Personal contacts account for between 40% and 70% of new hires. But how do you make a personal contact?

That’s the subject of the September 15, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter. Here’s a reader’s dilemma… and opportunity:

I just attended a professional seminar and I met people from several companies—two are places where I’d really like to work. Your suggestion to “hang out with people I’d like to work with” really works! Now I need to call these people up. I don’t want to sound like I’m begging for job leads because I’m not ready to make a move right now. I want to learn more about their companies and get myself in the door. How do I make friends with them? What should I say?

My advice is in the newsletter. What’s your advice to this reader?

(Missed the newsletter? Sorry, it’s not archived online, but it’s free via e-mail. You’ve gotta subscribe… do it now and you won’t miss next week’s topic and advice.)


  1. To the reader: Be honest and upfront. Call them 2 to 3 days after you met them. Pay them a compliment (hoonest, not BS). Tell them you know their company, would like to learn more as a professional in that industry. Offer to buy them coffee or lunch for a few minutes of their time. Keep it casual. If they ask ‘are you looking for a job” again: be honest. Say not at this time but I wanted to learn more.

  2. I’d second the advice of being honest and trying to get a chance to talk over a coffee or lunch sometime if that is acceptable. Part of this is finding out if he or she can talk about their company and job and part of this is just getting to know someone. We were all strangers at one point, but how well do we remember that point? If they want to know more about why you want to get together, say that you want to learn more about the company or get to know the person. After all, this is mostly an information interview and nothing more, right?

    It is way way way too early to think about job leads at this point, IMO. You barely know this person and you want them to let you in behind the ropes? Yeah, like that makes sense unless one is desparate. How well can you trust this person? Probably not that much but you should give them a chance to see if they are worth it at least.

  3. @JB King: **this is mostly an information interview**

    Ouch! Pls don’t use that term… it’s shorthand for, “This is a job interview but [wink, wink] I’m not supposed to call it that!”

    Just talk shop. Ask what the work is like at the company… ask for opinions about what the big challenges are for the industry you’re both in…

  4. @Nick,

    Ah, that explains some of the BS I’ve seen at times, so I’ll just discard the term for future reference. Why can’t people just be honest about what they want and see what happens? Talking shop is pretty much what I was meaning. What happens where you work? Why is it awesome? Why does it suck? Those simple questions that if you can get honest answers instead of biased BS it can be rather helpful in this world. Some people may want to describe where they work as some utopia but I think for most people, that just is not the case, really.

  5. Another suggestion – ask their opinion about what they thought the most interesting or useful part of the seminar was. It very likely is something that affects their job, and that lets you naturally ask about the things they are working on.
    And I’ll say again – don’t worry about their phones ringing off the hook. In engineering, at least, almost nobody does this kind of thing.

  6. @Scott: Bingo! **almost nobody does this kind of thing** That’s why this kind of call is so innocent and actually enjoyable for both people. No one does it. It’s unexpected. No one has a block against it. (“Crap. Somebody’s calling me for a job lead again…” That’s not what this is at all.) You don’t have to even have an agenda when you make the call — just be nice, make a friend, talk shop. Talk only about stuff you feel comfortable about. The rest takes care of itself.

  7. Good luck with that — a flawed concept: cold-calling people to ask them out for a coffee to learn more about their company or industry, talk shop, whatever you want to call it.

    Try calling a busy investment banker working against a financing deadline or finishing up a presentation before catching a flight, a lawyer who has to account for billing time, an investment adviser whose next sale puts food on the table, a portfolio manager before the market closes; a journalist working against a publishing deadline, a CSR with customers banging on the door; a junior associate with a manager chomping at the bit, etc. The only people you are going to find with time on their hands are in HR departments, but they never answer their phones.

    The way to introduce yourself, talk shop, find out more is by steady, on-going networking at networking functions, industry functions, conferences, cross-projects (while still in a job), on the internet through social networking, on the ski slopes, on the golf course, on the tennis court, at political or charitable gatherings….; by being involved and advertising your presence all along; by giving talks, writing articles, blogging and other activities.

    In a nutshell, by branding yourself.

  8. I once heard that seeking employment is very much like seeking marriage.

    If you do want to get married, you don’t just go up to your potential mate and say, “Let’s get hitched!” on the first date. Instead, it’s subsequent meetings.

    Will some prospective employers suspect or know that what you’re really doing is trying to get into their place one day? Perhaps, especially if they too practice this form of courting, of feeling each other out.

  9. I agree with Neva. Too many people use the “lets do coffee” approach and anyone with half a brain knows it is just a cover. If you have a mutual friend or are part of a similar network (such as an alumni group) then they might meet with you. But you always have to think what is in it for the other person. Why should they meet with you? If you can’t answer that simple question, you risk coming across as just another job hunter.