You may not realize it, but you probably network in some way every day. Anytime you make a new contact or connection, whether casually speaking with someone regarding a common interest or running into someone during a daily routine, you are essentially increasing your network. Everyone you know—and everyone each of those people know—are potential members of your job search network. The key is learning how to utilize your network to help you secure the job of your choice.
There are four types of network contacts.
Sources are people who have information about a particular company or organization you would like to work for. These contacts can let you know:
- Whether or not the company has any advertised vacancies, or will have any vacancies in the near future
- Who within the company is involved in the hiring process
- The kinds of skills hiring decision makers value the most
- Details about the workplace environment, pay, prospects for promotions, opportunities to learn new skills, and other information that will help you decide if it makes sense to invest time and energy pursuing employment with the company
Recommenders are people who can facilitate a meeting between you and one or more hiring decision makers by directly connecting you with them, by passing along your resume, or through a recommendation.
Hiring Decision Makers include people inside a company who are directly involved in the hiring process, including team leaders, supervisors, or department heads. (In a very small business, the owner may be the primary hiring decision maker).
Linkers are people who can introduce you to Sources, Recommenders, other Linkers, and in some cases to Hiring Decision Makers. When you begin to make your list of contacts, you may find many of the people will be Linkers. That's okay, because at least some of them will be able to connect you with others who may provide more valuable information or assistance.
A single contact can often play several roles. A Source, Recommender, or Hiring Decision Maker, for example, may also be a Linker, who can connect you to additional people who can provide information or recommendations.
One of the first steps in networking is to list all of the people you know who might be able and willing to assist you in your job search. Identify the members of your job search network, record basic contact information, and determine which of the four roles your contacts play.
You may consider individuals from the following groups as part of your job search network:
- Immediate family
- Aunts and uncles
- Cousins and distant relatives
- Friends (local and out-of-town)
- Neighbors (past and present)
- Friends of your parents
- Parents of your children’s friends
- Clergy or staff at your place of worship
- People you met through:
- Meetings of community groups
- Veterans organizations
- School-related activities (yours and/or your children's)
- Little League, Scouts, or other activities your children attend
- Political events
- Book Clubs
- Service or fraternal organizations and groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, etc.)
- Classmates (past and present)
- Teachers (past and present)
- Coworkers (past and present)
- Former supervisors or managers
- People you’ve met by volunteering
- Service providers, including your:
- Doctor or dentist
- Staff at retail stores where you shop
- Insurance agent
- Anyone else you periodically write a check to for a service or product
- People who share a hobby or interest
- Members of a sports team to which you belong
- People you talk to at the gym
- Members of professional associations to which you belong
Jobseekers are often reluctant to network because they are uncomfortable striking up conversations with new people or find it awkward to talk about themselves in ways that may feel like bragging. Fortunately, there are strategies to help you overcome these obstacles. In fact, you might find comfort in the fact that the most important networking skill is not talking about yourself—it's asking relevant questions and listening.
The first step in holding a productive networking conversation is providing a new contact with information about your professional background and goals in a quick and effective manner. This can be accomplished by providing what is called a 30-second elevator pitch.
Once you've successfully introduced yourself to a new connection, you should switch to fact-finding mode.
Linkers are people who can introduce you to sources, recommenders, other linkers, and, in some cases, hiring decision makers. Here are several questions to ask linkers after you’ve shared your 30-second elevator pitch.
- Do you know anyone with information about ____ (describe a company, occupation, or position you are targeting)?
- Do you know anyone who might know someone with information about the company/occupation/position?
- Can you think of any employers who could benefit from my capabilities?
- Can you think of anyone else I should speak with about employment opportunities?
- When I contact him/her, may I use your name?
Sources are people who have information about a particular company or organization that is of interest to you. Here are several questions to ask sources after you've shared your 30-second elevator pitch.
- What are the key challenges and opportunities facing the organization?
- What are the factors that drive profitable growth (if you're asking about a for-profit business) / help the agency accomplish its mission (if you're discussing a public sector or nonprofit organization)?
- What are the traits and skills that enable an employee to contribute to the success of your department or business?
- What training do new employees receive? What other learning opportunities do employees have?
