In the August 1, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an Army graduate needs help making inside job contacts to get around the personnel jockeys.

job contacts


I am looking for work and I am studying your book. If you have any advice on how to build the contacts I need to land a good job, that would be extremely helpful. I recently transitioned out of the Army. I’m new in town and don’t know anyone. Without contacts, I’m at the mercy of those personnel jockeys — and I’m not having much success. Certainly someone in my area (Pittsburgh) needs an experienced information security administrator!

Nick’s Reply

Don’t worry that you’re new in town. Remember that new relationships are based on common interests. Key among these is your work. You need to identify — through the press, trade publications, local professional groups — a handful of key people in Pittsburgh who are experts in information security. The more respected they are, the better. The nice thing is, such folks are also visible. You’ll read about them in the media — it’s a free high-level professional directory. Your goal is to make them your new friends.

Study up on them.

  • What are they working on?
  • What are they most expert in?
  • What articles have they written?
  • What publications have written about them?
  • Familiarize yourself with their work.

Then call them, not as a job hunter, but as a peer who is impressed with their work and interested in what they’re doing.

How to Say It

“My name is Bill Smith. I just got out of the military where I was doing XYZ, and I’m new in Pittsburgh. This story I read about you [or your company] instantly aroused my interest because I’ve been working on related things in the Army. I’m exploring the state of the art in our field in the commercial world. So, I’m curious to know what is influencing your work — that is, what are you reading? Books, journals — materials that are influencing your thinking about security. Being new in town, I’m trying to learn where the most interesting work is being done here. Are there any local groups that you find relevant and useful?”

Making job contacts, making friends

Now you’re talking shop and making a friend. Where you take it from there is up to you and your new buddy.

A tip: Don’t try to turn the conversation into a job interview unless he does. (Leave that for another discussion.) Share your e-mail address and get his. Drop a note with a useful link to an article on the topic. Stay in touch. The point is to form a connection based on your work. This can lead to job opportunities if you’re patient and friendly without being pushy. Get it out of your head that jobs appear instantly on Indeed or LinkedIn. Worthwhile connections take time and effort!

Make job contacts anywhere

This approach works well in almost any field. You may wonder how this would work for jobs where there are no “recognized experts” — for example, a secretary’s job.

You’re not likely to find famous local secretaries in the newspaper, and they’re not likely to tell you what books they’re reading about “the state of the art.” But you will find secretaries (or programmers or sales reps) working for notable people. And you can call those notable people and respectfully ask them which managers and which companies in the area hire only top-notch secretaries (or programmers or sales reps).

People love to talk about their work, and they love to talk to others who are enthusiastic about their work. If you approach them with honesty and sincerity, without expecting a job, many will gladly talk with you for a few minutes. (Click here if you think making new contacts is awkward!)

Be respectful

This is key: Respect their time. If a discussion doesn’t pan into anything, don’t force it. Say thank you and move on to another. You need just one fruitful contact to say to you, “Hey, you ought to talk to Mary Johnson at Company X. Here’s her number. Tell her I suggested that you call.”

This is how a headhunter finds good people. You can use the approach to meet the right people and to find the right company.

This article may help you further: Network, but don’t be a jerk!

For a more in-depth look at building an honest, productive network, see “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends,” pp. 27-32, in the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?

I’ll bet one of the people you call using this approach knows a company that needs you. Don’t hunt for a job. Call people who do the work you do, and talk shop. That’s how you make the insider job contacts that will get you hired. One step at a time; patience and perseverance.

How do you build your network? What advice would you share with this Army vet who’s transitioning into the commercial world?

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  1. The most obvious advice is that he sounds like he is working in a vacuum while there are hundreds of veteran recruitment/placement firms that specialize in working with those military personnel who are transitioning.

    This should have been addressed at his last military post.

    Also, LinkedIn is full of veteran transitioning firms and in his case, the more, the better.

    Maybe he needs a block of instruction on how to use LinkedIn.

    If he wants to buzz me, I can hook him up.

    RVN ’70 – ’71

  2. I went to meetup and changed my search area to Pittsburgh. I looked for IT Security and found five Meetup Groups that deal with Security in IT.

    Every Meetup is a networking event to introduce oneself and meet contacts in your area of interest.

    These days, I hang a badge around my neck at Meetups, with my name and occupation in BIG BOLD TYPE. It makes it easy for people to remember me. I exchange cards, introduce myself, work the crowd if you will. I try very hard to get people to tell me about themselves and then try even harder to remember what they told me.

