Whether you’re in transition or looking to leap into a larger role, the secret to finding the right opportunity lies less with an “optimized resume” and more with an expanded network.
Whether you’re in transition or looking to leap into a larger role, the secret to finding the right opportunity lies less with an “optimized resume” and more with an expanded network. And, growing your group of contacts is easier than you think if you have the right tools and frameworks. Are you ready to get started?
Commit to Curious Connecting
A job seeker in his early 40s was “downsized” for the first time not long ago. By close of business on the day his role was eliminated, he’d applied to a dozen roles via LinkedIn and sent notes and voicemails to more than ten top level recent co-workers. This particular candidate was a bit of an introvert and leaned heavily into emails, clicking “apply” and otherwise working the online system. After a few weeks, it became clear that this process was not working, even though he’d applied to nearly 100 open roles. He realized he needed to adjust his strategy and begin connecting in new ways.
The first step is to focus on networking and NOT just scanning job boards. Most job seekers feel a sense of energy and engagement from updating their resume and clicking “submit” on their first dozen applications. However, that rarely results in much real activity. The other impulse is to reach out to former colleagues, managers and friends to enlist their help, only to be disappointed. The key is to find and cultivate as many brand-new connections as possible and leverage “the strength of weak ties.”
That groundbreaking study from several decades ago was recently validated by a massive LinkedIn study. The research showed that the primary connections who helped candidates land were those who the study participants had just met and not their closer contacts. Those results were completely clear — and counterintuitive. They proved without a doubt that you are FAR more likely to get the help you need from your newest and least deep connections. Those recent additions to your network empathize with you and will willingly share their virtual Rolodex. They are your best source for referrals and warm introductions.
Having a curious, inquisitive mindset allows even the most introverted job seeker a path to new networks.
Here’s how it works:
- Search your connections for those with the largest networks and most open minds. These generous connectors are the key to kicking off your journey.
- Gain warm introductions from them into their top connections using an Executive Profile and Target Company List (more on those tools in a moment).
- Set up “learn more about you” calls, Zooms or in-person meetings with as many as you can as quickly as possible.
The learn-more-about-you meeting is NOT where you ask if your new friend is hiring. The most successful introductory calls are those where you speak the least. You should be interviewing your guest with a genuine curiosity about them, their journey, and their goals. Your second to last question should always sound like, “Thank you for your time. How can I help you?”
Why is that not your close? Because you are using Cialdini’s Principle of Reciprocity, which will lead your guest to offer the same in return. And, when they do, you have the chance to ask for warm introductions to at least three people in their network. This is just the beginning of your virtuous cycle: just 3 meetings quickly turns into 9, and then 27 and more!
Here are a few Curious tips:
- Ask open ended questions such as “your job seems amazing; how did you end up here?” or “what was your inspiration to choose this as a career?”
- Don’t be afraid to prompt with a “can you tell me more about that?” as a way to dig deeper on a subject.
- Always ask for help at the close of your call, even if it is not offered. If someone has taken 15-20 minutes to chat with you, they are ready to invest a few more minutes to make a referral or two for you, as long as you make it easy.
- Your primary goal is to be authentically curious and not manipulative. This process should help you lean into your most genuine and generous self without feeling self-conscious about asking for help.
Critical Tools of the Trade You Should Have Beyond the Obvious Candidates
Making referrals super-simple for your new connections is key! The more work they have to do, the less likely they are to quickly and thoroughly follow up on your behalf. There is one document you can use that contains three primary tools for your process – the Executive Summary (or Handbill).
The Executive Summary is NOT a resume. In fact, it should present little about your past. Its purpose is to be forward looking and aspirational. It contains three key elements (and should never be more than one page):
- A short introductory paragraph: This three or four sentence statement should be written in third person to be quickly copied and pasted into introductory emails. It is your value proposition for a new employer, succinctly showing why someone should want to speak with you.
- Areas of expertise: These three or four bullets validate your value prop. This gives the reader reason to believe you can deliver. Focus on key accomplishments driven by data.
- Target company list: These 20-30 company names are probably the most important component of your Summary! They act as networking shorthand for those busy connections who don’t have much time to assist. It makes it easy for the reader to quickly scan and identify a few places they can make a referral.
Your target company list should evolve along with your Executive Summary. As you continue to have conversations, update and adjust those three elements with what’s working well for you (and to eliminate what’s not). For example, if you meet someone from a top target company, remove it from your list and replace it with a similar company where you have no connections.
