Finding hidden opportunities

From the October 2023 print edition

When I was growing up, my father owned an auto service centre. After school I would walk to the garage. If I had homework, I could sit in the office to work on it. If not, the expectation was that I put on some coveralls and got to work.

Generally, the tasks were things like restocking hardware bins, filling out purchase orders for inventories that needed replenishing, cleaning and organizing the shop, and maybe the odd oil or tire change. Looking back, a few of those tasks were my early introduction to supply chain. It gave me a good work ethic.

Eric Woollings is a supply chain professional with over two decades of experience, most recently in warehousing and distribution optimization consulting.

In my early teens, I discovered the job board at the employment centre, where farmers posted the need for day labourers. It was hard work walking behind a tractor picking rocks out of fields or tossing hay bales onto trailers, then loading them into the barn.

Essentially, it was material handling. By day’s end, I got a handful of cash. Sometimes, I was invited back the next day. The transaction was my time and energy exchanged for money. That was my introduction to the job search process. Things haven’t changed much.

I still go to a job board, for example LinkedIn or Indeed, where employers post their needs and describe responsibilities and expectations. But it is not as simple as showing up at the employer’s location, where you’re given the job. It’s more complex now.

Starting the search
The first and most important step for me was to plan. I had to decide what type of work I wanted.

My experience is almost entirely supply chain and I wanted to continue in this area. I had to do some self-assessment. I made use of online tools and books. I sought others’ input. I wanted a role where I could use my critical thinking skills while helping others to develop. I wanted to define strategy and build a high-performing team. I determined my target.

I then went to the job boards but resisted the urge simply to apply.

I made note of the criteria for the jobs I was targeting, paying attention to the keywords and phrases in the descriptions. Then I refreshed my resume, ensuring to include these keywords and phrases. I sought input from professional resume writers and recruiters. Frequent advice was to ensure that my LinkedIn profile, resume, and cover letter were concise, as their purpose was to sell me.

Recruiters often use LinkedIn to filter candidates. I used the features to ensure that I was presenting myself in the best possible light. I also built a simple matrix to track the jobs to which I applied. My intention was to find a contact or connection to the job that I could contact and request a referral, or at least get some insight.

Along the way, I used skills in my job search that I had developed during my years in supply chain.

I was essentially following an RFP process. For example, I was determining my criteria (for a new position) and identifying a list of suppliers (of jobs) to invite to participate.

It was not always easy, and there were moments of discouragement. Receiving no response, or worse, generalized rejection letters, can be demoralizing. It was important to take breaks and to reward myself for the effort. Daily, I made a point of stepping away from the effort for a few minutes. This often involved going for a long trail walk. It also required patience. Much like the RFP process, I often had to follow up with employers and sometimes cross them off the list.

Forging connections
Networking was critical. I reached out to people I hadn’t spoken with in years because I knew that they had potential influence in my landing my target role. Who in supply chain management hasn’t done that on occasion? We all have some connections that we haven’t spoken with in too long but, when the need arises, for example when a critical shipment gets held in customs and we have to reach out to a secondary source of supply, we humble ourselves and make the request.

Networking also opened opportunities that were not yet posted. About 70 per cent of job openings are not advertised on external job boards. Connecting with people within my network and letting them know of my desired targets was
a great way to get visibility into some of these “hidden” job opportunities.

Apparently, around 80 per cent of job openings are filled due to a relationship or referral.

The job search process has become more complex than riding my bike to a farm. But it is still the same concept. Put in the time, stay focused, do the legwork, and the result will be worth the effort.

Perseverance pays off. Look forward to the moment when you get to award your services to the successful employer.