    A local business here in Ottawa, a Design House, hosts the local IoT Meetup. They have a super area in the basement of a repurposed Church, and they even buy us Pizza and Craft Beer for our Meetup. Spiria, great business and and I love plugging their name.

    On Linkedin, mine peoples Contacts for Contacts. Join Linkedin Groups so you can see the profiles of people and possibly reach out to them or their subordinates or managers.

    Choose 10 companies that you want to work for in your area. Map out the C level suite and their subordinates. Reach out to these folks. Find information for free at your local public library. Mine buys access to numerous business and industrial databases and magazines and industrial publications, through this data I can build a profile of a business. The US government has a registry for incorporated businesses, it probably correlates this with information from the US Statistics agency and between the two, you can figure out how well they are doing financially and also how their competitors are.

    Just some classic thoughts for you and wishing you the best, it’s always the hard word that gives the best rewards.

  3. Great advice from Richard Tomkins. Also, look up talks or seminars on IT security in the area, and see if there are any professors from Carnegie Mellon and U. of Pittsburgh who specialize in the area. They may do consulting for local companies and have some leads.

  4. While IT Security is not my field . . . I do know that hacking and ransom ware has effected my business. Extremely costly and my IT Department was not prepared to avoid these problems.

    Study the IT Security trends and be prepared to discuss how your talent will fend off potential threats and costly problems.

  5. There’s the Pittsburgh Technology Council. It’s more for businesses to join as members, but I bet if you made contact with them, they could probably point you in the right direction. I believe they also host events and such, so that’d be a good way to approach potential employers in a relaxed atmosphere.

  6. Check with the various military service organizations in the Pittsburgh area for assistance. The local VA probably won’t be of any help but there are other VET organizations that can assist. Also one of the state employment outlets because many now have representatives who specialize working with VETS. Check out one of the chamber of commerce sites, some of their members might be in line for your services. Research some of the smaller to mid-size companies in a 40-50 mile radius of Pittsburgh that either have or could utilize your skills. Contact them with a case study scenario that identifies cyber security issues, how you HAVE created a solution and the benefit derived from your service. In this way you can create your own position either as an employee of the company or an independant contractor. Be creative and take your specific skill level and compare to what’s available in your desired location. Also be mindful that not all military experience is viable or desired in today’s business environment. If you find your skill level not to current demands, use your VA benefits and get the desired training.

  7. Not related directly to the OP, but still relevant.

    Nick mentioned that respected people in the field are highly visible, and experts love to talk about their work. Well, that’s certainly true. I moved to Lexington, Kentucky because I want to get into horse racing, with a goal of eventually becoming a trainer. I made it a point to visit every track within a 3 hour drive of where I live (there are 7, not counting harness racing, still have a couple to go), and at one stop, I met Steve Asmussen, one of the top trainers in the country (he was also at a racehorse auction I attended the next week, though I didn’t try to meet him again). I was wearing my Kentucky racing credentials when I met him (I’m a licensed stable employee), and I shook his hand and asked him for one piece of advice for an aspiring trainer. He answered willingly, though I did seem to put him on the spot a bit, but you’re right Nick, successful people do want to talk about their work. Especially if you’re not begging for a job.

    Will that meeting lead to a job? Who knows? I had to take a real job for a while because of financial commitments, and I’m only part-timing it in racing for the moment. But who’s to say, it just might! And there are a lot of other successful people in my newly chosen industry who pop in and out of Lexington, so given enough time and effort, I’ll make a ton of contacts.

    • @Jim: Bet you’re having more fun at the track than you’d have surfing Indeed. I like your approach of asking an expert for just one tip.

      • Absolutely! And there are days I’d rather work with horses than people. At least bad behavior on their part can be excused since they’re just animals.

  8. It’s a tough transition from the structure of the military to the business sector but you excellent middle managers and supervisors as COC skills are superb, of course. I work hard to make sure they understand going outside the job scope is not the negative it is in the military.

    Jim…perfect example of how a single meeting gives you ammo in that field

    ” I met Steve Asmussen and he told me the best advice for career is…..( insert)

    I’m following that advice here…

    ….aka name drop which tells people you are doing the work.

    I’ll be dropping Nicks name later this week

  9. My firm has information security opportunities but they may require relocating outside of Pgh. You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m also a retired military veteran.