In the July 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains that job leads don’t pan out any better than job postings:

To build up my networking, I’ve started going to two different job clubs. One is related to my line of work, information technology (IT), and the other is more general, with people from lots of professions attending. Both groups start with a job lead portion of the meeting and some good information is given out. But I wonder what you have to say about this, since you advocate networking so much. None of these leads have panned out any better than job postings I respond to. I submit my resume and I try to call, too, but nothing develops. Job leads from real people should be more productive than answering job postings, you would think. Is networking a fallacy or am I doing something wrong?

My Advice

Networking is not a fallacy, but the term is so over-used that I think it’s confusing you. Getting job leads at job clubs is not networking. What you’re doing wrong is wasting face time, and I’ll try to explain why. But first, I think you’re right that “job leads” are no better than job postings.

Most job leads are like job postings

Have I gone totally nuts? Am I telling you to say NO to a job lead?

Not all job leads are the same. While getting a lead at a meeting might seem more personal, it’s very different from a personal referral from some who knows, respects, and trusts you — and who has true insider connections. The leads you’re talking about could originate anywhere. They are more like job listings than leads.

Now I’ll try to explain why you should say no to most job leads. Matt Bud is a friend of mine who runs The FENG — The Financial Executives Networking Group. In a recent newsletter to over 40,000 members, Matt discussed one of The FENG’s services: in-person meetings where financial folks network and share job leads. Matt makes the same point I do — and I think very few people get this, so please think about it carefully:

“Sharing old job leads, which is what happens at face to face meetings, doesn’t really benefit anyone. It just takes up time that could be better spent networking.”

I do pro bono presentations for a local job club. Here’s what I say to them:

“So, here you are — a bunch of unemployed people, coming to meetings where you expect other unemployed people to give you job leads…”

Most job leads are old news

As Matt points out in his newsletter, any job lead is old news by the time it gets to you. It’s almost no better than a job posting on But, you might say, this is information fresh from the lips of real people who often get job leads from personal contacts.

Here’s Matt’s take on the value of such leads:

“Were they filled yet? Probably not, but the candidate slates aren’t likely to be expanded if the job is over a few weeks old. They sound good, but you are receiving totally useless information.”

Invest in opportunities, don’t chase what comes along

The age of job leads isn’t the only issue to consider before you quickly tap out a resume submission on your smartphone. That lead — even if it’s sound — is for a job that came along, not one you developed yourself. This is an important point.

While you’re likely to chase what comes along, by quickly e-mailing an application on a lead, you’re probably far more motivated to invest in a more effective approach if the job (or employer) is one you carefully researched and decided was a top-quality target for you.

For example, you might triangulate around the job to get inside information that confirms the fit and bolsters your presentation. You’re also more likely to cultivate a strong personal referral who actually recommends you to the boss. Both actions help you vet the opportunity and boost your chances of success dramatically.

But you’ll shake your head and ask, What’s the point, since any lead, no matter where it comes from, could turn into a good opportunity? My point is that opportunities that “come along” often turn into mistakes, precisely because you didn’t choose them yourself. I think most people go job hunting because they took the wrong job to begin with, most often because “it came along.”

Network with a plan

Job leads that come along are not what’s best for the job hunter. True opportunities that are really good for you are carefully selected and developed, not picked up at a meeting. Showing up and listening to a broadcast of leads is not networking, even if it’s done in person.

Most of the time, networking is a lifestyle. It’s about meeting new people and blue-sky exploring. In this context — active job hunting — networking is a tool in the service of a clear objective. “A job” is not a clear objective. A particular employer or job is. The approaches are radically different.

Carefully select a target employer or job, and network to gather information that lets you develop a plan you can present to the employer. Be ready to demonstrate why you are the profitable hire. Network to convince insiders to recommend you. The most effective form of networking involves finding people who introduce us to employers, and who teach us how we can help the employer — so we can stand out as the person the employer wants to hire.

A job lead picked up at a meeting gives you no such edge because you didn’t work for it.

Say NO to job leads — Say YES to networking

I agree with Matt Bud. Getting together with other job hunters to hear about job leads is a waste of time. Learn to say no to job leads, and instead use the time more profitably. Use face time to network — but have a very specific, clear objective.

