So you’re looking for a job. Maybe this will be your first “real” job after college or maybe you’re well into your career. Regardless, everyone has been telling you to leverage your connections and “use your network” to find something. But how do you actually do that? This will give you some insights and suggestions on how to take that very first step.
WHO is in my “network”?
Everyone has a network in some form or another. If you’re a new job seeker or leaving your first job, your professional network isn’t that big yet. But that doesn’t mean you don’t already have a large network in place.
Your immediate network is actually more obvious than you think. It can be composed of friends and family. We call these “1st Connections”. Your parents, their friends, neighbors, Aunts, Uncles, Siblings, friends, and classmates from school or even coworkers from summer jobs and internships. Even though you’ve known them in a different capacity, their insights and introductions could help you land that first real job.
Expanding upon that idea, your 1st Connections open up a door to 2nd Connections. These are people you don’t know well but have a common connection. For instance, your friends' older siblings, who you don’t know, have likely entered the job market already and have a good insight into someone just starting out. This could be friends of your parents (despite popular belief, your parents have friends), fellow alumni, or connections through coaches, teachers, and other trusted advisors.
WHAT am I asking for?
In short, you're asking your network for a simple favor. That favor can be general advice on an industry or company. It could be to make an initial introduction to someone who works at a desired company or industry (a 2nd or 3rd level connection).
Most importantly, you could be asking for a formal introduction to the company that connection works for. Companies internally call this a “referral”, and it means the connection will formally submit an application to HR on your behalf. Companies take referrals made by their employees very seriously. There is a greater chance your application will be reviewed and responded to compared to simply applying to an online portal. Essentially, you’re asking them to vouch for you.
Keep in mind, most people are very receptive to chat about career advice, making introductions, and providing a formal referral. From their perspective, it’s quick, it's easy and little to no cost to them. In all likelihood, someone did that same thing for them in the past and this is their opportunity to pass that on. Plus, helping someone feels good. In short, you are not bothering them by asking a simple favor.
WHAT should I do before I reach out?
When asking for favors - you have to value the person’s time. Before you start reaching out to your network - do your homework. There are things that you’ll want to do before every email you send.
Have an updated resume. If possible you should craft your resume to reflect the job/industry you’re inquiring about.
Do your research first. You’ll also want to research the company or industry you’re asking about. It’s not your connection's job to explain it to you, but rather answer questions that you have. Know enough to help carry a conversation and prepare questions to help lead that conversation when the time comes. At the very least, you’ll use that research to help prepare that first email.
Know your story. Have an answer to the question “Why are you interested in the job/company/connection you’re asking about?”. Again, it’s not your connection's job to “sell” you on the opportunity. They're going to want to know why you’re interested. “I need a job.” Isn’t going to be good enough. Have a well throughout and meaningful answer prepared.
HOW do I do it?
The most efficient way for you to reach out to your network is going to be through email. You don’t want to catch someone off guard with an unexpected call or text. A well-crafted email will set the stage for a more meaningful conversation about the favor you’re asking for. Formal and professional language/email etiquette is required. Even to someone you’ve known on a causal level for years.
If you’re new to this type of outreach, you may find that being formal and asking for favors can feel uncomfortable. Especially if you’ve never entered the workforce. It may feel.. cheesy, like it’s not your voice. That’s ok. Don’t think of it as reaching out to a casual acquaintance. You're reaching out to a professional connection, regardless of how you know them.
Also, if someone is going “to go to bat for you”, they will want to be assured that you will act professionally throughout the process. They are vouching for you in some way or another. The best way to show your seriousness is to have a sincere and professional tone.