| Refresh Your Career



How to leverage contacts in your network

Contacts in your personal network may be your most valuable asset in your job search. These are people who either are hiring, know people who are or who can give you valuable information about a career or specific job you are interested in.

So ideally you actually have people in your network - acquaintances such as former colleagues, customers, friends, golf buddies etc that you think would remember you if you call them up or email them. IF you don’t have such a network, don’t despair – I will write a post another day covering how to build a network.

Now how do you leverage that network in your job search?

You want to plan how to use the network – you cannot go back to the well endlessly so you need to get your approach right and then tap into them quickly.

Spell our your objectives

So what do you want to get out of the network? Spell out what your goals are, examples include

  • Learn more about a specific company, job, career etc.
  • Get specific data points you need in your decision making process, e.g. typical salaries etc.
  • Get specific leads for job openings, companies that might be hiring etc
  • Extend your network by asking for introductions to other relevant people

By having a firm understanding of what you want to get out of the exercise you will improve efficiency and avoid burning too much good faith in the process.

Map out who can best help you fill each objective

So now that you know what you want, you should map out your network – I suggest actually making a list on a piece of paper – and determine who can help you with which objective. If someone can’t help you, they should fall off the list for the time being.

Determine what format is appropriate to interact with a specific individual

Depending on what you are going to ask of them, how well you know them, where they are located and when you last spoke to them you will want to interact with each individual differently. Touchy, sensitive discussions are best done in person, or at least by phone, whereas quick cursory requests can be done by email etc. Also, if you haven’t talked to them in a long time, going in person is often better than just firing off a quick email. If it is really important it might be worthwhile to travel to see the person if they are further away. So if you want to see them in person, you need to chose the right format – invite them for lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks or just ask for a meeting? I usually found inviting people for a quick lunch the most effective – everyone needs to eat so they have time reserved for that anyway and people rarely turn down free lunch. Drinks might be more appropriate if you are friends with person or you know them socially.

Pre-groom the network

Next, you may need to prime the charge. If you are like me, and don’t take the time to keep up with everyone in your network and want to talk to someone you have neglected in the past, you may need to prepare them. In those cases, I might find an innocent reason to say hi a couple of weeks or months before I need to reach to them, e.g., by sending an email, forwarding an article, giving them a call to say hi, etc just to remind them that I am still alive and still remember them. It is important that this seems natural and not odd or hokey. If you can avoid that, then don’t do this step. But I personally feel sheepish asking for a favor (which is what you are essentially doing by leveraging the network) without having talked to the person in eons, so this technique allows me to break the ice before hitting them with the real request.

Reach out and work the network

Now when you know who to reach out to, what you want from them and how you want to engage them, you go on the offensive. Call, email or drop by the people you want to leverage and ask them outright want you want of them or ask them to schedule time for a brief call / lunch / dinner whatever you decided the best format is.

If you are scheduling time with them, you will need to tell them what this is for, for example “just catching up” or “I wanted to pick your brain about topic XYZ”.

When you actually talk to them, use the sandwich approach – spend some time on pleasantries, social gossip etc, then ask the meaty questions you have on your mind, and then after you have gotten what you needed from the conversation, switch back to small talk.

How to ask difficult questions

Sometimes you will want to ask your contact a difficult questions, for example whether they are hiring (or want to hire you), or something similarly awkward. In those situations, I find it easier to ask them indirectly.  E.g., instead of “I am looking for a job, do you want to hire me?”, I would say “I am looking for a job, would you know someone who might be interested in hiring me?”. By asking them for advice rather than a job, I still leave the window open for them to say “Hey, we are actually looking for someone now” while also allowing them to refer to someone else if they are not interested themselves.

Ask for other people talk to

Finally, at the end of the converstation you should always be asking something along the lines of:

“Thanks, this was very helpful – is there anyone else I should talk to about this? Anyone else who might be able to help me with my job search / need for information / etc?”

You should do this especially if you did not get what you wanted. Its an old sales technique – “OK, if you don’t want to buy from me, can you please give the names of a couple of people who would?”

Keep grooming the network

As you should at all times, but especially if your job search is still ongoing or recently concluded, you should keep your network well groomed: update them of your progress, have friendly conversations over time – not necessarily related to your job search – and most importantly, offer them help. In the end, you get much out of your network if you invest into it – show that you are thoughtful and helpful – and don’t chicken out even it requires effort.

Good luck!

Image by Noah Sussmann

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