Thursday, April 17, 2008

How to do a networked job search

I've had to do a networked job search several times in my life... and honestly, I had no idea what I was doing when I first started. Hopefully this will help you if you find yourself jobless and jobhunting.

1. Be patient. Finding a job takes time.
Expect to spend about 6 months (on average) before you land the job of your dreams.

2. Write down your goal/dream job.
I think it is helpful you write down a vision of what your perfect job is going to be. Be as specific as you can. That way, when the right opportunity presents itself, you are able to recognize it immediately and respond appropriately.

If you don't know what you are looking for, write that down too. Basically, come up with a goal. Maybe you are wondering whether a career in advertising is right for you. Or whether you should go into screenwriting. Whatever, just know what your goal is.

Be sure to go back and refine your goal as you continue meeting people and networking.

3. Make a list of companies and people you are interested in.
I created an Excel spreadsheet and put down every single company in the space I wanted to work in. I then tried to locate a person within the company that would be relevant for me to speak to. I found people by several sources.

  • Company website. Go to the company's website and see if there are employee names. Usually companies will list their top management or other professionals.

  • LinkedIn. Search your connections on LinkedIn to see if there are people in your network that work at the target company.

  • Alumni database. Go through your school or former employer's alumni database and search for people that work at the company of interest. You might also search by industry or by city/state.
    I usually like to target recent graduates first, because they are closer to your situation and often just went through a job search themselves. However, talking to older graduates works as well. Actually I tend to like going very young or more senior. Younger people because they are more similar to you. More senior people because they might have more free time (especially if they are nearing retirement) and because they might be interested in mentoring a eager young person. Do what you are most comfortable with.

  • Trade associations. A lot of people are members of trade groups. Find the trade group for your target industry or profession and see if you can find people to talk to that way.

  • Your friends. Tell people about your job search. Tell them what you are looking for. Most of the time they will give you some ideas of places and companies to look. Or good people to talk to. You will be surprised at how even the most random people might have good suggestions. Seriously!

4. Make initial contact with your target.
Set some sort of goal for yourself in terms of the number of outbounds you want to do per week or per day. I usually try to send out one or two emails a day. If you do too many, you will have too many meetings and not enough time to research properly. If you do too few, you will not have enough new conversations.

I usually do this through an email. I will send an email to the prospect with something very specific in my subject line and usually trying to reference something we have in common.

For example, I will put "From [school name] Graduate". Or I will put "Referred by [person name]". Basically you want to entice your target into opening the email from you.

Read the biography of your target and try to come up with a way that you are connected to the person. Maybe they have a hobby similar to yours or they have experiences similar to yours. Other areas of commonality might be school, former employer, mutual contact, etc. The more you have in common with your target, the better. You can Google their name, look on LinkedIn or read their website biograpihes.

For example, one time I contacted a person who also is passionate about the paperless office. He had purchased a Fujitsu SnapScan, and I had one too. So in my email to him, I mentioned my scanner.

My favorite is to have a friend make the connection. If a friend can introduce you over email, your prospect is more likely to respond. Again, LinkedIn works great for surfacing unknown connections. If you can even just get the name of a person who you mutually know, that will also increase their likelihood of responding.

(If your friend makes an introduction, respond IMMEDIATELY. Your friend is doing a favor by making an introduction. Be responsive! Write back right away and thank your friend for the introduction. Propose a next step or meeting.)

Figure out their email address. If you don't know it, try different combinations. Usually email addresses are something like the below for a theoretical Jane Smith:

  • format example











I would try sending one email at a time to each of the above. (I am sure you can come up with more variations to the ones I've listed.) If the email doesn't go through, you will usually get some kind of bounce error or something from their email server. Then you can try the next email variation on your list.

What do put in your email:
Keep your initial contact email brief. I try to limit it to 3 paragraphs.

In my first paragaph, I introduce myself and explain why I am contacting them. Always have a reason why. Maybe you want to ask them about their career and their company. Also mention in the first paragraph what you have in common - again that might be school, former employer, interesting hobby, anything! Tell them what you are looking for. I tend not to be as blunt as saying "I am looking for a job from you" but instead will say "I am looking for a job in xyz and am interested in asking for your advice on how to approach a job search in this area." Flatter them. You want to talk to them since you think they are will have interesting and helpful information.

In my second paragraph, I will put some background on myself. This will be a few sentences on where I went to school, my prior work experience, some relevant skills. This should be sort of a mini-pitch for you.

In my third paragaph, I outline next steps. I say I'd like to get coffee with them for 20 minutes and ask them for career advice. I provide my contact information and thank them for their time.

5. Wait for them to respond.
Sometimes they take a while. This can be discouraging. If you don't hear from them in 2 weeks, you could try re-sending your email with a "I know you must be extremely busy, but..."

Or you can try to find another way in. Look for another person you know in common and see if they will introduce you. Lurk around where they might be (of course, do not stalk your target.) Create situations where you will run into them, say at a conference or networking event.

Don't give up! Most people are nice and they want to help others. If you are persistent and sincere in your efforts, they are willing to help.

You can also try calling them. I usually do not do this, but it depends on the situation. Call them early in the morning before their assistant has arrived. Or call them later in the evening, after their assistant has left. I would recommend only leaving a message 1 time. From then on, just call and try to reach them but don't leave a message.

