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Houston, We Have a Problem. The Hook Statement and Three Ways to Improve Your Job Search.

Earlier in my career, I worked in sales for an enterprise software company. We began every fiscal year with a sales kickoff meeting designed to send us out the door ready to take on the world and grow the business in the coming year. Sales kickoff week always ended with a keynote speaker. Motivation was the goal. Our speaker budget was substantial. Colin Powell, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Phelps, to name just a few examples.

But the one speaker I remember most clearly, and will never forget, was Gene Kranz. The NASA Flight Director of Apollo 13 fame. As the lights dimmed, he walked onto the stage and said five words. “Houston, we have a problem.” For the next sixty minutes, I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and hanging on his every word. Emotionally connected to his story, I cared about the result even though I already knew the ending. Now THAT was a hook statement.

When you think about a hook, you envision pulling something or someone closer into your orbit. The hook at the end of the fishing line pulling that elusive fish into your boat. The hook line at the beginning of a novel that pulls you into the story and keeps you reading late into the night. The hook statement at the start of a speech that keeps you listening intently until the final word. Or the hook statement in your job search that pulls the target into your candidacy and makes them want to learn more about you.

Yes, the hook statement and your job search. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can’t get from “I need a job” to “I have a job” without a powerful hook statement. Hook statements play a central role at many stages of the job search process. Notice that I used the plural version of the word “statement.” To win the job search, you must adapt your hook statements to a variety of different job search situations. Let’s take a closer look at three examples. Each of these job search situations requires a slightly different implementation of the hook statement technique.

The Inward Facing Hook Statement

Before you hook the recruiter or the hiring manager, you first must hook yourself. Your job search is like a cross country road trip. You can choose to wander across the country from NYC to LA without any directions. You will get there, but it will take a long time, and you may make a lot of wrong turns. Or you can set your GPS for LA before you turn the key and get to your destination in the shortest amount of time. Your target job is the destination in your job search, and you have to care about getting to that destination.

Ask yourself why you want this job, this position, or this career path. What does it mean to you? Is it just a job or just a paycheck? If yes, that hook is not set very deep. You need an emotional connection to the work and the organization. I’m not talking about a dream job. Instead, I am referring to establishing a personal connection. A reason that gets you out of bed and excited for the coming day ahead of you.


Finish the sentence. “I want to be a [insert your target job title here] because [now do the heavy lifting and figure out your answer here]”

The Elevator Pitch Hook Statement

An elevator pitch is, at the most, only sixty seconds. What’s the chance I am going to lose my audience in that short amount of time? Pretty high if your audience is a goldfish or a human. A study by Microsoft found that the average human attention span is now down to only eight seconds. And coming in a close second, the goldfish at 9 seconds (now that is embarrassing).

A compelling elevator pitch should trigger an emotional connection with your target. Start your pitch with a hook statement that motivates the target to want to continue to listen and learn more about what you are selling, specifically you.

Example (a pitch for a person focused on a job in sales enablement):

From my years of working in sales, I have found that sales reps today are not getting everything they need from marketing to win in the field.

The Networking Outreach Hook Statement

Maybe you will get lucky and find your next job by just applying for jobs surfing the online job boards. But the odds say that you are more likely to win the job search through networking and a solid referral. To get the referral, you must develop and maintain a viable job search network. To build a network, you need a compelling networking outreach approach.

Not every potential contact you reach out to for an exploratory meeting is going to take a meeting with you. A batting average of .300 will get you in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Getting three out of every ten exploratory meeting requests to accept and meet with you will help you build a Hall of Fame-worthy job search network. It starts with research, then a little social selling to warm up a cold prospect, and finally close them with a strong hook statement in your outreach message. Sincere interest and a little bit of honest flattery can go a long way in this hook statement. Show and tell why you are genuinely interested in meeting.

Example (using that same sales enablement example from above):

I am reaching out to you because of your background and experience in sales enablement. I believe that your extensive knowledge of this quickly evolving function can serve as an excellent guide for me in my career journey. I would also value hearing about how you began your career in sales enablement.

If you have reached the end of this article, that means one of two things. Either you are a sucker for punishment, or my introductory paragraph was a powerful enough hook statement driving you to read the rest of the article. Whatever the reason, you made it. Now do me two favors. Share this article with your network and add your favorite hook statement or strategy in the comments below. Here’s to more fish on your job search line.

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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