Networking is often seen as a heavy-handed, all-about-me transactional job search approach. And I agree. I believe there’s a better way.
Building relationships instead of networking is a key part of the job search and career planning programs I co-lead at UPenn’s Wharton Executive MBA Program in San Francisco. It’s also a core piece of my career coaching practice.
A recent client proves it.
A two-decade sales veteran at a Fortune 100 company, he would often reach out to his network, and it proved beneficial when he was laid off. This yielded almost 20 informational interviews or coffee meetings. From that came eight job opportunities. My client narrowed his focus and went through four full interview cycles, getting a job offer on the fourth. He never looked at a job board and only applied online when internal referrals advocated for him.
He followed this coaching model:
• Reach out
• Connect and share
• Follow up
The steps look simple to some and daunting to others, but it’s doable even if you’re shy.
Identify: Who Can Help You?
Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career, by David Burkus, is a terrific book that streamlines the process on who to contact, focusing on “weak ties.” These are the people who you know but have lost touch with. Often, they have a different view of the marketplace and you.
Here’s a safe, incremental plan built on practice and success. The focus: Start with familiar, local people and move outward.
• Friends and coworkers
• Acquaintances and referrals (weak ties)
• Leaders and admired people
Friends and coworkers already know you and are naturally inclined to assist. They’re also great people to share your story with. Encourage them to comment on your thoughts and ideas. This makes it easier to move on to people you have less of a direct relationship with.
Acquaintances and referrals are the core of weak ties. Having practiced with friends and coworkers, it’s easier to reach out and engage. This is the major group to focus on.
After polishing your skills, why not reach out to leaders and other admired people? There can be surprising results.
My client had a great experience with this. He knew an industry leader and reached out to him. The leader then sent my client’s resume to the founder and CEO of a well-known company. Within days, two senior leaders reached out to my client and said, “Our CEO wants us to talk to you.” My client didn’t join but was amazed at the power of solid relationships.
Reach Out: Be Compelling And Clear
Craft a simple, easy-to-read email that makes a good case to speak with you. Remember, this isn’t a sales pitch, just a chance to speak with someone you respect and value. Here are the components to a good reach-out email:
• Who you are
• How you and they are connected or share common interests
• What you’d like to discuss
• All the scheduling and logistics
In short, make it compelling, and show value and interest. Most of all, make it simple for them. Explaining who you are should be one to two sentences on your background and interest areas. Be factual but upbeat. Make sure you add in common connections, shared interests or education. Be clear and specific about what you want to discuss.
It’s important that you handle the logistics, not them. Keep the dialogue short, for example, a 10- to 15-minute call. Show respect for them and their calendar.
Connect And Share: Ask Solid Questions
When you meet or speak on the phone, remember it’s a conversation, not a pitch. Focus on listening; you’re meeting to hear their thoughts and ideas. Be well prepared, and have questions ready. Some examples:
• What makes you optimistic about this role/company/industry?
• What concerns do you have about this role/company/industry?
• What drew you to your role/company/industry?
• What ideas or advice do you have for someone interested in this role/company/industry?
Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions on thoughts and ideas they share. Ask clarifying questions that help you integrate. Use the information shared to explain again your core reason for connecting.
Request: Your Ask
There’s a bit of an art to asking for something. It requires a clear request, not a vague idea. Typical asks are:
• A referral or introduction to another company or person.
• Some ideas on roles/companies/industries to consider and what steps to take.
• Sponsorship for a role within their organization.
Be respectful and make sure it’s an appropriate request. Give them permission to say no, and thank them no matter what the outcome of the request is. You may be pleasantly surprised when you ask with genuine sincerity.
Follow Up: Give Back
The difference between networking and relationship building is how you stay in touch. Besides thanking them in an email, offer to be their “eyes and ears” in the areas you are exploring. Commit to periodically sharing updates on your search and what you’ve learned. This helps them stay in touch. Sending articles and observations are good ways to become trusted and respected.
Think about career networking as a crawl, walk, run sequence. It takes practice, but the short-term and long-term returns can be career changing.