Interviewing Tip #4: Call Your Ex-Employer

In Workplace boomeranging, Jason Butler reports on his experience returning to a previous employer: “I found my previous experience at the company beneficial in minimizing ramp-up time; if you already have a reputation and you already know all the players, you can get right to work.”If you're looking for a job, call all your ex-bosses and ex-companies. Your ex-bosses will know about you and your work. You can relate your most recent work to their needs. Your ex-companies will appreciate your domain expertise and any other new experience you've gained that you can relate to your domain expertise.

This is a specific case of working your network. I like to create a script, so I know what I'm going to say. (You don't have to read the script; I find that I'm less nervous if I have a script or at least a list of points.) Here's a script I've used in the past:

  1. Call previous bosses (I make a list with phone numbers and emails).
  2. Introduce self. Remind boss when I worked for him/her and what I last did at the company.
  3. A little small talk. (Hey, I'm a geek. If I don't write this down, I may forget.)
  4. “I don't know if you're looking for someone like me right now, but here's what I've been doing.” (Summarize your experience.) “I've managed a few programs since we last talked. The largest one was 7 sub-projects, took 13 months, and had a total of 100 people. I had a blast. I'm calling to see if you need anyone with my experience.”
  5. Wait. Let the other person think, breathe, whatever. Your ex-boss will say something.
  6. If the ex-boss says there's an opening, ask how you should send in your resume. The reason you want to ask how to send in your resume is to allow your ex-boss to take advantage of any recruiting fee the company pays for employees to recruit peers.
  7. If the ex-boss says there's no opening, ask if the ex-boss knows of anyone who could use you and your talents. Your ex-boss has a different peer set than you do, and you can leverage his/her network.

Sometimes, all the players have changed, and you don't know anyone at the company anymore. In that case, call HR (a harder call), and lead with your previous experience, “Hi, I worked at YourCompany two years ago for five years, and I was wondering if you had any openings in my field.” Certainly, look on the jobs page for the company's web site, but if you know any of the HR people, try them directly. Some jobs aren't advertised at all.

It's harder to network with a company, even through HR, than it is with a person. If your ex-boss doesn't have any openings, make sure you ask if he/she knows anyone who does have openings that might fit your talents. It can be scary to call someone out of the blue, but remember that you know this person. This isn't a cold call; it's at least a lukewarm call, if not downright warm. If you left on good terms, it can be a hot lead.

I regularly network with previous employees. I'm happy they call, and I want to help them. I don't think I'm that unusual as an ex-manager.

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