It’s time you faced it. If you’re having trouble landing a great-fit job, you need to learn how to network.
You’ll probably have to do a lot of networking to find and land your next gig . . . unless you’re very, very lucky.
So, get your head out of the job boards and stop wasting so much time sending your resume out in response to online job postings.
Did you know that, although the vast majority of executive job seekers use job boards to find jobs, only a very small percentage, around 5-10%, will land jobs directly through them?
First things first. Don’t start your job search without knowing what kinds of job(s) you want and which companies and organizations will provide opportunities that mutually benefit you and the employer.
That requires targeting and researching, say, 15-20 companies, on how you can help them meet their current needs and challenges. In other words, determine what makes you a good hiring choice for them.
Hop onto the job boards for company research but, please, don’t be tempted to spend the biggest chunk of your job search efforts responding to postings.
Your mission is to use your research to help you define your personal brand around what differentiates your unique value from your competitors, and create your resume, biography, LinkedIn profile, and other career materials.
Then you’ll network your way into the companies you’ve targeted your job search materials towards, whether or not they’ve posted openings for jobs you want.
Circumvent the gatekeepers for as long as possible.
You’ll probably have to deal with human resources and executive recruiters at some point, but try to first become at least a somewhat known entity within your target companies.
Identify and connect directly with people at your target companies − hiring decision makers and other employees at almost any professional level − where they hang out online and offline. LinkedIn (company) Pages and each company’s website will help you find them.
You may not know that one of the best ways to land a job at one of your target companies is through a referral from an employee. Employers are more attracted to people referred by their own employees because they feel they already know them. And the referring employees may receive a monetary reward for bringing in a good-fit candidate. Everybody wins.
This proactive approach will lead you into the goldmine of “hidden jobs” at your target companies.
What If You Hate Networking?
If you’re like lots of people, you dread that aspect of job search, even though you know you need to do it.
A Harvard Business Review article offered some clever and easily actionable ways to excel at networking, both online and in-person:
Look for islands.
Marissa King, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, hates networking but has been researching it for more than 15 years. She found that:
“What we know from research is that people don’t form walls or oceans. They actually tend to clump together in small groups. So really, it’s not an ocean of people, it’s only little islands. People almost always interact in groups of two or dyads.”
Her tactic when seeing islands of people at an event: look for a group of odd numbers, for example, 3, 5 or 7 people. In those groups,
“There’s someone who really isn’t a part of the conversation, and they are likely looking for a conversational partner.”
Networking doesn’t have to involve meeting new people.
With virtual networking, there’s great power in our existing networks. And one of the most sensible and wise things to network better is to tap dormant ties.
A study asked people to make a list of 10 current connections and 10 people that they haven’t reached out to in 2-3 years. Participants were then asked to reach out to those people for advice or help. They found that dormant ties were extraordinarily powerful in that they provided their connections with more creative ideas, and more surprisingly, the trust within those relationships had endured.
Turn it into a game.
Jerry Dischler, vice president of product management at Google is an introvert who came up with a unique way to make networking less intimidating when attending events with sometimes thousands of new faces. This also helps distract him from the fear that goes with attending large events:
He pretends to be an extraverted character in a video game and scores points by talking to new people.
Don’t stress yourself with preparing for small talk.
Kevin Rose, an angel investor in Facebook, Twitter, and Square and founder of the social news site Digg, may appear extremely confident. But he describes himself as socially awkward.
“I try to find something that is not small talk but is also a mutual kind of interest. There’s a bunch of wacky things that I’m into and so when people say, ‘What have you been up to lately?’ I could respond with something like how I am trying to inoculate tree trunks to help grow Lion’s Mane mushrooms. And typically, someone responds with, ‘Wow, tell me more.’ Or they will share one of their wacky interests with me.”
Prior to events, he spends time consciously thinking about the various activities he has been engaging in that might be of interest to the type of people he will be meeting.
How to Network into Great-Fit Executive Jobs
1. Be ready to tell people how they can help you.
Just as you need to be prepared – through your industry and company research – to speak intelligently about trends and issues impacting your target market, you need to be prepared to speak intelligently about yourself and your value in the marketplace.
If you can’t specifically tell people what you’re looking for, they won’t know how to help you.
Relying on your targeting and research work, you should be able to easily craft a succinct statement that reinforces your personal brand and expertise, and be ready to use it at any time. Some call this your “elevator pitch”. It should be structured something like this, with your own adjustments, of course:
“I’m an expert in business transformation and high growth – the turnaround guy who rescues projects no one else can. I’m looking for a VP or CIO position, with emphasis on (specific job focus), at a rapidly-expanding global pharmaceutical company in the greater Los Angeles area.”
Make it vibrant, but keep it short and to the point. Practice it many times until it becomes second nature and flows easily.
2. Connect more deeply with the people you already know.
Reconnect with and revive your existing network. If you’re like many executives I speak with, you’ve neglected these people because you had a job and didn’t think you needed them or you just lost track of them.
This happens to the best of us. It’s okay to circle back to them. Briefly apologize for not re-connecting sooner. Check in with them and find out what they’re up to and update them on what you’ve been doing.
But don’t then rudely burst into a request for them to help you get a job. Reconnect first and revive the relationship. Then you can ask them if they have any connections at your target companies. And see if they’d be willing to recommend you and/or write you a letter of introduction, stating some of your qualifications.
