how to network during a job search and get results

Put on a pair of rose-colored glasses, and a job search is an opportunity for expansion. Whether you arrive at your job search by necessity or choice, the strategy to achieve successful results is the same. And at the top of the strategy list is implementing a plan to reach out. Embodied in the phrase ’reach out’ is the idea of going beyond your usual range, and that’s one way the expansion element comes into play. In this post, I’ll be drilling down into the why, who, what, where and how often to reach out during a job search to get results, including the growth opportunities along the way.

why networking is important during a job search

When I coach new clients in career transition and gather details about their professional history, I ask them how they landed their last job. It’s a rare occurrence that someone tells me they applied for a job ‘cold,’ interviewed and got hired. The much more typical story is how a colleague, supervisor, friend or acquaintance who was working at a company initiated an internal referral that led to an interview. For this scenario to unfold, let me state the obvious: Others (beyond your immediate family) need to know you have an interest in new work opportunities. The benefit in communicating this to a range of people is that it broadens the circle of those who can keep their ears and eyes open to relevant job opportunities on your behalf.

related content: 5 lessons learned from successful job hunts.

who is your target audience for networking?

Across the board, there’s enormous value in reaching out during a job search. But, depending on your employment situation, your target groups may vary in terms of scale. If you’re still in a job while considering a company switch or a larger career change, and don’t want to alert your employer, discretion will be key. In this case, you’ll want to contact those whom you can trust not to divulge your exploration without permission. On the other hand, recruiters often get in touch with people who are currently employed, and that’s an accepted practice. So, I see no need to stay clear of those interactions. Assess organizations and individuals within your target companies to make sure your conversations can remain confidential.

When you’re in a job search and not employed, you can cast an almost infinite net. To get started, make a list of companies where you’d like to work. If nothing immediate comes to mind, a source of inspiration for this list could come from searching for ’top places to work’ and adding your geographic region. Pay attention to criteria that are important to you at this juncture, whether it’s company size, family-friendly institutions, firms within a reasonable commute (with work-from-home opportunities) or companies with products and services that you admire. You may not land a job at these places, but passion helps to build momentum, and it’s a great place to start. Concurrent with target companies are individuals who are doing something in the professional realm that moves you.

One of my favorite stories related to an outreach that got results is from my client Rachel, who lost her corporate job during the pandemic. Rachel realized she was ready for a big career change but wasn’t sure in what direction to go. One day, she was listening to a podcast and heard a dynamic speaker who had launched a startup that focused on giving people practical tools in their homes to shift from fossil fuels. Rachel was so inspired by this conversation that she reached out to the founder (without any prior connections to him), scheduled a conversation, was hired as an intern to learn the business and eventually moved into full-time paid employment where she’s now thriving.

With target list in hand and preferably using a tracking system like a spreadsheet, start mapping ways to reach these individuals and companies. Think about the various circles in your life, from the strongest ties, such as family and friends, to the larger communities in which you participate, like professional or alumni groups, houses of worship and exercise classes. Consider weaker ties, too, such as the shopkeeper in your favorite store or the neighbor with whom you walk your dog. As you assemble this list, pay particular attention to the ’connectors.’ Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘The Tipping Point,’ defines them as ’people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.’ Who knows whom? LinkedIn is an invaluable search tool for mapping connections such as these.

related content: why now might be the time for a career change.

what goes in your outreach?

The content of your outreach during a job search, as well as the vehicle (e.g., email, LinkedIn, text), must be tailored to the relationship. If it’s a strong tie, or at least an acquaintance who knows you well, the tone will be different than for someone you’ve never met. And yet, despite tailoring each communication, the basic elements will be similar:

  • Be concise: Get your point across quickly.
  • Establish your credibility: Even with someone you know, you’ll want to open with a persuasive sentence or two about your work history that clearly establishes your credentials, so that the recipient will want to pay attention.
  • Tie in their self-interest: This can be as simple as mentioning the name of the person who suggested you reach out or letting the recipient know of your passion for the company where they work or what they do (remember my client, Rachel). Understanding someone’s self-interest might require research. What are the company’s goals, their own pain points and how might you help?
  • Be clear about the ask: Action happens more quickly when the people you’re contacting – especially the busy ones – clearly understand the action step that you want them to take. I don’t suggest a statement as blunt as, ‘Can you hire me?’ In most cases, the initial point of the outreach will be to set up a meeting – either on the phone, by video conference or in person if the circumstances allow. In any case, you’ll want to be considerate of the recipient’s time. When I’m asking for a meeting, I almost always put the word ‘brief’ in front it. Make sure your request is gracious, while also being confident. And by confident, I mean starting from a mindset of knowing your intrinsic worth and that you will bring something of value to the meeting.

related content: how to learn to boast during a job search.

where will you be most effective?

Even though I’m comfortable with networking, I don’t like to make cold phone calls. I prefer to set up the reason, in writing, first. It allows me to collect my thoughts and be more succinct. If you are comfortable starting with the phone, go for it. These days, as that’s not the most typical mode of communication, it has the potential benefit of breaking through the noise. LinkedIn might be the most convenient route, but it’s not the most effective. Not everyone pays attention to their LinkedIn messages. Emailing is preferable, and if you don’t have someone’s email address, it’s worth putting in the effort to find it. If you’re more familiar with the contact and you know they respond best to texts, that’s an option. But with texts, you’ll have to be incredibly brief. I’ve used social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram when there are no other choices, but these are vehicles of last resort.

how often do you stay in touch with contacts?

When coaching clients ask me how often to reach out to people they’ve contacted who haven’t yet responded, it’s frequently combined with the sentence, ‘I don’t want to seem needy.’ The first way to approach that concern is to not speculate as to why you haven’t received a response. Imagining the reason why there appears to be radio silence is likely to lead to negative inner chatter, which doesn’t build confidence during a job search, and without tangible evidence, it’s usually for no good reason. Instead, I suggest using what I call polite persistence, which means gently following up on a regular basis (maybe once a week), with a one or two sentence message that references the original communication. I’m tenacious and I once continued to regularly communicate with a perspective company for almost a year before landing an important contract. Part of the reasoning behind polite persistence is that it shows initiative, not neediness. If the recipient is finding the outreach tiresome, they can always cut it off with a version of ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ And then, at least you’ll get closure.

multiple benefits from networking

Back to those rose-colored glasses, except with an actual story (not a fairy tale) from Cheryl, a client who just started a thrilling job after a grueling search. I asked Cheryl for the most important lesson she’d learned from her job search that she wanted to remember should it ever happen again. She responded with an answer that perfectly articulated the upside: ‘The biggest learning of this job search was that there is great value in networking beyond getting referrals, and that it should be part of daily life regardless of whether you are employed or unemployed. I've made really good friends in the process, learned how to ask for support, how to offer support, and maybe most importantly, how to see value in myself. We all have a story and experiences that happen for a reason and sharing with others makes a meaningful impact.’  

While outreach may seem like a daunting task at first, the experience will become more routine, and you’ll grow in confidence, with practice. The opportunity to expand comes into play as you rekindle relationships, nurture existing ones and create new connections. Stretching beyond your comfort zone during a job search is when the sparks and results start to happen.

wendy braitman.

career and executive coach

15 September 2021

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