In my previous post, I made the case for automating low-ROI job search activity. In particular, I discussed minimizing time spent on job boards and online applications as this method produces meagre results in terms of interviews and offers. It also completely bypasses the greatest source of jobs for most executives: referrals to the hidden job market—or those jobs that are never published.
Note that automating job board monitoring and applying to posted positions does not entirely eliminate these strategies, but enables you to focus the bulk of your efforts on the highest-ROI job search activity.
What activity is that you ask?
The one proven to be more successful in delivering interviews and offers: networking.
Do I mean amassing LinkedIn connections or seizing as many business cards as can fit into your pockets to someday pester people you don’t know for favors and job leads? No. Not what I mean.
I mean the kind of networking that is based on genuine relationships that take time to build. And as we all know, time is a finite resource, hence the need to automate low-ROI time suckers.
The same way you can’t step into a fresh leadership role and gain buy in and strategically influence people from day 1 of employment, you can’t unlock the opportunity-delivering potential of networking on day 1. In business, you need to first understand the stakeholder landscape (who’s who) and gain trust through relationship building to drive meaningful change. The same is true for your job search.
What effective networking looks like in practice
Before you take action, take stock of your mindset. For the time being, remove your networker hat and go back to the basics of who you are. (Hopefully you’re likeable. It helps!) Try to leave your job hunt on the back-burner. Reset your objective as follows: My immediate goal is to learn as much as I can about companies I’d like to work for and people who work in them, approaching each new contact with genuine curiosity.
Next, set some realistic expectations. This endeavor requires focused research, determination, and consistency. True relationship building is about more than making time in your schedule for a monthly networking event.
Once your mind is in the right place, you’re ready for this 6-step plan of action:
1. Build a list of target companies and target people, giving preference to those in your target functional area, and thoroughly researching them. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for identifying and researching target people.
2. Reach out first to people you already know. Explain your goal: to learn more about certain companies and meet insiders. Frame your request as preliminary research more than “hook me up with your contacts so I can get a job!” A good method is to share your target company list and ask your contacts to have a look at it, to see if their network overlaps in any way with your list.
3. Request short meetings with your target people. If you’ve managed to get warm introductions through mutual connections, great. If not, reach out cold. In either case, these people don’t know you from Adam, so request a brief meeting to hear about their experience with the company, in their role, etc. (Note: this is sometimes called an informational interview – although I believe that language is high-pressure and closes more doors than it opens).
Pro tip to get better results: give people an out. Not everyone will want to meet with you at this stage. Tell them that you’re happy to provide a question or two via email that they can respond to when it’s convenient for them, if a brief call is not convenient. An email start to a relationship is still better than no start at all.
4. Meet up and focus on friendly relationship building over self-interest. Direct your curiosity toward learning about who they are as a person and what it’s like for them to work for the company. If you can venture into conversations about challenges, culture, or what’s on the horizon for their company, department, etc., this information can be a springboard for you to serve as a resource or share your expertise. Avoid asking for favors, such as advance knowledge of job opportunities or connections to hiring managers at this stage.
5. Nurture the budding relationship with follow up. If you were listening carefully during your conversations, your follow-ups will be more meaningful (sharing articles, resources, or reflections on the conversation). But the point is, keep the conversation and relationship alive. In your follow ups, demonstrating gratitude for the time they spent with you goes a long way.
6. Revert back to the people for help only after multiple exchanges without favor requests. When an interesting job ad appears or when the company announces they are expanding their team on LinkedIn (which you’ll know about because you’re carefully following your target companies), ask if they have an employee referral program, if they know whom you could speak to directly about a role, or if they have any advice for securing an interview.
If no jobs appear that you can ask about, come back after multiple exchanges for an introduction to a colleague in the area you’d like to work in, as a means of gathering more information about the company.
If you are networking effectively using this 6-step plan, you will be actively pursuing dozens if not hundreds of target people, so get your Excel spread sheet out and track everything. Notice that this system implies a significant delay between when you first reach out and when you ask for help, so you need to get started sooner rather than later. The opportunities that unfold will be proportional to the time you spend.
The steps I’ve outlined above require time and organization, but will yield far more results than hours dumped into monitoring job boards and flinging your resume at any opportunity you find, without any personal, human connection. Too much time spent on those low-ROI activities exacts an opportunity cost from your people-outreach priority which facilitates your access to both posted and not yet-posted positions.