6. Schedule a meeting.

Basically they respond to your email or other efforts and agree to chat with you. Usually I try to as quickly as possible transition the scheduling to their assistant. I find that going back and forth with your target on a time can quickly be annoying/tedious for them and it is better if you can work with their PA to find a time. Assuming you are actually contacting multiple people a day, your schedule is busy and you might not be able to make the first time suggested, although I try to be as accommodating as possible. (That means I have done early morning breakfast meetings, which is painful, but necessary.)

Also, I think an in person meeting is best. But, phone is okay if that is the only thing possible. Be flexible.

7. Prepare for your meeting or phone call.
Do your homework! This step is really important.

Know why you want to talk to this person. Have a goal.
Don't just talk to them and be unfocused and all over the place. What do you want to know from this person? How can they help you in your search? Figure this out AHEAD of time.

Look on Google News or Factiva for information on the person, their company and the industry. Know what is going on.

You do not want to waste their time OR your time.

8. Go to your meeting prepared with questions.
This is how I usually proceed.

I start with a short pitch on my background and what I am looking for. You want to give the person context and you also want to begin to "sell yourself."

Then I ask them:

  • Tell me about your career path to date. How did you get to where you are?

  • Why did you choose to do [xyz career] instead of other career paths?

  • What do you do on a day to day basis?

  • What do you like best about your job?

  • What do you like least about your job?

  • What is your advice to an aspiring [xyz]?

  • Is there anyone else you would recommend I speak to? [Asking this question is great because one meeting will lead to another meeting.. this is a great way to increase your contact base.]

Also, demonstrate your knowledge. If you did the step above, you did your homework. You know stuff about the person, their company, the industry... demonstrate that you know what is going on!

9. Follow up!
This step is critical. Usually I write a thank you note the day of or the day after the meeting. I reference some of the things we discussed in our meeting and I thank them for their time. I also mention any follow up items. A lot of times, the target will have brainstormed a few ideas in terms of firms that are good, persons to meet, industry associations to join, etc. If they said they would make an introduction, follow up with them to remind them!

I also state that I'd like to keep in touch with them and also ask them if there is any way I can be helpful to them.

10. Stay in touch
This is also very important and difficult to do. Basically you want to remind your new contact of your existence and desire for a job in their field without getting on their nerves. You basically want them to **remember you** if/when they hear about a job opportunity in your area of interest.

Great things to do include:

  • Sending a relevant article if you see one

  • Staying up-to-date on news about them, so you can send them a congratulatory note (assuming the news is good of course!)

  • Pinging them with relevant news on you, especially if your status has changed

  • Introducing them to other people which might be helpful for them to know

  • Sending them links to interesting research

Basically you want to be helpful to them, while reminding them about you.

I think sending an article or note once every month or two is a good timeframe. More than that and you might get annoying. Obviously you will have to figure out what works for you.

11. If you do get a job, update them!
Thank them again for helping you and let them know what you are doing.

Addendum. I know I didn't mention anything about the actual interview and getting a job part. Usually what happens is one of the people you've met over the course of this networked job search comes across a job posting and thinks of you. It might be a job at their company or it might be at another place. They will forward the posting to you and either invite you to interview or they will recommend you somehow.

Then it is showtime. Time for you to go in for a real interview for an actual job... and fingers crossed, you will get hired!!

The sad, hard part about the networked job search is that it is not like an on-campus interviewing process where you get a lot of visibility on your progress. There is no round 1, round 2, etc. Instead, you are slowly talking to lots of (hopefully relevant) people and one day, randomly, a company will decide they need someone - just like you! - and you will find out about it. But, it does feel like random shots in the dark. There is no visible feedback that you are actually getting somewhere. At all.

But don't get discouraged. You can do it!! If you really are passionate about an area, it may be hard in the short term, but eventually you will succeed! Really. I believe it.

Yes, there might be cold days of rejection. And times when you feel like you will never get there. But you totally will! By doing this process, you are learning what it takes to succeed in your field of interest. You are finding out what skills and experiences people in your chosen career have and you hopefully are trying to figure out how to gain those skills/experiences to make yourself a better candidate.

And you are also paying attention to the exceptions to the rule. This is important if you yourself are trying to become an exception. (An example of this is trying to get a job as a private equity professional if you do not have investment banking or consulting experience. Yes 80% of the people in the industry have banking or consulting in their resumes. BUT there are exceptions. Who are they? How did they get there? Can you be like them?)

Another note for career switchers: I would try to find people who are like you in terms of switching their careers. So if you are a marketing person trying to get into finance or vice versa, I would seek out people who made a similar switch to get their advice. How did they make the change? What did they do? (And probably, these people will be more open to hiring someone like you, since, well, you are like them!)

And sometimes unfortunately, you do have to work for free. If you REALLY want something and it is impossible to get in without any experience, it might be worth doing some volunteer work or an internship just to get the right keywords in your background. Just remind yourself this is temporary and all in your long term plan for worldwide domination (or whatever it is your final goal is.)

Or you end up having to do a job (short term) that will give you more relevant experience, contacts or whatever to get into the your career of choice. Yes, that sucks. But.. suck it up. It is okay. Just keep your long term goal in mind. There must be a good reason why everyone thinks you need to do investment banking right? And if there isn't, find the exceptions! Be an exception!