How to Get A Job Workshop

For several editions, we’re devoting the Q&A feature to a workshop. Instead of Q&A, this limited series of columns will be “All Answers,” or, if you will, “How To.” This week we continue with How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody! I hope you find this deep dive helpful, and that you will — as always — dive into the discussion in the Comments section below!  — Nick

How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody!

how to get a job networkEvery survey ever done shows that the single most successful path to a new job is personal contacts. Yet, time and again people complain to me that they just don’t know anybody who can help them gain entry to a particular company.

And that’s flat-out wrong.

Welcome to your new network

I’m going to enumerate some of the many people you know who can help you.

  • The reporter who wrote the story about the company you want to work for.
  • The manager featured in the article about how that company beat profit projections.
  • The friend whose friend works in the marketing department of your target company.
  • The accountant who works for the CPA firm that handles payroll for the company.
  • The purchasing manager who places orders with the company every week.
  • The lawyer who knows the lawyer who represents the company.
  • The stock broker who knows the analyst who follows the company’s performance.
  • The engineer who wrote the article about the new technology the company uses.
  • The sales rep who answers the phone to help customers in your region.

But, you say you don’t know all those people? That’s a minor detail! You just don’t know them yet. You probably know at least one of them, and the rest you can get to know by picking up the phone. Anyone you know about you can also get to know.

Get wired

If you try to avoid this critical step in your job search, you’re kidding yourself about where jobs come from. While you’re crying that you lost out to somebody who was wired for the job, you’re doing nothing to be the wired candidate for the next one. Jobs come from insiders that help you get the inside track because you got to know them first.

Contacts like these are on the critical path to your next job because they have the inside story about the companies and the managers you want to work for. You need to talk with them. This is how the best headhunters glean the hard-to-find information they use to land new clients and to find the best job candidates for those clients. They get to know the people they need to know.

Get to work getting to know people

People love to talk about their business. You’ve heard me say it before: You can almost always get someone’s attention by talking shop with them. (You don’t need to do the icky kind of networking!) By asking intelligent (well-researched!) questions about their work. By expressing your educated interest in work they do that you want to do, too.

As you start to gather their insights, you will learn a lot, and you will formulate more good questions. This leads you to talk to more people. “Well, gee, who else do you recommend I talk to in the company regarding the marketing department?” This is how you get in the door through personal referrals.

If this were easy, everybody would be doing it

You’ll know you’re doing it right when your supply of new friends overflows, and when you’re talking with them about their work — not about getting a job.

Here are a few of the things you should not say:

  • Let me tell you about myself…[and start reciting your resume]
  • Do you know about any open jobs?
  • Can you please pass my resume on to the company [or the manager or the HR department]?
  • Can you get me an informational interview?

It’s all about personal contacts, but not about awkward, mercenary networking. It’s about establishing a credible interest in a company, in educating yourself deeply, and in helping the business. Never ask directly for a job lead—you’ll just be referred to the HR department.

So get to work. Stop saying you don’t know anybody, or you’ll never land a great job through personal contacts — which is how most people find jobs.

Sorry, I didn’t say it was easy. If this were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Then what?

I throw it out to you!

  • What other kinds of new contacts are on the “critical path” to your next job?
  • Who can you contact next? (Not to talk about a job!)
  • What should you not say to new people you meet?
  • What do you say to new contacts you make, to help educate yourself about the company and to help get you to the right hiring manager?

Let’s talk about “Then what?” The Comments section below awaits your ideas, suggestions, frustrations questions and discussion. We’re all here to figure it out.

: :

  1. Absolutely! People have to realize that job seeking by building a network is an iterative process of identifying prospects, then initiating and cultivating relationships that start out with “meet and greet” and slowly build to a concrete request for help.

    It’s just like business development (as opposed to simple sales), where you cultivate a client before they commit to sign a contract; or like fundraising from major donors, where you cultivate them before asking for a contribution.

    Or like finding your life mate — you don’t ask to get married on the first date!

  2. This is a solid, actionable summary of what networking is and why we should be doing it … one of the best I’ve seen.

    I was introduced to a particular flavor, Networking plus Informational Interviewing (N+II), in 1978 after losing my 8-year military career, and it has seen me through 2 subsequent 20-year careers, some 12 employers, and being fired and laid off both more than once.

    I’d like to add 2 thoughts:

    1) If you’re in an Informational Interview and the person tells you about a job … tells you to apply for a job … offers to take your resume and pass it on … actually offers you a job right there (it happens) … you would be wise, very wise, to demure but to ask if you could touch base about that later because, “I still have some more research to do and a few more questions I’m trying to answer.”

    2) The N+II method is not about building long-term relationships (although you can use it to do that), but rather, is about conducting exceptionally productive meetings over relatively short periods of time focused on finding meaningful, good-fit employment.

    Oh, and what should you NEVER say to new people you meet (and I do mean absolutely NEVER)?

    • Hi, my name is Chris. I’m looking for a position as a Widget Washer. Are you hiring, or do you know anyone who is?

    • Hi, my name is Chris. I understand your organization is looking for a Widget Washer, and that’s what I do. Can you refer or recommend me?

    Approaching people / anyone like this is the Kiss of Death, and will kill this portion of your network faster than you can say the word NEVER.

    • @Chris: Thanks for the compliment. And thanks for introducing us to N+II. I wonder what you think about this:

      “An executive headhunter revealed how he scouts top talent, and how to be found by him” in Business Insider:

      It’s about a headhunter who contacts 200 people at a time after searching public online databases. He tells you how you can be found: keywords and Boolean search.

      I wonder what he gets paid for? Doing the LinkedIn search any HR dept can do, or matching the keywords, like any HR clerk can do, or picking the best profiles that “came along” on his display?

      Or does he go out and search for anyone?

      • Their firm is around 60 years old, processes some 25,000 candidates a year (I’m assuming worldwide), and claim a 94% success rate (a German headquarters, either 3 or possibly 6 offices in the US), according to their website. Apparently, they do search for folks, using LinkedIn and other databases as the initial, primary method, and then filter them through a series of assessments. The referenced article is pretty standard, general fare.

    • This is more out of touch boomer analogy (and I’m 64 and a boomer). Not real world whatsoever.
      When I need a job (and I’m no trust fund kid with more bank than sense), and I need to meet my nut (keep a roof over my head, keep food on the table, feed my German shepherd, keep the lights on, yada…yada),
      pu—yfooting, himhawing around, and doing meet and greet coffee klatches isn’t going to get me employed. And anyone with a modicum of sense knows the longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to get re-employed. That’s an empirical fact!
      So I say (provided the employer is not some known toxic turd factory) “Hi, my name is Antonio. I’m looking for work and I need a job, and I heard you were hiring widget washers. Here’s my resume. I have a solid background in widget washing, or I have a solid background in related widget washing experience”. That’s how I’ve always got employed, and I’d submit most others out there have always gotten employed.

      • You say, “and I heard you were hiring widget washers.”

        And you heard this, exactly how?

      • You say, “provided the employer is not some known toxic turd factory.”

        And you know if they are or are not, exactly how?

  3. The extra bonus of being genuinely interested to learn about someone’s career, current project, and/or their company is you get to find out if that company is one you’d like to work for.

    I once got heavily courted to apply for an upcoming opening in a big organization. Through a coworker with a lot of contacts, I found someone who worked in another group that had to interact with the team with the opening. I discovered some things the hiring manager left out of the conversation. For one, the position description omitted a certain thankless and frustrating task (which turned out to be half the job!), and three previous employees in that spot had left after 4-6 months on the job. For another, the department leader was 100% attitude and 0% aptitude and regularly through their people under the bus. I passed on the “golden” opportunity.

    Last I heard, the hiring manager finally left, too, and the department leader is blaming it all on lazy and disloyal people who don’t want to work.

    • @Just Peachy:

      “you get to find out if that company is one you’d like to work for”

      Job seekers seem to forget that part. Thanks for reminding everyone!

  4. Can you spell it out a little more how you get from chatting about their work to getting an informational interview or even better, having that person contact you when they learn of an opening?

