Network Engineer

connected networkIf you’re on the job market – whether you’re employed or not – responding to job postings is usually the starting point. And rightly so; to borrow sales terminology, these are the ‘hot leads’ of the job-seekers world. But if you’re stopping there, you’re missing out on a lot of potential opportunities. The way to tap into that opportunity is through networking. If you’re wondering why or how, read on.

The first reason is the simple power of numbers. When networking is done well, there’s a multiplier effect that very quickly gets a lot of additional eyes and ears working for you. If you start with only three people, and each of them gives you three contacts, that’s nine. If each of those people gives you three additional people to talk with, that’s 27. With the original contacts still in the mix, your network has grown from three to almost 40 people. Those are 40 people who now know you, are aware of the fact that you’re on the hunt for a new opportunity, and – assuming you’ve made a good impression along the way – are likely inclined to help in some way if they can. 

That brings me to the second reason why networking is such a powerful tool in the job-seeker’s toolbox.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘hidden job market’. It’s a bit misleading, because it suggests that there are openings out there, jobs to be had, to which only some people – people fortunate enough to be able to ‘see’ these hidden jobs – have access. That’s not really the case.

Throughout my career, I’ve usually known that I was going to hire someone long before I actually hired them. Either someone in the position was moving along to a different one, or the team was growing, or I was creating a new position entirely. Not always, of course; sometimes a manager is taken off-guard by an unexpected opening – a resignation for family reasons, for example. But those are the exception, not the rule. In the vast majority of cases, if a candidate who had most of the experience and skills I knew I’d be looking for came across my path, that would have been the trigger. I would have hired them without even posting the job in the first place. And more than a few times, I did exactly that.

I’m not alone in this, either. Why? Posting jobs and hiring is a pain in the butt. This is why recruiting is a full-time job for many people: it’s difficult, and it’s very time consuming. If you’re a hiring manager with a full plate already, an open position fills that plate to overflowing.

All of this is to say that if you happen to make the right connection, with the right person, at the right time, your job search can very quickly come to an end … without having to compete against a single other candidate.

The amount of time you devote to networking will depend on your circumstances. If you’re employed, you might only have the time to make a new connection every week or two. If you’re actively on the market, you may spend a significant chunk of time each day growing your contact list. In either case, there’s really no magic to it at all. Networking is simply repeating the same five steps over and over again.

  1. Identify your targets

This will mean different things depending on your circumstances. If your field of work has relevant industry or professional associations, you might attend their meetings in person. Similarly, if your community has a Chamber of Commerce (or Board of Trade), they often host mixer events that are great for meeting other people in business. You can do a lot of this online as well: LinkedIn, in particular, is a great resource to find people who might hire people with your background. 

  1. Make contact and deliver your elevator pitch

For people that you’re not meeting at events, I strongly suggest making contact by phone, rather than email. Yes, I know email is less intimidating, less in-your-face. Emails are also too easy to delete or archive; a phone call also gives you the chance to show your personality. But what to say, you might ask? An elevator pitch is a simple self-introduction, timed to be 30-60 seconds in length. In a job search context, it tells the other person just enough about you to get a sense for your experience and skillset, and – most importantly – ends with the reason why you’re speaking with them. In most cases, I’d suggest not asking if they’re hiring. If the answer is ‘no’, it’s a dead end. Instead, I recommend a more general objective like, “I’m exploring the market for new opportunities, so I’m actively growing my network of contacts in the industry”. An informational interview to learn more about their company (and possibly the industry) is also a great request, if you’ve got time to do them. Whatever is appropriate for you, make sure your request is clear before picking up the phone.

  1. Ask for referrals

Beyond your elevator pitch, the most important phrase to memorize is: “Who do you know that might be helpful for me to get in touch with?” You might notice that this question presumes that they do know someone they’ll refer. Unless you’re in sales (and even if you are), you may find this question more difficult to ask than one that starts, “Do you know anyone …”. I encourage you to ask it this way anyway. Based on a wealth of experience on both sides of this conversation, I promise you that you’ll get better results. Each time they give you a contact, ask if there’s anyone else. And after they’ve given you as many as they will, ask if you can use their name when making contact. A ‘warm’ referral is significantly better than a cold call.

  1. Say thank you

Always, always, ALWAYS say thank you. Show sincere gratitude at the time they share a contact with you (and even if they don’t, show gratitude for considering it). And if you have an email address for them, send them a note a few days later – perhaps even after making contact with the people they referred – to say thank you again, and to keep your name fresh in their mind.

  1. Follow up

For your network to work for you, you have to stay in the minds of your contacts. So you do need to follow up. But timing is everything: follow up too often, and you could become a nuisance. In most cases for someone actively on the market, every 3-4 weeks is a reasonable frequency. A quick email (rather than a phone call) is fine at this stage, and I recommend phrasing it as an update. Let them know, for example, if one of the people they recommended has been particularly helpful to you, or if you’ve come across a really interesting company or piece of news. Close with an open-ended request for any additional recommendations or referrals they might offer, and a ‘thank you again’, and you’ve got a solid follow-up that will leave a good impression.



Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash