approach (offer connections, etc.)
  3. These connections will provide feedback to your initial contact, usually because of your ‘relationship building’ approach.  That feedback builds your reputation.
  4. You continue to network to a broader number of people.
  5. The people in Step 2 are known to your initial contact, but the people in Step 4 may be people of interest to them.  Taking a few minutes after a meeting to make that connection can build a relationship (make sure the introduction has mutual value to both parties).
  6. Here’s the payoff.  Because you maintained and tried to build upon the relationship, your initial contact will remember you when opportunities come about and pass them to you.

This seems like work and it is, however, the cool part about making connections like this is that it becomes easier over time because you get to know the person.

These charts are also good indicator of where time is spent.  Value is created when a relationship can be maintained.  Therefore, consider how much time you have to invest into networking.  You want to allow time in both building and developing your network.

Good luck today.


The Art of Managing Downtime during Job Search

A last minute call cancels a networking meeting.  You have another meeting close-by, but it does not make sense to drive home and back.  For whatever reason, you have an extra hour or two on your hand.  Now what?

When we are employed, there is generally a well-stocked backlog of activities that fill any extra time.   When unemployed, we can adopt a less urgent focus on time, as we seem to have all day.  Yet, time is a search’s most value asset to be invested wisely.

Those extra hours happen more often than you like and the number can add up pretty fast.  If you allow ten hours of prime ‘job search time’ to go unused, that’s ten hours you take out of time needed to keep your psyche strong (being with family, volunteering, consulting, etc.)

A colleague of mine, Tom Kulikowski, once remarked “He stayed ruthlessly organized” during his search.  The ruthless organization was as much for eliminating unnecessary work as it was for keeping his weekly search time under 40 hours a week.    It is easy to occupy 60+ hours a week, but after 40 hours, both your productivity and effectiveness drop off like a rock.  Trust me, I know from both being ineffective and seeing in fellow candidates.  Working smarter instead of longer applies regardless of your employment status.

To use that extra hour, my activities fell into the following areas.  While not presented in a ranked priority, I always gave precedent to preparation for meetings/interviews and follow-up. For which, the tools were my calendar for the last month and upcoming two weeks and my Targeted Company list.

One: Upcoming meetings – Have you determined what you want from the meeting and how you can offer your contact something to make you memorable?  Use the time to fill in a “Networking Meeting Checklist” for each of our upcoming meeting.

Two: Empty Spots in Your Calendar – I would check my progress on my Targeted Company list and figure out who I needed to meet to either within the company or to help me get in the company.  Then I would send out my invites, suggesting the times that were open in my calendar.  Having a roadmap makes it much easier to reach your destination, so I recommend you use a Targeted Company List.

Three: Follow-up to past networking meetings is what takes them from interesting to relevant.  Your follow-up on commitments and reminders of theirs is critical especially for demonstrating action on your part.

Four: Sharing or creating content that demonstrate your skills highlighted in your resume.  Early in my search, another colleague, Peter VanNest, showed me the examples of his work for use in networking and interviews.  He was right in that an actual example of your work was significantly more powerful in proving you can deliver that just telling someone about it.  I now have two dozen examples that I share.

Five: Professional research to keep you up to date or expand your understanding of an area.  One of the reasons I like Proformative (a resource for finance professional) so much is the depth of content and practical advice from fellow finance professionals.  There are many similar sites for other professions.

Six: Read the local business news to see what businesses are growing or changing.  I got into more companies simply because I followed up on a news article with an e-mail.

These items were more than enough to fill an hour and you can do every one while still enjoying a large coffee.

Good luck today!

Mark Richards

Your Skills Transfer but what about the Culture?

It’s easy for us to get heavily focused on our skill set as the primarily determinant as to whether we fit into a role.  We start with our resume that is summary of positions held, skills and accomplishments. For many on-line applications, we answer screening questions regarding our qualifications based upon skills, education or positions held.

When you are looking at potential role, the culture of a firm will play a major role in the level of effectiveness in using those skills.  A firm’s culture impacts every aspect of a business; how decisions are made, management style, processes, hiring practices, internal politics, tolerance for risk, and how an exceptional employee is viewed.  A great example is a publicly traded firms who is heavily tied to quarterly results and as a result will advance or delay projects based upon the most recent quarterly earnings.

I have had the opportunity to work in firms with very different cultures (family-owned, venture-backed, global firm, heavily regulated public, emerging growth and start-up) and I’ve also met numerous candidates who changed cultures, so I can offer a few observations about cultural fit to help set your expectations when considering a change.

First, for those people who came from other cultures and it did not work out, it was very clear that it was not a technical skill issue.  Expectation: Skills is what a company needs, cultural fit is what they want.

Second, the people to learn the about culture are those whom also came from a different culture and have been with the firm you are interested in for several years.  They will be able to point out the key differences within this culture.  Expectation: Long-time insiders will have difficult providing a good contrast to other cultures, but can give insight into the types of people who succeed.

Third, good ideas can trump the culture occasionally, but not every day. There is an attraction to firms where your skills can bring change, but start with its current success.    The culture of a firm is what binds together the team and makes them work as one, so you don’t want to be seen as trying to work outside of it.  I’m not saying every culture is highly efficient, but if it’s working, then it is hard to make it change because the insider’s view is that it’s okay.  Expectation: You can bring your ideas by proving you can work within the existing culture and build relationships with peers.  You must be willing to live within the culture until we’ve built those relationships.

