Searching for a job can be frustrating, stressful, and discouraging. When you get rejected it stings. If you don’t hear back, it feels like you’ve been “ghosted.”
What if we told you it does not and should not have to be this way? This guide will show you how to take control of the job hunt process through deliberate and determined networking. We’ll break down misconceptions and share powerful strategies for creating a network that propels you further than any resume or cover letter.
Part 1: The Why
Stop Applying and Start Networking
As cliche as it sounds, there is truth to the idea that “success is not what you know, but who you know.” Nearly every job application you send out will be one in a sea of dozens (probably hundreds) of other similar applications. You could have the best resume ever, but if no one reads it, what’s the point? Many companies even use automated screening algorithms. With these tools, resumes never cross a person’s desk. This is where networking comes in. By shifting your focus to building relationships, you can drastically multiply your chances of getting an interview. You’ll even make new connections and find mentors along the way.
Networking is far more than just getting to know people. It’s the opportunity to discover topics you’re interested in. It’s the only way to learn about an organization from the inside. And when done right, each conversation leads to another. In this way, networking pays interest just like investing. Start early and be strategic and you’ll make connections you never thought possible.
Here’s the bottom line: the most successful candidates are NOT the ones who send out the most applications. We’ve seen it over and over again. A student frantically sending out multiple apps every day. A recent graduate keeping meticulous track of the resumes she has submitted. It’s easy to get stuck in the trap of equating number of applications with progress. In reality, spending all your time applying can hurt more than help. The more apps you send out, the less attention each one gets. In the job hunt, you need quality over quantity.
Our friends with the best jobs have one thing in common: they network. It sounds crazy, but we’ve seen people get interviews without ever applying. We’ve seen people get jobs that didn’t even exist! They found the right people and explained how they would add value to the organization. Boom, hired!
Instead of endlessly scrolling through job boards, the best networkers search for people over open positions. By reaching out to current employees and setting up time to chat, they study what the company needs. They then construct a highly polished and targeted application for a specific job. While this may seem daunting, with the right strategy anyone can network. You have two fundamental attributes of human nature on your side:
- People are inclined to help others:
- It feels great to be generous! Offering wisdom over a phone call gives people something to feel good about. It also helps break up the monotony and intensity that is modern work life. Every successful person had mentors to guide them along their journey. Chatting with you is a quick and easy way to give back.
- People love to talk about themselves:
- There’s a reason this concept is a central theme in two of the most popular self-help books of the last century. Both Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People hammer home the point that being a great communicator means pointing the attention at the other person. You’ll be amazed at how easily the conversation flows when you spend more time listening and asking thoughtful questions. Get someone talking about their passions and the conversation may never end!
Part 2: The How
The first step is to find someone to speak with. The two most effective tools are Google and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a bit easier as it was specifically designed for this purpose. You can search, look for people by role, and even filter by location and background information like school and previous employment. Take a look at profiles and learn what you can about how people describe their own roles. On Google, searching for company directories or specific roles can lead to contact info for people to reach out to.
Find People With Google:
The best place to start is to look for company directories on company websites. Search phrases like “[Company Name] People” or “[Company Name] Directory” can be a good way to find these. Many companies, especially smaller ones, also feature their staff on an about page. If you’re lucky they will include emails or LinkedIn profiles. If not, you’ll at least have a name to start. The next phrases to try are things like “[Company Name] + [The Role]”. These searches will often find job listings, but they may also find information and articles about the people in those roles.
Find People With LinkedIn:
When using LinkedIn, take advantage of search filters. You can narrow your search by company, location, alma mater and more. If you’re applying to a large organization with multiple offices, try narrowing the search based on the locations you’re interested in. You can also filter by your school. Whether you’re still a student or graduated a while back, alumni can be some of the easiest to reach because you already share a connection.
Cold Email (or Message)
Cold contacting people can feel like an impossible task. It takes guts to reach out to a person you’ve never met. And it’s common to not get a response on every attempt. But don’t worry! You can’t take it personally if you never hear back. No one has time to read and respond to every message. As long as you are respectful and reasonable, you have nothing to worry about. Just move onto the next one.
Once you know who you want to contact, you need to decide the best way to contact them. Email and LinkedIn are the most effective. If you can find an address, go for email as it’s more likely to be seen. If not, LinkedIn can work well too.
Finding email addresses can be challenging. Here are some strategies that have worked for us:
- Tools like hunter.io and rocketreach.co can be really helpful in looking people up. They’re search engines purpose-built for finding email addresses. Since they scrape the results from outside sources, they’re not always perfect. If you happen to reach the wrong person, kindly ask them to point you in the right direction.
- Some company websites have publicly accessible directories. These may even list employee emails, especially if they have public facing roles.
- Most companies will have a ‘contact us’ email that goes directly to a support or PR inbox. If you email asking for a specific person’s contact info, you may have some luck.
- Even though LinkedIn is a communication tool on its own, some people list their emails on their profile. It’s worth checking there as well.