    • 1) If you’re chatting with someone and it seems appropriate, just ask: “Coffee, as we were talking, you mentioned Widget washing, and that’s a field I’m thinking of moving into. Please understand, I don’t expect you to be hiring or to know anyone who is, but I have two questions I’m trying to answer. Would it be possible to talk together for no more than 20 minutes sometime in the next week or two?”

      2) Or, after meeting someone briefly: “Coffee, this is Chris Hogg. We met (where, when), you mentioned that you’re a Widget washer, and that’s a field I’m thinking of moving into. Please understand, I don’t expect you to be hiring or to know anyone who is, but I’m gathering information about that field and I think you’d be a good person to talk with. Would it be possible to talk together for no more than 30 minutes sometime in the next week or two?”

      3) Or, “Coffee, this is Chris Hogg. Nick Corcodilos suggested I contact you. I’m thinking of moving into Widget washing, and Nick thought you would be someone who could give me some legitimate advice and guidance. Please understand … the next week or two.”

      4) Or, cold, “Coffee, this is Chris Hogg. I’m thinking of moving from Thingamajig polishing into Widget washing, am gathering information about that field (or am looking for advice and guidance), and see that that is your area of expertise. Please understand … the next week or two?”

      And never ask or even hint that that person contact you when they learn of an opening. If you do, you lose, big time. Leave it totally up to them to inform you or not. If they know you a little, like you, and trust you, they will inform you, and if they don’t, they won’t. And nobody likes to be “pushed” into doing something. If you use the “Please understand” phrase and then ask to be informed, you broke your promise.

    • @Coffee: Chris Hoggs’ suggestions are good. I’d cut the requested time to 10 minutes. 10 is a chat; 30 is a conversation. 10 is spare time between other tasks. 20 or 30 is another task. Make it as easy as possible for the person to say yes.

      Another suggestion about what to say: “If someone were interested in applying for a widget washer job, is there any advice you’d give me?” (Note: “someone” is better than “I.” It’s subtle. If you ask for “I,” you’re putting responsibility on the person. Again, make it easy for them. Asking for “someone” keeps it general and I think you’re more likely to get suggestions.)

      So much of this is in how you say it. The social walls are high. With practice, you’ll see what works and what doesn’t. The point is to try! Even if you have to write a little script for yourself to start, you’ll get the hang of it and talk spontaneously.

  5. Nick,

    Thanks for another great “How To” column; I’m enjoying these.

    This isn’t the first (or last) time you’ve provided networking advice, and it’s solid advice as usual. In addition to your list of potential contacts, I would add vendors who visit your company. I worked in Engineering for many years, and we always had reps coming by with the latest parts to add to your designs. These are excellent sources of information because they visit many companies in the area, and see first-had how things are going. They know when Company A is having a great year and looking to hire, and when Company B is about to announce layoffs.

    I found an easy way to get the conversation started is by taking the rep to lunch. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place. Lots of times these people are just eating in their car on the way to the next client, so your gesture is appreciated. Plus, you are out of the office and can speak freely.

    Looking forward to next week’s column/blog/tutorial!

    • …”first-hand”

    • @Larry: Did I leave vendors out? Thanks for adding them. I’d also add consultants and anyone else you encounter in your work that interacts with other businesses. Last night I did a webinar for MBA students at a small university. What I left them with was, “It’s the people, Stupid!” (I borrowed from a famous phrase about the economy — I’m not insulting the listener, but they get the point!) It’s not about resumes, job boards, ATSes, keywords, interviews, etc. It’s all about meeting, talking with, and making friends with people.

  6. Networking, “flatulence in a whirlwind”.

  7. So I work for the unemployment office, but my job is to connect veterans to employers. (aka get them off of unemployment and into a good job). I am always happy to share the contacts I have to help veterans find work. Others I work with are happy to help non-vets to do the same. Long story short: I recommend leveraging the unemployment office in your favor.

    BTW, I also direct them to your site for A+ advice.

    • @Sam: Good for you for sharing contacts! And thanks for recommending ATH.