My PDF book, How Can I Chang Careers?, includes a pivotal chapter titled “A Good Network is a Circle of Friends.” One section, “Seek advice, not help,” emphasizes the importance of having a specific objective you need advice about — whether you’re changing careers, or just jobs:

“No one wants the ‘Can you help me find a job?’ monkey on their back because the monkey requires feeding and lots of attention. That’s why most people you ask for help will quickly refer you to the personnel office. On the other hand, if you approach me for advice rather than help, that’s something I can provide…”

The person you’re networking with will be happy to share advice and engage in discussion that reveals whether you’re worthy of friendship. And friendship is what leads to personal referrals, which is where jobs really come from.

Am I splitting hairs, or is a job lead about as useless as a job posting? How do you network to get truly useful referrals? Do you give out job leads? What’s the best way to get in the door for the job you really want?

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  1. Well stated critique of job “networking groups” and their misunderstanding of “leads”. I also think the belief that the networking roundtables will lead to other eyes and ears exploring on your behalf is a ridiculous fantasy. The half life of that good intention is about the same as the time it takes for everyone to get back to their car and renew stewing in their own juices of worry about their own situations.

    But I also take issue with the notion that targeted employers we contact are going to willingly “teach us” something about their organization and how we might “fit in”. These days, if they respond at all, they will act a little mystified by the direct approach and point you to the job board they maintain, then ask if there is something we are a match for. The direct approach causes them to wonder if we can read or navigate technology; such is the deep delusion spread about technology as an efficient matchmaking force and its potential to thwart rather than spawn new relationships.

  2. I agree with Kent for the first part, but not the second. Semantics are VERY important in this case.
    In sales it is a critical difference to ask “who do you know” vs. “do you know anybody” when asking for a referal. When the manager at a restrant asks if everything is ok, he doesn’t really want an answer.
    On the other hand, if he asked for you to advise him to quickly tell him three things that would have made the overall experience better,

  3. cont: it would only take a few seconds for everyone at the table to hit him with a barrage of ideas.

  4. When I have asked people I know about jobs at their company, they always refer me to the online job board.

    I think trying the approach of asking for advice about their employer, etc. may be a better approach. People like being asked for advice and are always willing to provide it.

  5. I facilitate a career leads group and the focus is not sharing job leads but sharing connections. These might be informational interview contacts or someone in a similar field or someone who knows lots of people. The key is not expecting a job lead but meeting with these people to learn about them, get advice, and be better prepared when that right job opportunity comes along. Of course, they may know of opportunities but should not be approached with that objective.

  6. Most “networking”groups are in-person job boards. I end up getting a bunch of job leads that when I Google, turn out to be from postings. These groups tend to be ineffectual when I try to get specific individuals (hiring managers) they come up empty. As far as my “circle” of friends, They are all (now) in the same boat as I am. Not much more effective for landing a job. I learned a great deal of non-job finding information, like how to cut my living costs down, Gardening, self home repair, eligibility for social benefits etc. I think the true networking is a long term proposition, It may or may not get you a job 3 years from now in todays environment.

  7. Nick has emphasised many times that RESEARCH is a key component. He is right!! Like a detective, find a few companies you would want to work for. Over the next 5 days do nothing but read everything you can about them. News articles, annual reports, court cases, philanthropic gifts, Linked In contacts or groups. Dig deep and you will find a breakthrough idea, contact or tool.

    It may be hope, desperation or bad guidance to do a quick check on a company trying to get a job. Much like the research papers we did in school, you can’t expect to get an “A” by using one or two resources and no depth to the thesis (ie. getting a job).
    Even the local fast food place is probably a frachise owned by somebody who goes to a local church, belongs to the chamber of commerce and has a picture of some Little League team they support. Go to the game, find a mutual church friend, contact the charity. Want ads and job postings are not research.

  8. Points taken. My challenge is that in my industry, digital media, to narrow my focus to only 4-5 companies would eliminate so many potential opportunities, particularly because many are early stage companies. When you are in a rapidly developing and evolving industry, is it a forced choice to have to pick just a few companies to target?

  9. About asking questions: Never ask someone at a company you’re investigating “What job openings are there?” or “What’s your salary there?”

    That puts people on the spot and shuts them down. Ask questions about the work that they can feel comfortable answering. Ask about how they organize the work, what problems they’re trying to solve, etc. You’ll be able to conduct a conversation and infer from it what positions they need to fill.

    Salary questions should only come after you’ve talked about business and then phrased as ‘What’s the salary range for that kind of job in this area?’ which lets people answer as specifically or as generally as they like.

  10. Well said. Chase people, not jobs, and the jobs will emerge.

  11. @ Jim -> it’s not a forced choice but it does allow you to focus your efforts on the 4-5 companies you truly want to work for.

