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Downsized lately? Here's a battle plan

Teaching laid-off technology workers how to land their next gig, Silicon Valley author Brian Barton counsels job hunters in the New Economy and says he has a tried-and-true formula.

Bushwhack phone calls, ambush e-mail and guerrilla attacks: These are the tactics for hard-core job hunters in the New Economy.

They're also the tenets of a new book by Brian Barton, a 35-year-old Silicon Valley author who teaches laid-off technology workers how to land their next gig. Barton's self-published "High-Tech Survival Guide" has sold out three times to rave reviews on Amazon.com.

Barton's no-frills, 20-page work is a stark contrast to denser tomes about career management. It includes scripted conversations with hiring managers, tips to figure out office phone extensions, and strategies for discerning corporate e-mail addresses.

Barton, who spent 10 years as a contract project manager and writer for San Francisco-area technology companies, wrote the book for job seekers who have the gumption to try his "sneaky tricks." (For instance, he recommends waiting for one week to respond to a classified job ad, then calling the hiring manager and sympathizing with the hundreds of e-mails and letters he or she must have received.)

After a day of outplacement clinics at a large Silicon Valley tech company, Barton sat down to sip coffee at the local Starbucks in San Mateo, Calif., and share some trade secrets with CNET News.com.

Q: Why did you write "The High-Tech Survival Guide"?
A: It was mostly that as layoffs started happening, my friends started e-mailing me saying, "Brian, how do I go about getting a new job? What do I do?" The biggest mistake is that people try to use e-mail to land a job. It's the absolutely, positively worst possible way to try to land a job. It's super ineffective. I'd held so many jobs, mostly as a contractor, that I had experience approaching hiring managers. So I started e-mailing them tips, and the tips grew too large, so I created the book. I hope it doesn't sound immodest to say this, but it's actually the only job-hunting book I'm aware of that's actually written by a professional job hunter. That's what I do. I've been working as a contractor for the past 10 years. For better or for worse, I've needed to find employment after every contract.

You advise job seekers to wait for one week after an online or newspaper classified ad is published before applying to that job. You say that the delay distinguishes you from the masses. How did you figure this out?
I've tried waiting two days; I've tried waiting for two weeks. Those didn't work. I figured one week was just right. Mostly, it was just trial and error. I've tried all the tips in the book, and they all worked for me...I used to work as a hiring manager. I can honestly say that if you didn't follow these rules, I would never have even seen your resume.

When submitting a resume to a prospective boss, what's the most important thing job seekers should remember?
No. 1 is if you're applying for a job as a sales manager, make sure that your resume says that your last job was as a sales manager. If your previous position was not exactly sales manager, contact the hiring manager and talk to him about that because he'll screen you out based exclusively on your title.

Think about it: The hiring manager will have 50 or 75 resumes on the desk. He'll look at each one for 5 or 6 seconds. If your previous title doesn't match the one they're looking for, you better have a pretty good excuse.

Let's say you're an associate sales manager and you want a position at another company as a sales manager. What do you say?
Without lying, what I would do is contact the hiring manager before you even send the resume and say, "Look, I'm an associate sales manager, and I have three years of inside sales experience, two years of project management, one year of business development. I have the right skills that you want, but my title wasn't the same."

After matching up the titles, what's the next most important thing?
Ensure that you have the exact same buzzwords on your resume that they say. If they're looking for XML, Java, C++, JavaScript--whatever--you have to have those exact same buzzwords. Think about it: All of us probably know 15 computer applications, but we only put a handful of them on the resume. They may be looking for someone who knows Visio Flowcharting, and if you don't put it down on there, you could get screened out. You gotta get those buzzwords down.

This implies to me that you need a different resume for every position to which you apply. Isn't that a huge amount of work?
There's no question about it: Turn in a different resume for every job. It doesn't mean you have to write a new resume from top to bottom for every job, but you really need to highlight the skills that they're looking for.

Start with a resume that describes your work history accurately, then tailor it...If they want inside sales experience, put it up high. If they want two years of channel marketing and you have that, be sure to put it in there.

What's the biggest mistake most people make in the job hunt?
First, I'd advocate avoiding human resources altogether--just avoid them. You don't need them. Human resources is basically a service organization. The hiring manager will tell human resources to hire you, but you don't want to ever go through human resources instead of the hiring manager.

Most people pick up their telephone when it rings. Don't leave voice mail; no one returns voice mail. But definitely cold call. Other than that, the biggest mistake is that people try to use e-mail to land a job. It's the absolutely, positively worst possible way to try to land a job. It's super ineffective. Hiring managers receive hundreds of e-mails a day, and the odds of getting a hiring manager to notice your single e-mail are slim to none.

