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  • Diana Schneidman

Telephone the right person for freelance or consulting assignments

In an era of widespread corporate layoffs, it’s more important than ever to phone the right person within a company when you are going after freelance or consulting assignments.

For starters, the right person to talk to is not in Human Resources. True, sometimes when you call the receptionist, they automatically transfer your call to HR to take your application.

Almost every career advisor or resume writer will tell you to avoid HR like the plague. And how much more true that is when you freelance! Some HR contacts will take your info, though I doubt that they know what to do with it.

Other HR phone answerers will confidently assert that the company does not hire freelancers. Huh? How would they know?

Obviously you want to talk with someone in the department most likely to need your services. Whether you have a source for names (such as a professional membership or corporate directory) or are calling around the company for names or exploring the corporate website, it helps to have some idea of how far up the organizational pyramid you must climb to find someone with the authority to engage you.

If you are unsure of whom to talk to, it’s best to overshoot. Someone too high up the ladder can pass your name and contact info down. However, those on the bottom rungs fear that any talent they refer will facilitate their own layoff. They would rather be seen as indispensable than offer up the name of their own as-needed replacement. And if they do hand over your info, their “endorsement” does not lend prestige to your name.

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, which in this case are contacts. You may speak to an underling who brings your name to the boss or to the staff meeting. Perhaps someone higher up also has your name, more than likely because you contacted all involved. If one individual has taken up your case, a second contact may abandon you.

So for best results, cultivate one source in a company at a time (unless contacting departments or functions within a decentralized organization, in which case there may be no, or minimal, interaction between managers).

Watch for this problem when working from a professional directory in which several people from the same department are listed. Start by noting the possible interrelationships of the individuals, looking at job titles and even similarities among area codes and phone numbers to guess who works together. Then choose your champion from the most relevant titles, aiming at someone who appears to have the clout to choose you but ideally, not so much clout that they are entirely isolated from your function.

If you don’t hear anything from your preferred contact for three weeks or more, you can assume that no one knows who you are and your first contact has taken no action. In this situation, it may pay to call someone else from your list.

Originally posted 3-23-09

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