In the mid-1990s I was in a startup that licensed the best selling job hunting book, What Color Is Your Parachute?. Our target market was job hunters, and our software was designed to help people find their next job. I remember reading through the book looking for advice from the author, Dick Bolles, who was one of the most recognized job hunting experts in the U.S. To my surprise, his advice - delivered through his book and eventually our on-site video shoot at his California home - could be distilled to this: the best way to find a job is to know someone who has one.
I remember thinking at the time: that’s it?!
But as the years went on, I began to appreciate the simplicity of the advice, since it cut to the heart of two job hunting truths: 1) most hiring managers would prefer a candidate they know or who is referred by someone they know, and 2) most job hunters use primarily impersonal means to find their next job (e.g. job boards, emails, social networks, recruiters).
So if you are looking for your next opportunity, I have some borrowed advice for you: it’s time to start networking. Yes, I know it can be uncomfortable, particularly for those of us of the technical persuasion. But start by realizing that hiring managers like me want you to come to us (unless you are not very good at what you do, in which case I recommend you talk to my industry peers 😉 ). Also, many of the available jobs are never posted publicly, and instead are created when a hiring manager finds the right person.
If you are unsure of how to get started, follow these simple steps:
#1: Set a Goal
Start your search by setting personal goals for networking; e.g. meet one new person in your industry per week. If you are out of work, you can increase the target meetings per week. If you are busy in your current job, you could make the goal every two weeks. But regardless of the frequency that works for you, set and measure yourself to networking goals.
#2: Identify Whom To Network With
Start building a list of the people you want to meet, leveraging any and all means to find revelant people in your industry (e.g. friends, LinkedIn, Facebook, or local papers and blogs). Sometimes you may start with a company that interests you, and search to find someone who works there; other times you will start with a specific person. It may be impossible to believe, but it doesn’t matter much whom you network with at first, just that you are consistently doing it. This Woody Allen quote “eighty percent of success is just showing up” is very appropriate for networking.
Reach out to your target people with a request to network. Don’t try to mask your purpose: we all know what you are doing. The good news is: most people enjoy meeting new people in their profession, and often networking opportunities can be beneficial to both parties. Emailing an offer to meet for coffee is usually sufficient. Alternatively you could ask for an introduction from a mutual acquaintance.
When you meet, be prepared to succinctly summarize your background and objectives for your job hunt. After that, just let the conversation flow. Assuming you are already in the profession in which you are networking, the odds are you will have plenty to talk about. There is only two rules for these meetings: don't ask for a job, and don’t end the meeting without asking if this person knows anyone else you should be talking with.
#4: Rinse & Repeat
Once you’ve started the networking process, go back to step #2 and repeat. If you’re doing it right, your list of the new people to meet will be growing larger than the list of the people you've met. You may even find that you are starting to enjoy talking to other industry professionals, as you gain invaluable insight into both your profession and the local job market. Assuming you make a favorable impression, you will also be building a network of professionals in your industry who will remember your name if they see an opportunity. More importantly, over time, your network and the insight you derive from it, will lead you to your next job.
Why Isn't It Working?
If your networking is not producing results, there are two likely reasons: 1) you have not been doing it long enough, or 2) you are doing it wrong. My advice for #1 is simple: keep at it. If you continue to find new relevant professionals in your industry to talk to but you are not uncovering new opportunities, it's quite likely you just need to give it more time. But if it is increasingly hard to find new people to meet, or the people you meet are not providing you any insight in your search, it's quite possible you need to make some adjustments. Are you talking to the right people? Are you making a favorable impression? Are you clear in what defining what you are looking for in your next opportunity? Are you adhering to the goals you defined for number of meetings per week?
One other tip: don't stop networking once you find your next job. Networking will help you be more effective in both your current position, and in your next one.
In the 15+ years I have been a hiring manager, I've reviewed thousands of resumes and interviewed hundreds of candidates. It's easy to miss a great candidate in the cacophony of a hiring process. But there is one sure way to get my attention, whether I have a current open position or not: come to me either directly or be referred by someone I know.
Some simple truths never change: networking remains the best tool you can use to find your next job.