Many of my clients ask me for the best way to get their foot in the door at a company, since I’m constantly reminding them that applying to jobs online should be their last resort. For most people, networking with people they don’t personally know and asking for job hunting help can be incredibly anxiety producing, but it’s not as hard as you think if you take the right approach.
I recently surveyed 20+ hiring managers across a range of industries to find out what made them most likely to help out a job seeker. Based on their feedback and my own experience, I discovered that the most successful job networkers were the ones who followed these 5 simple rules:
1. Make a clear connection (via email)
If you are not being introduced by a mutual connection and are reaching out on your own, I do not recommend calling people whom you don’t know. They may find it invasive and distracting and are highly unlikely to return your call. Email is your best friend in this regard. You can send one directly or via LinkedIn. An email will give the other person the time and space to read it and then choose when and how to respond. Most importantly, within the first sentence, be sure to let them know what connection you have with them (e.g. graduated from the same university, worked for the same company at different times, common professional social groups, etc.) in order to create relevance.
2. Flatter them
Learn something about the person you are trying to network with and sincerely compliment them on what impresses you. Certainly don’t overdo it, but flattering someone will get them to pay more attention to your message and your request. You are not blowing sunshine up their arse, but rather remarking on something that makes them stand out to you. One person wrote on my survey, “I am very motivated to help people when they are interested in my background and when what I specialize in can help them.”
3. Do your homework and ask for advice, not a job
Your first message should never be to ask for a job referral, but rather asking for very specific advice. Take the time to build rapport first so the other person will want to help you. People love the opportunity to share their opinion and give advice, but only if you are clear on what guidance you want from them. One person wrote, “I'm generally motivated to help people who have done some homework about the company…and potential opportunities. At least have a few questions prepared that help convey some of your top priorities in considering a company.” Another hiring manager wrote, “Make a clear effort to understand my business challenges and show how your skills can help.”
Many job seekers mistakenly think this is the time to pitch themselves. It’s not about you, it’s about them at this stage in the interaction. When in doubt, just remember this quote by Keith Ferrazi, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”
4. Be patient, persistent, and gracious
You are asking a very busy person to take time out of their day to answer your unsolicited email. Wrap up your email by offering to do something for them (e.g. take them to coffee or lunch) or to make it as easy as possible to help you. Acknowledging how limited their time is and being be grateful for any help they offer you is crucial. Give them 5 business days to reply to you, and if you have not heard back by then, send them a short message to follow up. It may even take 3 follow-ups. Persistence, when polite and understanding, can really pay off.
I know this sounds crazy but several of the hiring managers I surveyed said that some networkers didn’t follow up with them after they offered to help. Please don’t let this be you. EVER.
5. Good spelling and grammar are a must
This is total common sense but so often disregarded. If someone doesn’t take the time to proofread, it shows a lack of attention to detail and professionalism. It creates a very poor first impression. Try to avoid using slang, text-speak (LOL!), or emoticons. Be yourself, but try to avoid writing like you would talk to your friends. One last trick is to read your email aloud to help you notice if you have a wrong word or verb tense by mistake.
So, now you're ready to go out there and make meaningful connections that could lead to an amazing new job.
I want to hear your comments! Which tip(s) are you most likely to attempt during your next outreach?