This post is built upon a cardinal premise I hold to regarding job search. Despite the exceptions, you land a job by talking to people! Yes, there are things that help you: a good resume, solid credentials, a professional look that exudes confidence. Bottom line, though, is you talk. You talk a lot. You talk a lot to a lot of people. It encompasses networking and interviews (informational and going-for-the-job) . It includes all types of contact: face-to-face, phone, email, and even the almost-forgotten snail mail. It means using your contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and whatever other social media sites you choose to use; I hope you use at least three.
For those of you (and there are many) who aren’t comfortable with reaching out to people beyond those you know well, it’s not as dark and scary as it seems. Why? People really do want to help you! But this is important. They can’t help you unless you reach out to them correctly. There is a right way that yields results—and a wrong one that doesn’t.
Here are five things to know about reaching out to those who can help you in your job search. Let’s call them Barbisms.
- Don’t ask for a job. Never ask people for a job at their company. This puts them in an uncomfortable position of saying “no” to you. If you ask them for information instead, it’s a different story. People love to give advice and information. It’s a warm fuzzy. They want to help. They have helped. They feel good; and so do you.
- Ask about a specific job goal. Unless your stated career goal is clearly defined, people won’t know what information to give you; they won’t know how to help you. For example, don’t ask for information about “healthcare technology jobs.” That’s too vague. Ask what they may know about software development in point-of-care technologies. Then your conversation can flow to e-health, health care information management for crisis situations, electronic medical records, and so on. Start with a focused question.
- Ask open-ended questions. The best questions are those that prompt an informative response. Let’s say you are looking for a graphic design internship. You are reaching out to Terry, who’s well connected in the field. You ask Terry a “yes” or “no” question. “Terry, do you know of any internships open at your company?” Terry says, “No. I’m sorry; I don’t.” Door shuts. Step back. You ask, “Terry, I am interested in internships at ABC Enterprises. Who might you know there that I might talk to?” Terry says, “John Brown is Creative Director there. I’ll connect you two on LinkedIn.” Now, you have a promising lead.
- Presume every person has information you can use. Never assume that anyone is not a potential contact. Conversations with contacts outside your target organization can be golden! You may be surprised by people’s connections. I was having lunch one day with a friend who also was on the hunt for a position in video production. We were discussing her search when the server came to see how we were doing. My friend, Bridget was saying, “Boy! I would love to land something in Los Angeles, but I have zero connections.” Now, we were having lunch in a central Minnesota town, population around 60,000. The server looked at Bridget and said, “My cousin, Stephen, is a director on major films. He won a film contest that opened doors in Hollywood. He’s done well since.” Then I remembered Stephen. He had mowed our lawn as a teenager! The server, Kari, took Bridget’s networking card and wrote Stephen’s phone number on it. Bridget called Stephen, arranged a meeting, and her own door opened in Hollywood. It’s really goose-bump stuff.
- Pick information over power. Kari’s shared information with Bridget translated to power. It led her to someone who had the power to hire her, or connect her with others who were decision-makers. Yet, if it were not for Kari, that path would have been dubious. The best contact of all may be someone who knows someone else. People who hold a great deal of power are not often easily accessible. It may be someone on the inside of your target company in a role you would not think helpful. Receptionists are gatekeepers. The guy who’s been on the production line manufacturing widgets for 18 years can probably give you some great tips about the company he works for; the industry he works in; the players he works with.
Reaching out is the heart and soul of job search success. Exclude no one—hiring decision-makers, direct referrals, those who are just well connected, and anyone else you can think of. Know what to say to them. Use what you can. Give back whenever you can. Go open those doors!