  8. That old saying “who you know”…the better saying is who knows you.

    A point to keep in mind is network building is business. So don’t put emotional boundaries on your potential pool. e.g. liking possible contacts. Example. I picked up that tip from an outplacement speaker. So when looking for leads I reached out to a former boss’s/boss who was underwhelmed by me & who I didn’t like. to my pleasure he was a wealth of information and leads, try this, got there, tell them I said to contact them etc. Underlying this is that savvy networkers know what goes round comes round. They help you, then when they need it, you’ll help them.

    In my experience, exemplified by the above, most people are glad to help. You just need to help them help you. Just giving them a resume or a LinkedIn link or some such is close to a waste of time. Be clear as you can about what you need help with (as noted not hey I need a job, know of any?). And provide the basics of your current targets, for who, doing what, where or where not, why. That is a main foundation underneath info interviews or discussions. It goes hand in hand with people like to talk shop, and about themselves.

    create a ripple effect. end conversations with “can you suggest anyone I should talk with? and can I mention that you suggested a chat? Especially after turn downs. As a hiring manager, I certainly didn’t like turning people down and would like to offer you something helpful.

    Eat your own dog food. Help others, Make yourself available to others, share advice, be a connecter…do you know or meet people who your gut tells you should know each other…connect them.

    Respect & Protect your network. Don’t throw names around willy nilly. Before referring someone, or passing along a resume, check with the person to see if they are OK with it.

    You live somewhere. Somewhere has a chamber of commerce. Who has a person responsible for helping to grow the Chamber. It’s their business to meet current business people as well as recruit new businesses into the area. Get to know them. Call them up. Offer help. If you are aiming to relocate, this is a good place to start.

    Live near a university? Do your homework. Universities often have business incubators, or know who does. If it’s your profession, introduce yourself, offer help. Also biz incubators don’t need to evolve from academia, some are fostered by VCs. And some of those VC meetings are open.

    The aforementioned groups, are such they often meet regularly, and need grist for the guest speaker mill. Volunteer.

    If you’re in a large metro area, look for job hunting networks. I lived & worked in the Houston area & there are several outstanding ones. Join, visit, speak.

    Professional organizations. Ditto get involved. Don’t lurk. Be active.

    Can’t find a group. Create one.

    Don’t discount that there is a lot of reality to that premise everyone is X steps removed from someone else. And just like sales, dumb luck is a factor. You don’t think you have a network? yes you do. You live in one. Don’t make assumptions when you play the dumb luck card . For example I heard a story which I believed due to the source, that a job hunter chatted up a facilities guy…who happened to be the brother in law of a guy setting up a startup. You go to a doctor, dentist, specialists, neighbors. As noted you don’t ask for a job, you ask for ideas, referrals. professionals in your field you should know about. And while doing this, make sure they understand you’ll be available to likewise for their network.

    • @Don: That’s a GREAT bunch of suggestions! Folks, listen to Don. As a headhunter, he sees the right paths. It’s important that people rattle their own cages and assumptions and stretch and TRY these ideas. If just one works for you, then we’ve done our job here.

      “Just giving them a resume or a LinkedIn link or some such is close to a waste of time.

      Unfortunately, that’s where most people END their contact with someone. Then they wait. Reminds me of a guy named Mike my boss (in the search firm where I worked) brought on. She gave him the same training we all got. Hal (an old-timer at the firm) and I shared an office with Mike. We kept looking at one another with raised eyebrows while Mike read the paper with his feet up on the desk. It was about his 5th day on the job.

      Hal finally shook his head and turned to Mike.

      “What are you doing?”

      “Reading the news,” said Mike. “Why?”

      “Well,” said Hal with his head cocked like he was about to go off. “Why aren’t you making calls, recruiting candidates and trying to get new job orders?” It’s what all of us did all day long.

      “I did that. I sent resumes for all my candidates to all the companies I have job orders for. I’m waiting for them to call me back.”

