I had a great job opportunity. But I think I just blew it.
April 12, 2016 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I recently cold-approached a political hero of mine for a job at a cocktail reception. After hearing my prepared spiel, the person seemed thrilled and introduced me to their chief of staff to "connect." I sent a follow-up e-mail the following day, and almost a week later I have still not heard from them. They are leaving the state in about four days -- do I nudge them now lest I lose the opportunity to reconnect in person, or do I hold off and settle for a phone call at a later date -- or in the worst-case scenario, nothing at all?

I traveled to a major US city (let's call it "C") recently for no other purpose than to hear a political hero of mine speak (let's call them "Z") and also have the chance to meet them in person at a cocktail reception. The journey to C is about 5 hours from my home state, so this was a trek and by no means cheap.

English is not Z's first language, and it shows in their communications. Sensing an opportunity (my entire career has been in writing/comms), I prepared a moving elevator pitch + a short proposal with a range of communications products (that I tailored specifically to Z's platform) demonstrating how I might be of use to them.

I cold-approached Z at the cocktail reception and delivered my pitch. Before I was even able to get to my proposal, Z grabbed my arm with great enthusiasm and said, "Great. Come! You must meet my chief of staff." Z then pulls me away from the crowd that had started to swell around them and leads me to their chief of staff. Z instructs the CoS to connect with me and exchange details. CoS listened to my spiel, and accepted my proposal (admittedly, without really looking at it). CoS gives me their personal e-mail address (as opposed to the work e-mail that was listed on their business card), and says they are looking forward to being in touch.

I send a follow-up e-mail the next morning simply expressing my eagerness to continue the conversation and possibly -- if it works with their schedule -- reconnect in person before I go back home.

I am now back home, and nearly a week has passed. I have heard nothing. I know Z has a crucially important -- potentially career-making -- meeting to attend this week, and I would bet that Z and their staff are busy preparing for it. I also know that if any opportunity is to come of this, it is entirely normal to wait weeks if not months before the gears really start moving.

My question is this: They are only in C for 2 weeks, and are set to return home in 4 days (to a region that is infinitely more difficult and expensive to get to than C). Do I email-nudge them now in hopes of coordinating a meeting before their departure? Or do I hold off a little longer (knowing they likely have a full plate) and settle later for a phone/Skype call -- or nothing at all (in the event they are no longer, or never were, interested)?
posted by lecorbeau to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would wait. If they're here for 2 more weeks, their schedules are probably full, and since you cold-approached them, the ball is in their court. It may be difficult to get to them if they have interest, but they'd probably set that up with you anyway. The gears of hiring these days are monumentally slow, sadly.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on April 12, 2016

It doesn't hurt to nudge them again - if they really want to work with you, a single reminder email is no big deal - but the details of your interaction don't make me think you had much of a shot to begin with.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:27 AM on April 12, 2016

Presumably the CoS has a phone number on their card as well. I am as email-centric as the next guy but sometimes (particularly in traditional sectors) you just need to pick up the phone... Try to get the CoS on the other end of a phone (that's what they're there for). Remind them who you are and the conversation you had. At that point you will find out if there is any interest in pursuing the matter further.

It could very well be the situation that scrittore describes but you don't know if you don't ask. When time is a factor, pick up the phone. If there is no interest, it's not as though anyone is going to begrudge you a phone call. If there is interest, now you have shown tenacity as well.
posted by milqman at 7:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

I work for local government and report directly to an elected official. I get stuck in a CoS-type role a lot at these events when our elected official doesn't want to end up in a long conversation. This could be because he has lots of people he wants to meet or talk to or because he specifically doesn't want to talk to you. I'm not sure which of those situations this was, but it couldn't hurt to follow up one more time via phone or email.
posted by notjustthefish at 7:51 AM on April 12, 2016

Follow up.

Most people intend to reply to emails and messages and just never get around to it. They also will grease the squeaky wheel rather than the wheel that is politely waiting at home and trying its best not to make a fuss and bother anybody.

You are number 500 on their list of priorities and your initial email is now sitting at the bottom of a very large pile. Your only chance to get to the top is to follow up again (whether by email and/or by phone).

As long as you're understanding (which you clearly are) busy people do not really mind being reminded that you are waiting patiently for a response. If they need to ignore you they will do that anyway, if they wanted to do something about it you are just giving them an easy way to "find" you again.

Go for it!!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you sure the e-mail went through? Is there a chance you mis-typed the address, or that a reply got marked as spam?
posted by amtho at 8:17 AM on April 12, 2016

Nothing here indicates you blew it. You did well! You prepared a pitch, found and successfully delivered it to the right people, and were positively received. A week is not a long time to hear back about a potential job particularly when the employer is not even looking. They are obviously very busy, and so dropping higher priorities to find a place for you, intriguing and helpful as you may seem, is unlikely to happen. Keep following up, be sure to use words and a tone that indicate you are respectful of and grateful for their time, and maybe it will work out. They don't owe you a job just because you want it really bad and would be good at it. Trust that they know what they are doing and will hire you if it makes sense and you are a good addition to the team. Let go of all the fallacious thinking you have that tells you that they need you and that there is a glorious unseen opportunity here that only you can see and that only you are capable of making it happen or causing it to fail.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

When networking a lot of people make the mistake that it's one person who is going to change things, and that one chance encounter with an influential person is going to result in a job.

This can happen, but typically if you have a high-demand skill that can really help them out.

But 80% of the time, making an "ask" on a first encounter is a surefire way to turn someone off (and get sent to their gatekeeper).