  12. Have to weigh in on this one. I’ll start with noting I am a firm believer in networking, and that one should chase companies not jobs, and a job hunter should limit but not exclude networking with other unemployed people.
    But…..dismissing job clubs, chasing job leads, and particularly Matt Bud’s take is overly short sighted…and in itself job focused, not network or company focused.
    I don’t know what a Job Hunting club is…In Houston there’s several job hunting networks in play which are top of the line. particularly one , managed by volunteers, over 10 years old, that for all practical purposes rivals outplacement services. in sum they teach people so inclined how to job hunt. And yes part of it is lead generation and sharing leads.
    As to sharing leads. One size doesn’t fit all. Matt’s statement is telling “old” job leads. The groups I work with, and I work with them and utilize their network, generate fresh leads as well. I’m sure many are old passed along like a bucket brigade, but they are not all old. I know that for a fact because I send mine in. And leads from others that I personally know, who are looking. I pass them along or point them to the site.
    Second job leads fresh or not are business intel, a useful research indicator…and the most useful intel is the personal experience someone in the group has had e.g. an interview with a company. Even if it didn’t go their way, they walked out with very useful info to another job hunter (after the person of course determined it was not viable to them anymore).
    Third, unemployed people become employed people. And these groups help make it happen. And they pay back by keeping the lines open to networking friends they’ve met at these clubs.
    My long winded point is I don’t think its advisable to simply dismiss these groups and the leads that float around in them. One size doesn’t fit all and you have to research and assess them like you would a potential hiring company, inclusive of lead age and quality.

  13. Just to clarify, there is no asking about whether there are jobs in my direct approach letters, but I do make mention of what I can do for them or those in their network. And it’s based on plenty of research. No matter– I tend to get the job board steer, though not always.

    I do agree that networking is a long term healthy practice, not a quick cure. If you have a cold, you can’t expect to cure it by eating fruits and vegetables, even if the long term resistance to colds improves. Right now you need a decongestant, and more tangible leads may be needed, but getting them from a networking group is a rarity. They come from more organic in-sector connections.

  14. @Kent V: “organic in-sector connections”

    I’ve gotta remember that one! I like it!

  15. @Don Harkness: excellent points, and thanks too for the reminders that one size doesn’t fit all. Yes, we job hunters need to do our research and make connections within the companies we’re interested in, but I never discount people outside of those networks. Your hairdresser, your doctor, your pharmacist, your accountant, etc. may not be in your field, but they too are connected to others and might be able to provide info, whether it be “leads” or intel, about jobs and/or companies. They might have family, friends, patients, clients, customers, etc. who have worked for, who know people who work for the companies you’re researching, and they might be a good source for intel that you won’t get by talking to someone in the company who may not be honest because he wants to keep his job and doesn’t want anything he said to get back to him.

    And yes, I think it is very common to get steered to the jobs board. When I worked at the university, I remember getting contacted by former colleagues re job opportunities. The problem was that the university was so huge and I was only aware of job openings in my own dept., so former colleagues with finance and accounting backgrounds, gee, sorry, I really couldn’t help them unless I knew that there were openings in my dept.’s business office. “But what about other depts.?” they’d ask, and all I could do was apologize and say that I didn’t know. The university was the largest employer in the region, and unless I was best buddies with someone in another dept. on campus and she just happened to tell me that they were looking for someone with a finance or accounting background, I couldn’t help. Additionally, hiring at the university was based on connections. Someone in that particular dept. had to want to hire YOU and only you, so the job description was written to your specs, and it was an open secret who was getting the job. And on the other side, when I’ve told former colleagues that I’m looking for work (I don’t ask for a job), they do the job board steer, particularly if they work for a large company or the government. There’s nothing in their dept., or that vacant job already has someone’s name on it, but outside of that, the best they can do is steer you to the company’s job board.

    Networking with someone who might not be able to steer you to a job now but who knows that someone will be retiring, someone has given notice, or that a dept. is growing and they’re going to need another person a year from now is the one who might provide more tangible leads.

  16. @Don Harkenss
    I agree being steered by someone who knows you is an asset. However, even being steered by someone will not get always get a perspective candidate in the door. I’ve had a few leads where someone inside the company recommended me to the hiring manager, however, the HR department still requires that each candidate completes the on-line application and applications go through word-search software.

    So, even though someone from the inside recommends you to the hiring manager, you still get lost in the HR bureaucracy at the company.

  17. A “lead” is rather unhelpful. I want a names of a manager/decision maker.

  18. I agree with the most of the free advice, ps: I’m ready to get head hunted ; )