      Hal shot me a look. While I was more tolerant of the new guy, Hal had seen many newbies come and go. When I first came into the firm, with my brand new graduate degree from Stanford, Hal kept rolling his eyes at me and wouldn’t give me the time of day, much less help, advice or encouragement. It was a high turnover business and he expected I’d be gone soon. Few new recruiters were willing to keep at it all day long. But Hal finally warmed to me when he saw me hard at it day in and day out. He used to get a kick out of me slamming down the phone when I got an emphatic “NO!” from someone I was trying to recruit. He’d laugh and offer the cocky advice he felt I’d earned. “Call another one!” It was the best you could get out of him, but it was his way of acknowledging you were earning your place in the firm.

      He turned back to his work, then back to Mike. “Oh. Got it. Good luck!” And another roll of the eyes to me.

      Mike was fired 2 days later.

      It applies to job seekers, too:

      “Just giving them a resume or a LinkedIn link or some such is close to a waste of time.”

      You have to give them more.

      • I should have finished this sentence “just giving them a resume or a LinkedIn link or some such is close to a waste of time” IF you don’t help them by prepping them on what to do with it. I don’t want to suggest you blow off someone’s help. Just handing someone a resume even if they ask for it, has about a 99.99% chance they’ll take it to their HR office and drop it off. Give them some direction. Make an effort to find the Hiring Manager, or next best, someone who you know, who knows them well. If they don’t know who this is, ask them tofind out. It’s not that hard as an insider. Then take the resume to them and say this….and give them a simple script as to how wonderful you are and as such a great hiring opportunity. There’s no rule this has to be one copy. God made copy machines so shamelessly turn inside people into advocates in their company, and/or professional network. & after they’ve found that person(s), then drop a copy off to HR, preferably the duty recruiter. Human nature is these people your advocate finds will want to know you a bit before they walk your paper. Great. Remember all those ideas about info interviews?
        How do I know this? Example, back in the day in one of job hunting adventures, I had a really good contact, an advocate for me. He asked for my resume. And opposite to what I just suggested I gave it him. He walked my resume in side a good targeet company (Context, at the time I was a Software QA heavyweight). He reported back that he gave it to a Senior Development Manager telling him I was a good developer (NOT!) You have to control your paper. Once an idea is planted, backpedaling just doesn’t work well.

        As to LinkedIn. There’s no rule that says “About You” has to be you talking about you. Have one of your references write a recommendation, sort of like a Preface to your story. Not a character reference noting your kind to animals, but from someone who is well positioned to comment based on a working relationship. Then change it once in awhile with another reference. repeat. Yeah, of course references by definition will say nice things about you. Well unless you’re down on yourself, so will you. Yeah I know LinkedIn has a endorsement feature. A reference is more meaty and takes more effort and as such is more meaningful. This idea is akin to having a reference initiate contact with a potential hiring manager before being asked as has been endorsed in previous newsletters

      • Your story also exemplifies how important follow up is in the conduct of one’s work. Especially in Sales. And to the old saw that job hunting is sales, so is network building. If building a network, you’ve found a good contact, and they aren’t getting back etc. follow up. That’s the job of the person reaching out not the contact.
        Over the years before I entered Sales/Recruiting I worked with sales people in the various companies I was with. I’ve seen people make their #’s in lousy economies, and people fail in great economies. And people break into a new account mainly because the competing sales person dropped the ball by not keeping the lines open with their customer opening up a window of opportunity.
        The good sales people also had the ability to see the tipping point between good follow up and being an annoying pest.

        I can relate to your story as well. Yes in recruiting but before that. I managed a Software QA team. We tested software/systems. we found bugs. I’d ask my engineer, particular newbies, about the status of a bug they found. Where are we with that? I reported it (into a bug tracking system)& waiting to hear from Development. And? Puzzlement. What did the development engineer have to say about it? I haven’t talked to him about it…Then I’d take opportunity to explain ownership. You found you own it until resolved. Tossing it over the wall to development & waiting isn’t ownership. It’s your business to know what’s happening with it, to the best of your ability. The concept of ownership applies to all vocations. It isn’t over til it’s over.