Fourth, even if a culture needs to change, it is generally a slow shift.  Take an emerging growth firm that needs to transition from a start-up mentality. The infusion of processes, maintenance of systems, etc. will take time.  Even if the company says they want to change, it takes time.  Expectation: You might bang your head against the wall at first, but it will pay off.

Fifth, be honest with where you can work by comparing the culture to your own style and interests.  It deserves an equal level of importance as to evaluating your skills.   This is not to say you cannot adapt, but your goal after landing is to perform, you also need to be reasonable on how much you can adapt.  Expectation: You don’t want to be in search again, so make sure the culture will not limit your success.

There’s a reason that you will hear people say “_______ is a big company person”, “________ sure fits a sales culture”, because they have found both success and the comfort of fit within a given organization. If you happen to work great in a given culture, then nothing wrong playing to your strengths and continuing in a place you can succeed.

The comedian Bill Cosby said “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” This is very true when trying to work in a culture you do not fit.  If do your homework of both understanding yourself and a company, then you’ll find success.

Good luck today.



Good Question: Do Cold Letters Work

I answer job search questions on, I like to share the good questions from their members.

Original Good Question:

Given the job market we are experiencing, do you recommend sending a letter to a business that does not have an advertised position posted? Are cold letters such as this viewed as irritating to the business leaders?

If you recommend sending a letter, should it be very brief merely asking about a job or should it accompany a resume to inform the business of your skills?

My response:

Is a Cold Letter Effective?

A cold letter is generally ineffective because there is not an immediate need to fill, therefore, no reason to look at talent.  Also, without a referral or introduction, it is difficult for someone to dedicate time from their day to review the letter (e-mail, etc.)

No Advertised Position – How to get in:

To get into companies with no advertised positions, I have used two steps with success

First, I have looked for ‘events’ that could trigger need for people with my skill set (new products, funding, acquisition, etc.).  I looked at events within the last six months – it’s usually a series of small events, not a major one.  While that seems like a big window of time, a company may need an extended period to determine what it needs.

Second, I find a way to get a referral or connection to remove the ‘cold’ – just to give your letter a chance to be read.  Remember, regardless of how strong a referral, your letter may go unread.

I think the book “Take the Cold out of Cold Calling” ( by Sam Ritcher is a great tool for finding connections.

Letter versus E-mail:

Use an e-mail; you are more likely to get it read.  Letters are good for follow-up.  I like to send notes like this on Sunday night, when people begin to scan e-mails on their smartphones in prep for the week, but their Inbox is not jammed.

What’s in your e-mail:

As what to include in the e-mail it’s all about addressing a need.  In addition to using your network to get a connection, also seek insight into what’s happening in the firm and specifically for the person you want to meet.

Here’s what I’ve included in my e-mail.

1) Should be to a specific person (e.g. CFO)

2) Reference your referral by name (I include in the title of my e-mail)

3) Identify the need that person has from the event (e.g. integration of accounting post-acquisition).  When I say need, what do they think about are those tasks they personally need to accomplish to remain successful.

4) In short, mention only background that is relevant to the addressing the need (e.g. I’ve done 4 integration projects).

5) Ask if they would like to meet, at a minimum you can share insight from your background.

Your objective is to have them take a meeting.  Give them a compelling reason why to meet – anything more simply gets in the way and diminishes your chances.

Include the URL to your LinkedIn profile instead of a resume and leave out asking for a job.  You want to avoid making someone feel like they will have to say “No” to you regarding a job (Who wants to take a meeting like that?)

There are no advertised jobs for a reason, they are not looking.  But just because they are not actively looking does not mean they do not have a need to solve.  What you want to do with your e-mail and meeting is highlight the need.

While these are generally longer-term plays, the interesting part is very few people use this method to get in – especially when it comes to stringing together several events where the cumulative effect could be significant.

Hope this helps.


The Person Who Has The Job You Want

Actually, there may be several people who have the job you want.

My advice is to contact them.


As the person in the chair they can offer you advice on how they got the role, skills did they emphasized during their search and what they are using today.  The difference between the skills emphasized and what they see now is very important; as it firsthand knowledge of what’s truly important to the people that will hire you.

They are great insight into the differences in the companies within the industry (what role does each company play, who is strong, who is weak, etc.).  Since their company has the role filled, you want their insight into those other firms.   They also can offer key contacts within the industry.

More importantly, they can be a good source of job leads.  As they sit in the chair today, people are likely to contact them about similar roles (networking contacts, recruiters, etc.), assuming they are happy, then most are likely to pass the role along to others.  This is why you always want to practice the “80% Rule of Networking” to establish a good start of your relationship.

I used this technique and it produced several good leads.  When I reached out to people, I told them that I was interested in the industry and wanted to get their opinion.   Never once did I ever ask for a job – though they knew I was looking for one.

I also found out much more about the role that I did not know before, there were items that were particular to both an industry and the firm.  These included key areas of focus, trends effecting the role, etc.   In a few cases, I realized that my skills were not as strong as a fit with the role as I had anticipated.

Give it a whirl – Talk to someone who has the job you want!  May be one of the better ways to find the job you want!

Good luck today!