We're most persuasive in person, and after that we're most persuasive by telephone. We're the least persuasive in e-mail. If you can't show up and talk face-to-face, then I advocate contacting them on the telephone.

In your book, you tell people to figure out the main switchboard number and then start randomly dialing extensions or the last several digits, talking to strangers and then finding the hiring manager if his or her number isn't listed in the advertisement. Why?
Well, most people pick up their telephone when it rings. Don't leave voice mail; no one returns voice mail. But definitely cold call.

You also advocate "cold e-mailing," the practice of sending e-mails until one makes its way to the hiring manager's in-box. If e-mail is ineffective, why bother?
At the two or three dozen companies I've worked for, they've always had the e-mail set up the same way: first initial, last name; first name, underscore, last name; first name, dot, last name--something like that. So one time I had a real hard time getting in touch with this one hiring manager. For the life of me, I couldn't get him to pick up the phone or respond to any calls. But I knew his first and last name, and I knew he worked at this company. So I started e-mailing him blind. My first and second e-mails bounced, but my third one didn't. Sure enough, he responded to the third one. If you can't get through any other way, it can work.

As a journalist, I've used a lot of your techniques to find sources inside companies. But don't cold calling and cold e-mailing strike many people as brash? How do people get the gumption to use these techniques?
You're totally right: It does take a lot of courage. But weigh the outcome: Would you rather have a job or not? If so, you basically have to take risks. Not every experience will be a positive one. You have to improve your skills with each try. It's OK if you don't do it right the first few times. People are like, "Oh my gosh, there's the hiring manager talking on the phone to me right now." They're scared. That's why I give people a script, so they don't go, "Uhh, hi, uhhh, uhhh." You simply say, "Hi. I'm Brian Barton and I'm calling about the sales manager job," and you open up the dialogue from there.

One of the few nuggets of conventional wisdom in your book is to write thank-you notes or e-mail. If hiring managers are so busy and flooded by e-mail and resumes, why bother?
It separates you from the pack, and it makes you look like a class act. If it's short, to the point and mentions something you talked about during the interview, it's going to score you big points. The truism that so few job seekers send them is still true. In the five years I was a hiring manager, I think I've gotten a half-dozen thank-you notes out of hundreds of prospective employees.

This book is for people ready to start looking for a job. But what about the folks who aren't there yet--the newly laid-off middle managers still licking their wounds after the pink slip? How do they get the confidence to start the job hunt?
That's a super-tough question. It's important to have a support structure, people around you who can buoy you up. Maybe join a group of people who share job tips and strategy and news. It takes a lot of psychological courage. Call people and find out about openings if people mention them to you at parties. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It's the same as in dating: If you don't venture out and ask them for a date, you'll never know what it could have been like.

Let's say you've cold called and cold e-mailed, buttered up the secretary, and talked to the hiring manager--but you still haven't cinched the job. How much is too much? When do you concede?
Whenever you stop positively engaging the employer, stop. It should always be a positive experience. As soon as it turns negative--"Oh, I've got a meeting I have to get to," "Oh, I don't have time to talk to you on the phone"--you're not engaging positively and it's time to retreat. But if they keep asking you questions--"Tell me more about your sales experience," "Tell me more about the Web site you developed"--then you keep going. It's like any conversation. Once people start hemming and hawing or groaning, you can tell it's the time to say thanks very much and "I'll send you my resume."

Who is most receptive to your book?
Someone who is open to new ideas and feels hopeful. I think the book would be terrible for someone really depressed and not even willing to pick up the phone. It's for people who have the energy to get a job.

In my seminars, people are all over the map. Some say, "The economy is terrible. Nothing's going to work. I'm never going to get a job." Then other people are like, "Oh my god, this actually works"...All you can do for the people who are really depressed is give them this little book--tell them I'm trying to start a relationship.

What about people who don't merely want a new job but a new career. Is there anything in your book that could help them?
Picking up the telephone is going to work perfectly. Let's say you're at a tech company and you want to be an environmental activist. Don't change your resume and lie about what you did. But call the head of the department you want to work for and say, "I've been a tech writer for so long but I'd really like to use my project-management skills as an environmental activist." You can use all the same skills to get work.

What about you? Are you simply cashing in on all the layoffs with your outplacement consulting and this 20-page book?
It's bittersweet, let me tell you. I don't feel like I'm cashing in at all...I'm giving free advice. I didn't write the book to cash in, and the e-mail I'm getting is, "Thank you very much, Brian." I didn't write the book to get a Porsche. I wrote it to help people.  

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