Quick Question

Thanks for your advice about meeting people and making personal contacts to get a job in Do you discriminate against employers? You should. It makes sense… except when you don’t have friends! LOL! Besides, it’s awkward!

personal contactsNick’s Quick Advice

Yeah, I know — it’s awkward to meet people to get a job. (It makes you cringe, right?) You’re in good company. And everybody in that company is wrong.

When I bring up making new personal contacts, everyone likes to excuse themselves by saying they just don’t have professional contacts, their old work buddies are long gone, no one can help them.

My answer is: Bunk.

It’s an excuse, my friend. We all learn to be lazy because we feel awkward reaching out to new people. You have to get over it.

Meeting people, making contacts, making new friends and talking shop is a skill. You learn it and practice it. (Please see I don’t know anybody.) If you don’t practice this important skill, you lose — and the job boards and online applications will not be your automated substitute for the 40-70% of jobs that are filled via personal contacts.

If you quietly fill out online job applications, you’re at the mercy of HR departments that process database records all day long while you wait for them to contact you. You already know that doesn’t work, so why do you keep pretending?

The only alternative is the one that has worked for centuries:

Personal Contacts: Go talk to people.

Meeting people to get introduced to hiring managers and new job opportunities makes sense. You know it does — but you just don’t want to think about it. I know it’s awkward for many people. So go into your bathroom, lock the door, look in the mirror. Smile at yourself for a few seconds, then scream at yourself:


And you do.

Diddling the keyboard to find a job makes no sense at all — except to “job services” like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Monster, and every other job board. Their entire business model is based on you not finding a job, and on you returning again and again to the digital swill pot for a drink. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Those companies make more money when you can’t find a job and when employers can’t fill jobs. That’s how the employment industry works. It’s not how people get hired.

I’m not beating you up, just shaking you a bit. Please listen.

For more about making personal contacts, see “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” and “How to initiate insider contacts” in How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out when applying for a job. Until Dec. 5, 2016, you can get 40% off any Ask The Headhunter PDF book — at checkout, use discount code=MERRYATH.

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  1. A religious organization, if you are so inclined, is an excellent way to meet people in general. Even if you are not religious, there is a group for you! For example, I am a Initarian Universalist – most people in my own congregation are humanists who don’t believe in any god or other deities, but ethics, respect, caring for others, and doing the right thing for the environment are important to us.

    In addition to being an engineer, I have been a professional church musician for most of my life. Contacts I have made in churches have helped me to get a few of my engineering jobs. In any religious group there are lots of social opportunities, music groups, and community outreach groups.

    I realize most people are not religious these days, but with diverse groups such as this, it would be worthwhile to avail yourself to such a group. The added bonus is that if you move to a new city you have access to an instant social network! In addition, chances are that you will get to know people who sincerely care.

    PS: I was the music director and organist at my wife’s church when we met. Two choir members introduced us. 17 years (16 years married) and two children later, our marriage is still going strong. After that I got my first engineering job in 8 years through another church contact.

    • Kevin: I think it’s no coincidence that some of the best job-search support groups are operated either by or in churches. I regularly do pro bono presentations for one such group. But, given a choice, I’d suggest that people circulate in a broad church (or other) community. Hanging out regularly with other people who are looking for jobs can at first be helpful because you can share the experience. But you’re not likely to find a job among others doing the same. It’s important to circulate widely and broadly. The best book I’ve read about networking — “Six Degrees: The science of a connected age” by Duncan Watts, a researcher in theoretical and applied mechanics — says exactly that.

  2. A hearty yes and a qualified no: My son had a choice of two jobs that he found through one of the online job boards. He chose the one that was less glamorous and was in a less fun location. It turned out to be a tremendous learning experience and gave him a serious resume. No personal contacts at all at the company, just a typical job board application, but the job paid more than I’ve ever made. It works, sometimes. That job got him exposure to engineers, and he decided to become one, so went back to school. A part-time teacher who also worked at a nearby company saw his potential and got him a job at the company he worked for. It’s been a great experience: part-time, minimal pay, but more resume padding and learning. The income from that job allowed him to move out of our place and into a shared house. One of his roommates works at a company that employees engineers with my son’s skillset, and got him an interview there for an excellent, high paying position. He may not take it; he likes school. The point is that making connections inside a target company has paid off twice,and is certainly the way to go if you can manage it, but a job board paid off well once. One shouldn’t just say they’re worthless.

    • Gerry: Job boards are not worthless. As they say, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. But ask your son, which method was more fun? Which continues to pay off? People are going to use job boards no matter what I suggest. I just hope they do what your son has done, and develop good personal contacts as well.