My colleague was lamenting how his networking efforts weren’t producing many job opportunities. He was afraid that his network was “tapped out.” I asked him how he was leveraging his network. What were the exact words he used when reaching out to people?
“Well, I email them my resume, and I ask them to send opportunities my way.”
It’s no wonder why he wasn’t getting much of a response, I thought. But my colleague, who went to top-tier schools for both his undergrad studies and his MBA, didn’t seem to realize what a big mistake he had made.
Simply emailing your network and asking for opportunities (a.k.a. jobs), is the wrong way to leverage your network.
Don’t get me wrong. People want to help. But if your request is to send job opportunities your way, you’ve just made it difficult for your contacts to feel helpful. They have to determine what opportunities may be a good fit for you, seek out those opportunities, assess whether you have the required skills to land an interview, and then forward it to you. That takes a lot of time and effort, and if any step in that process breaks down, they may not get to help you or feel helpful. You are setting them up for failure, which means that you’re setting yourself up for failure in your networked job search.
So, what should you do instead? Make it easy for them.
Make appropriate asks. Only the people closest to you, who have experience working with you, and think highly of you, are likely to put their reputation on the line to refer you to a job. For everyone else, referral is a high risk ask. On the other hand, introducing you to someone, for the purposes of sharing information, is much lower risk. You’re simply asking for a conversation, with no other expectations. If you end up not being a fit, there’s no harm done. Many people outside of our inner circle would be willing to introduce you to someone they know. If you’re reaching out to even weaker connections, you could make an even smaller ask, for contact information or ideas of organizations to look into.
Be specific. The recipient should have a clear idea of what type of information or connections you’re looking for. Back when my husband was looking for a job, I asked him what he was looking for. He said “Anything would help.” Well, saying “anything” doesn’t help me. I’m not going to introduce you to my entire network. He may have thought he was being open or flexible, but without any guidelines, when you ask for “anything,” you will get NOTHING. No one is going to go through the exercise of guessing what you want. So tell people exactly what you’re looking for. If you need some help doing this, check out my blog post on how to describe what you’re looking for.
Do some of the work for them. Online tools like LinkedIn have made it easy for you to search your network’s network of contacts for people you may want to connect with. When reaching out to your contact, one of the best things you can do is let them know that you found someone you’re interested in speaking with, and ask them whether they would be willing to connect you to that person. You could even provide your contact with a sample intro email. The less time your contacts have to spend helping you, the more likely they are to take action.
Your contacts want to help, and they will. You just have to make it easy for them to feel helpful.