Also, reach out to former clients and vendors, professional associations, community groups and lifestyle groups.
3. Cast a far-reaching net to build out your existing network with fresh faces.
Your existing network will only take you so far. At some point, you’ll have to try to connect directly with people you don’t know . . . in-person and online.
The following are networking tips to help you reach out to and engage people you already know and those you don’t.
Where to Connect and Network
The gold standard for executive networking. If you’re not there already participating in Groups, posting updates, reacting to others’ posts and reconnecting with people you know, and making new connections, it’s time to get busy. Leverage LinkedIn to network towards making first degree connections with people at your target companies.
Search Twitter for your target contacts. Follow and retweet them. Also look for your target companies themselves, job search experts, and job boards. They’re tweeting job openings, offering advice and resources, and much more. An active Twitter presence also shows you’re an up-to-date, social media-savvy candidate.
Facebook and Other Social Networks
Each one offers its own benefits. Decide how much time you can allot to social networking and which ones will work for you.
Blogs and Online Media
If your target people blog or write articles on sites, post comments that reinforce your brand and promise of value, and keep you top-of-mind with them.
Relevant Professional Associations
Hobnob with other subject matter experts and thought leaders. Join committees. Write articles within your areas of expertise for their newsletters and websites. Mentor a new member and/or less experienced professional.
People at Work
Get to know those around you – your co-workers, vendors, customers, and people in other departments.
Real-life Networking Events
Don’t overlook opportunities to meet and make connections in-person at industry trade events, conferences, and local commerce events.
Don’t Neglect Informal Networking
Although reaching out and connecting with people in professional settings is critical, don’t neglect the people you know outside of work . . . and their personal and professional connections.
Noting that many people land jobs through informal networking, job search expert Alison Doyle suggests:
“Contact everyone you know. You may be surprised by the people they know. Make yourself pick up the phone and call. It helps to assign yourself a quota of calls to be made each day. The more phone calls you make, the easier it will become.
If you are attending a holiday gathering or any other type of party, it is appropriate to mention in casual conversation that you are seeking employment. Accept all the invitations you receive – you never know where or when you might meet someone who can provide job search assistance!”
Volunteer Your Time and Expertise
Connect on a local level by volunteering. Tap into your areas of expertise and personal passions to lead and/or participate in community events, PTA efforts, organization Boards of Directors, fundraising efforts, sports activities, etc.
Reach Out Directly to Hiring Managers
Along with contacting hiring managers and recruiters directly on LinkedIn, there are other ways to find and open communications with them.
Executive resume writer Lisa Rangel offered some old-school and new-school tactics to reach out to hiring managers, once you have their names:
Pick up the phone and call them. Don’t have the number? Call their company and ask for their extension or direct line.
LinkedIn introduction. Look for their connections and see if you have anyone in common who will make an introduction.
Facebook personal page, Twitter account, Instagram, etc. If they have social media accounts other than LinkedIn, reach out directly to them there.
Company bio page. Check to see if there’s a bio for them with contact info.
Skype. Search Skype to see if they have an account and call them.
Good ol’ email:
“Pop their name, the company name/url and the word “email” into the search engine box and see whether their email address is published online anywhere. NO dice? Change out their name with a common name, like Mary, Steve or something like that alongside the company name and the word “email” – see if an employee named Mary or Scott’s email address shows up in the results—and now you have the email format to mimic with your contact’s name. Another option if the name does not work is to use a department name with the company name and email, like sales, accounting or client services. An email address for someone in one of these divisions may work, too, to identify the corporate email format to mimic.
You can search for email addresses too through third-party tools, including email finders like AeroLeads and Clearbit.”
Send a snail-mail note card or typed letter. So few people communicate this way anymore. If you do, your effort will stand out. Obviously, you’ll need to track down a physical address for them. The company website may have one.
How To Keep Your Network Engaged and Happy with You
Practice “give to get” networking.
Approach new contacts with the attitude “how can we help each other?” Don’t expect favors without giving something in return. Networking that works for everyone is all about helping, sharing, finding common ground, and being a good listener.
Be kind, take it slow.
Keep in mind that many of the people you want to network with are probably being tapped by more job seeking connections than ever before for advice and leads. Don’t be offended if they don’t respond. They may not have the time.
Be a good listener.
People remember those who give them that boost by being truly interested in what they have to say. Good listeners set themselves up for reciprocity in networking. They’re much more inclined to keep engaged listeners top of mind when they hear of an opportunity that may be a good fit for them.
Nurture relationships by staying in touch.
Send birthday, anniversary, and holiday cards by regular mail. Email them with links to blog posts and articles you know they’ll like. Let them know about upcoming industry events, trade shows and other events of interest. Pick up the phone and call people sometimes.
Be friendly and upbeat.
Nobody likes a downer who constantly complains about how bad things are out there.
Say thank you a lot – in person, on paper, and digitally.
This is one of the most neglected networking best-practices. Nothing shows your appreciation better than a hand-written, regular-mailed thank you note for an introduction, kindness or special gesture. And remember to extend your thanks and compliments to presenters and contributors at industry events, and anyone whose work was valuable and impressed you.
Final Thoughts on How To Network
Circle back to your established, trusted network, while reaching out to new people in new places.
Strategically spreading your personal brand and promise of value across diverse outlets online and offline will link you to opportunities that otherwise may have been invisible to you. You just never know who may lead you to a key decision maker and when a great opportunity may literally fall in your lap.