Hint: if it’s taking you more than 5 minutes to generate your target companies, you’re overthinking it. This list should be examples of the type of company where you feel you could add the most value, not only the brands you’ve thoroughly vetted. These companies should also be where you have not made connections.
Best Practices to Put into Place to Ensure Your Success
You’re committed and armed with the right tools. Now it’s time to set out a plan for success. These best practices will help you stay on target:
- Set a weekly goal for meetings: Be aspirational and focused on your strengths. For example, if you’re good on the phone, but not on Zoom, make your goal two calls and one video meeting per day. If you can quickly get to 10 appointments per week, you’re going to be very successful!
- Keep a record of meeting notes and follow ups: Knowing who you met with, what you spoke about, and (most importantly) what your connection committed to, is critical to following up. Review this weekly to plan your outreach.
- Follow up and remind! Your new connections are all busy and you are likely not on their priority list. They will appreciate a reminder of what they committed to do on your behalf. Send them a thank you note immediately following your first meeting that includes those details, and use that same note when you send reminders. [Hint: you get at least two reminder notes before you’re considered a pest.]
- Don’t stop after a final round interview: It’s common for job seekers to experience a lot of initial activity that can lead to multiple final round interviews. Don’t stop then! It’s also common for those to fall through or result in a subpar offer. Keep your foot on the gas.
- Keep going: Continue to network and pay it forward for others after you land. If you are an executive or later in your career, behave as if you’re on a one-year contract. You never want to be the networker your connections hear from only when they are in need.
After a month of using these tools and techniques, you should have 30+ meetings under your belt and a robust list of new, strong connections. Now is the time to start asking for direct help with open or future roles. There are a few key considerations to keep in mind when you get to this phase:
- The very best opportunities are the ones that aren’t posted yet: When you connect with someone new, they may have visibility to roles in the process of development. Offer to help craft a description based on your experience in the field or to connect to your network for possible candidates.
- Never submit a resume to HR without a connection! If you see a job posting of interest, get a referral from the inside before you post your resume. This allows your connection to get credit within an employee referral system while bypassing the dreaded ATS (Application Tracking System). Even if it takes extra time, it’s worth it to avoid being in a digital pile of 100+ resumes.
- Find networking groups in your field: Virtual or national groups such as Marty Gilbert’s NSENG provide a venue for connecting en masse with others in a similar situation. They are especially good at helping you get started quickly and providing great educational content along the way.
- Join or create an accountability group: If you are in transition and received outplacement services, that firm likely provides a weekly group meeting you can attend. Accountability groups provide a safe space for you to share your progress and challenges – and, as the name implies, these new people help keep you accountable to your goals each week.
Make the time!
That last point is so, so important. It’s human nature to fear change and meeting new people. For those employed but looking for something new/better, it’s also common to believe they can’t use “work time” to network – or that they are too busy to commit to the process. Remember, your employer can (and will) cut you loose any time for any reason. You must use your time wisely and be flexible, even if that means networking during the work week. Commit an hour a day – get up earlier, stay later or work over the weekend to compensate if you must. But MAKE THE TIME.
Ad Lucem Group can help with professional coaching to improve all aspects of your search. If you want a head start, book time with me to discuss any of these topics or begin your networking journey.
Charley Orwig, MBA
Senior Strategy and Brand Marketing Advisor
Charley is a dynamic business leader and marketing executive with 20 years of experience driving business growth. He combines solid corporate and agency experience, creative aptitude and sharp market insight, B2B and B2C experience as well as expertise in diverse digital markets. Charley spent much of his career in Brand Management at Kraft, before taking on consulting and leadership roles in marketing and data science. Having consistently delivered accelerated revenue growth for many of the top consumer brands, Charley understands what it takes to drive organizational performance, and how to build teams that are capable of consistently delivering it. Charley holds a BS in Communication from Bradley University and an MBA from Benedictine University and holds certifications in Appreciative Inquiry and Ecommerce Analytics. Charley is a marketing instructor in Northwestern’s Kellogg Executive Education program and holds faculty positions at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and Benedictine University, where he teaches courses in graduate and undergraduate marketing and communications. Charley resides in the Chicago area with his family. He is an active volunteer in his community, a youth basketball coach, and will happily hop on a bike any chance he gets.