Indeed, in this case you were talking to a politician and politicians hate to say "no" in public. But their gatekeepers are aware of this, and are aware of how to manage political capital.

As a teachable moment, it's good to keep in mind that networking and social events like the one you went to are good for building awareness about yourself, and joining the community. If you become a familiar face, but are also doing your own thing and are not attending events purely for the purpose of getting a job, things will start to happen for you.

In short, start doing your own thing that's worth talking about, and then talk about it when you go to networking events.

And just forget about meeting that one person who will change everything. It's a huge burden for that person and they will seek the escape hatch.
posted by My Dad at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

Yeah, you didn't blow it - you tried a cold call and it may or may not be in the process of working.

What have you really got to lose by following up?

I'd agree that a phone call couldn't hurt. Emails are sadly plentiful in my world. As my career has transitioned from being that asshole trying to cold call people to becoming that asshole that isn't returning calls because so many ping me a lot, I can say from both sides of the fence:

- people are indeed getting bombarded.
- they don't really resent you for trying again. They may respond, may not, depending on how high a priority whatever problem you might solve for them is.
- showing some determination should be a plus, not a minus. Presumably if they were to hire you for something you would then become that person who is supposed to be following up on issues or even bugging people to get stuff done. If someone blows their top because you followed up once or twice, trust me, you've lost NOTHING.

Be sure as you approach them that your prepared spiel focuses on *their* pain points, not yours. You sound savvy enough to know this, but for the folks playing along at home:
- no one cares that you need a job.
- many people care that they need someone to do a job for them. Sometimes desperately. I have talent needs that I guarantee you I would stop in my tracks for anyone who can convince me they can solve them. But I'm not going to give the time of day to the Nth person who "asks me if I have work," promises to bring X more visitors to my site, etc.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:43 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is how deft politicians are at handling folks, it's an art really. You left feeling that you made a connection, the guy skillfully extracted himself from an awkward situation.

Trust and believe a good politician is ALL OVER communications and that kind of stuff. You were masterfully foisted off onto a gatekeeper who is doing exactly what their job is...to protect their dude from being hassled.

You could follow it up, but I doubt anything will come of it.

Don't spend any more time or money on this. Even if you managed to convince him that he needed the services you profess to offer, he will find someone else to provide them. It's hubris to think that you are the only one who might help this guy, he's done quite well up until now, and he doesn't know you from a bar of soap.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

The variety of opinions above are speculation, either you were deftly batted away by an experienced politician, or there's been some kind of delay with getting back to you - or on a rushed foreign tour Z and their CoS are just really busy; there's indications of both to what you've written.

From what you've said it looks like meeting again in person is useful to both parties, so if they might call on you at short notice it would be good to be prepared, which means you need to be aware if they are interested or not, so a quick call to confirm that will help. Plus getting in touch with them shows enthusiasm.

If you do get in touch with the CoS and you're giving a polite deflection then lesson learnt, but don't let it put you off in similar situations of course.

But being in that position is much better, and much more useful to you, than wondering "what if?", make the call, see what plays out...
posted by DancingYear at 9:02 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about how this all works, but it feels to me that a follow up call AFTER they are back home and back to their usual business might be the best time to call, as then they may have more brain space and focus to give you. I'm guessing being on tour is already filled with so very much that they wouldn't really have time to give your proposal the energy it deserves.
posted by Vaike at 11:03 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work in the entertainment industry, which is not politics, but is a field where a lot of people want to work.

"Oh, fantastic! Here's my assistant Kimberley, we'd love to connect with you soon!" is what people say when they actually have no intention whatsoever of hiring you but are just trying to be nice and escape from an awkward social situation without hurting any feelings.

There's nothing you can do. It's nothing personal. You didn't ruin anything. You were just basically never going to get a job with them through this kind of approach*, but it's rude of the person you approached to say that to your face.

Also probably they are extremely busy preparing for this huge meeting you refer to and aren't prioritizing making hiring decisions anytime soon.

Cold approaches result in jobs basically zero percent of the time, just so you know. Cold callers approach me on a daily basis and I really wish it would percolate through the culture that this is not a thing. I'm sure this person's assistant felt the same way.

*This isn't to say you're unqualified to work for them, you just need to go through traditional channels.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in sales, I cold call. If I had a dollar for every "sale" that took 5-10 attempts to get that first conversation going I'd have a very large container of dollars. Clicking reply and typing, "thanks but not interested" is so damn easy that you can take the CoS failure to do that as a mildly encouraging sign, and keep trying. Do not be annoying, but following up once a week until you get a meeting or they tell you to go away is a no-lose strategy for you. Worst case, you are in exactly the same place you are now. Best case, your dream job.

Contrary to some opinions above, cold calling for a job can work, if you really have something unique to offer. I've been there, done that, got 3 interviews and 2 offers in a week off of six cold emails sent out to CEOs in one day. In politics, passion for the cause counts a lot, and you showed that by going the extra mile to make the initial pitch.
posted by COD at 6:19 AM on April 13, 2016

Thank you, all, for your responses. I have a quick update: Just as I was about to send my 2nd follow-up (as some of you recommended), the CoS unexpectedly emailed me back to say that Z will be in touch with me once they return to their region of origin. Considering 1) it was on the eve of Z's monumentally important meeting 2) there are much easier ways of blowing off complete strangers via e-mail (i.e., not saying anything at all) and 3) They are generally very busy people, I think it is a good sign. I fully realize, however, the fat lady hasn't started singing yet -- not by a longshot.

Thanks again to you all!
posted by lecorbeau at 11:33 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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