  9. First, get involved in educational improvement, take classes at a nearby college to learn and get an advanced degree but also to network with others doing the same thing. These are the active people who are advancing their careers and would likely prefer to have others like them at their company. Also, the best time to make your move to another company is immediately after getting a big raise or a big bonus. And, read the Wall Street Journal of a few says ago: four-year engineers are getting $350,000 salaries and stock bonuses of $750,000, and more. HR always said that “3% raises were too much.” The truth comes out! (Some comments refer to “professional HR.” That is an oxymoronic statement. HR is NEVER on your side.

  10. To the notion that people love to “talk shop,” that “shop talk” needn’t always pertain to business. Larry Kaplan’s dating reference above is also very apropos here.

    I once read a manager’s bio on a company website which mentioned a common interest. I then snail-mailed a letter to the individual which opened with a reference to that common interest, and it immediately caught the reader’s attention. That was enough for me to secure a 30-minute phone conversation. Ultimately, it didn’t result in a job offer, but that really wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to know more about the individual’s role in the company and about the industry in general.

    “I hear you’re mad about Brubeck
    Like your eyes, I like him too
    He’s an artist, a pioneer
    We’ve got to have some music on the new frontier.”
    – Donald Fagen, “New Frontier” (from The Nightfly, 1982)

    • @Garp: “you don’t ask to get married on the first date!”

      Yup, Larry’s reference to this all being very much like dating is dead-on. When my first book was published, my very able agent shopped it to 7 publishers and I got 5 excellent offers. One of the reasons I chose Penguin was that the editor I’d be working with “got it.” When we met, she laughed and said, “I love your book because you explain that job hunting is like dating! I never saw that before, but it’s the secret sauce in your book!”

      That’s why I “hired” her.

  11. The array of good, helpful comments here proves that there are plenty of people out there who want to help.

    • YUP!!! Thanks for noticing!

  12. The one thing I want to point out that I’ve had happen to me which has made me uncomfortable.

    Don’t wait until you need a job to reach out and ask for one.

    For example one situation I had:

    I once found myself unemployed for a couple of months. I attended classes/events at the local career center. I met a guy in the same field as me. We hooked up on LinkedIN.

    I eventually found employment and eventually got a better position at a local college.

    Before the pandemic, we had an opening on my team. The guy from above contacts me and wants to pump me for information and a reference. Keep in mind this is the first interaction I had with him since I saw him at the career center.

    I politely declined because I didn’t know much about him. If we had kept in touch over the years, that would have been different.

    • Well David, perhaps you didn’t know much about him…because YOU didn’t keep in touch. That door swings 2 ways.

    • @David: That may be the most instructive story on this entire thread.

      @Don: I’m not sure what you mean. Why would anyone follow up or stay in touch with a passing stranger who does virtually nothing to show interest in being friends — except to ask for something just because David’s on their LinkedIn list?

      • Read it again. Back in the day 2 people linked. Let’s assume because they both saw mutual interest. As Dave noted if they had kept in touch it would different. The other person didn’t keep in touch.
        But…neither did Dave. Hence 2 people end up in the dead connection box at Linkedin.
        I don’t see a problem with Dave being underwhelmed by a fishing expedition for leads and worse for a reference.
        But as I said, friendship development is a door that swings 2 ways, & looking at it, Dave equally shares in becoming a passing stranger showing no interest. A Facebookish connection of strangers.

        He outlined something I think we all are guilty of. Friendships, networks have to be cultivated, our networks take time and maintenance. The bigger the network the bigger the investment. And time has this horrible habit of racing ahead of you with blinding speed weakening connections..unless we tell ourselves to stop and take notice and keep in touch. But life often gets in the way.

        That’s what I meant. It was NOT a criticism of Dave or his actions. It’s networking life

        • @Nick, don’t know where you’re heading with your current thread on the newsletter re: jobs, but perhaps carrying to through to include AFTER a job hunter lands would also fit & be good food for thought. That could include this topic….TLC of the network they hopefully developed in getting there.
          Because I think the natural tendency is to focus like a laser beam on the new job to the exclusion of about everything else. I know that’s what I always did. And I see about everyone I know doing likewise…until that job goes away then back to a cold start.
          I see & read a lot of stuff about the “how to look”, “how to network” but little about landing and beyond.