- What opportunities for advancement or promotions exist here?
- What do employees have to do to advance positions within the company/agency?
- What kind of equipment or technology do employees use on the job?
- How would you describe the work environment?
- What does a typical work day look like? What is a typical work schedule? Do employees work different shifts?
- What is the range of wages or salaries that employees earn in ______ (describe the positions you are interested in)?
- How likely is it that the company will be hiring in the near future for the positions we’ve been discussing?
- What's the typical hiring process?
- Who is involved in the hiring decision?
- What's the best way for me to connect with him/her?
- Would you be willing to introduce me to him/her?
- Is there any other information about the company that I should know?
- Can you think of anyone else I should be speaking to about employment opportunities at the company?
- When I contact him/her, may I use your name?
Recommenders are people who can facilitate a meeting between you and one or more hiring decision maker via an introduction or recommendation, or by passing along your resume. Here are several questions to ask recommenders after you've shared your 30-second elevator pitch.
- Could you review my resume, point out any problem areas, or share suggestions for how it might be improved?
- What is missing in my resume that would make me a better candidate for the businesses you’re familiar with?
- Which capabilities or experiences would you suggest that I emphasize when I’m talking to the hiring decision makers you know?
- Would you be willing to deliver my resume and cover letter to any hiring decision maker you know?
- Would you be willing to introduce me to any hiring decision maker you know, either directly or via email?
If you have the fortune of connecting with a hiring decision maker—a person who is directly involved in the hiring process, including a supervisor or small business owner—he or she may want to meet you to share information about his/her company or to discuss the occupation of interest to you. If he or she has agreed to meet with you in this capacity, you should prepare yourself for what is called an informational interview.
As a general rule, if you are invited to attend an informational interview, you should respect the situation and not ask about job openings. Instead, you want to send the message that you are focused on helping the hiring decision maker and his or her department become more successful. This trait will set you apart from most jobseekers. By impressing the hiring decision maker with the following questions, the conversation may turn an informational interview into a job interview. Don’t be surprised if, after you’ve asked these questions, the hiring decision maker begins asking you questions about your experience.
- What are the most important opportunities and challenges facing your department/business?
- What are the factors that drive profitable growth (if you're talking to someone in a for-profit business) / help the agency accomplish its mission (if you're talking to someone in a public sector or nonprofit organization)?
- What are the traits and skills that enable an employee to contribute to the success of your department or the business?
- Why do customers do business with your company rather than a competitor?
- What can employees do to provide excellent customer service?
- What employee behaviors contribute to:
- higher productivity?
- lower costs?
- greater profitability?
- increased quality?
Hiring decision makers also have personal needs and interests, and they're eager to find and hire people who will make their lives easier. The following questions help uncover the skill sets hiring decision makers are looking for in their employees.
- What employee behaviors cause aggravation, hassle, or risk for you?
- What employee behaviors make your life easier?
- What are your personal on-the-job priorities? If I was working in your department, what could I do to help you achieve them?
The answer to the following question reveals whether or not the hiring decision maker feels you have the desired skillset for their company/agency.
- Do I have the skills and experience needed to benefit your company/agency? If not, what would allow me to make a more valuable contribution?
If for some reason you do not possess the desired skill set, that’s okay! You can either assure the hiring decision maker that you will work to obtain those skills or begin searching for a more suitable position.
Before making a final hiring decision, employers usually ask for the names of several references—people you have worked with who will vouch for your work ethic and character. It's a good idea to identify people with whom you have had a successful working relationship, and who are willing to share what they know about you.
Most employers will want to talk to three references. If possible, have four to six professional references ready to choose from, so you can rotate your references and avoid overusing any one person.
Talk to your potential references ahead of time and ask them for permission to give an employer their names and contact information. You can also remind them about your key strengths, successes, and experiences. Send them a copy of your resume, so they'll be aware of the information you've sent the potential employer.
If you are targeting a specific position, give your references a copy of the job description.
For each reference, provide:
- Their name
- Their job title
- The name of the organization they work for
- Work phone number
- Email address
- Relationship to you (supervisor, peer, subordinate, customer, etc.) and the length of time you worked with them