- It may sound crazy, but you can even try guessing emails. If you know someone’s name and role, you often can deduce their email. Look for other emails from the same company and copy that format. Some common formats are: isaac.newton@company, isaacnewton@company, inewton@company, or even isaac@company if they are part of a smaller organization. Once you have several guesses, tools like this verifyemailaddress.io can help to find which emails are real.
Linkedin vs. Email
Everyone checks their email, and can easily respond. You’ll also have unlimited space to write.
Finding a specific email address can be a challenge. You may also be filtered as spam.
LinkedIn messages cannot get filtered. It is also a great place to find more info about them.
Not everyone uses LinkedIn or checks their account. Messages are also small without LinkedIn Premium.
For any of your initial messages, it’s best to emphasize a few key points. Cut to the chase. Even though an email offers more space to write, you still want to be as concise as possible. The easier you make it for someone to help you, the more likely they are to help. Your goal is to introduce yourself and set up a meeting. You do not need to give your entire background. Instead focus on the relevant details only. Stay on topic.
Here’s an example:
This example isn’t perfect. But it got the job done by adhering to some key ideas:
- Always include your phone number: It’s a waste of everyone’s time to send it in a second message. Just include it up front. This also prevents the problem of scheduling a chat and realizing neither of you know the other person’s number five minutes beforehand.
- Share specific times that work for you: This one is also about efficiency. If the person is up for chatting, you want to minimize the amount of back and forth it takes to settle on a perfect time.
- Have a specific request: In marketing it’s called the “call to action”. This serves to make your note as straightforward as possible. Ask for exactly what you want: “I’d like to have a brief chat with you” or “I’d appreciate hopping on a quick phone call.”
And what about the things this example got wrong?
- For one, it’s generally a terrible idea to email someone on a Friday afternoon. Most professionals don’t check business email over the weekend meaning that anything sent on a Friday is likely to get lost. There’s no perfect time to send an email, but in the morning during the workweek is great. If you want to send emails before you wake up, Gmail and other email providers offer features to schedule your messages to send at specific times in the future.
- Additionally, the main sentence is way too long. It’s over 40 words and could easily be broken apart into two or three sentences. In general you want to keep your sentences clear and concise.
- It’s important to note that even with these two mistakes, the email was still a success. It’s more important to start now (gaining confidence and practice as you go) than to fret over having the perfect message.
On LinkedIn, you only have 140 characters to send an invite. So you need to make each word count. Use this limited space to express your interest in setting up a meeting and be as specific as possible in your background and request. Check out the example below to get an idea of how to pack in all the details into a short and sweet message. In this case, the contact responded in a single minute!
You might also consider paying for LinkedIn Premium which gives you the ability to send InMail. These messages are not character limited and provide the added benefit of guaranteeing your potential connection gets the notification at the top of their inbox. There are several other benefits that Premium offers such as being able to see who exactly is viewing your profile. That being said, it is certainly not necessary.
Once you send an email, do not just let it sit. Keep track of the messages you send and when you send them. It’s common for someone to open your email or message intending to respond and immediately get distracted by another task. Following up is the only way to improve your chances of catching their attention again. Also notice how in the LinkedIn example above, the contact expressed interest in meeting, but specifically requested a follow up. Here’s an example of what that can look like.
A great way to track your messages is a spreadsheet, but even a simple text doc or page in a notebook can be enough. There are also plugins for specifically this purpose that can even track when people open emails. The goal is to understand who you emailed and when you last contacted them so you don’t forget.
If you don’t hear anything for three days, go ahead and send a follow-up. If you still do not receive a response, wait a few more days and follow-up one more time. At this point you should wait a bit longer (at least a week) and try again one more time. If the person responds uninterested, or continues to not respond, go ahead and move on to the next one.
Follow ups should be extremely short and only have a sentence or two on the main point. You can even say something like: “I wanted to follow up on my note from last week. I’d appreciate your insight into Industry X. Would you be willing to hop on a short phone call?”
Prepare for Chats
Once you have a chat scheduled, be sure to get prepared. Each chat is a huge opportunity, so take it seriously. Look into their role, their company, any info you can find really. See if they have a website or blog, or have ever been featured anywhere online. These are great details to give you context about them as well topics to discuss. Go into your meeting with pen and paper. Not only should you be taking notes during the meeting, but you need to know what you want to talk about. It’s really helpful to have a list of questions or discussion points.
Be prepared to introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in talking with them. Start with these points:
- What you’re doing and who you are: student, employee, in a job search, etc
- Your background and interests: degree, passions, hobbies
- Why you wanted to talk to them: it’s never a bad thing to reiterate your interest
Also be sure to note down the questions you definitely want to ask. Here are a few to get you started:
- Why did they want to work there/do what they’re doing?
- What other options did they consider?
- Favorite/least favorite thing about their job?
- One thing they wish they knew before they started?
- What do they want their next job to be?
- Ask for their opinion on industry trends?
Preparing with a thorough list is also a great way to ensure that your conversation has no deadtime. This can eliminate a lot of the awkwardness you may feel about reaching out to people.
Do not plan for any of these conversations to go over 30 minutes without explicitly asking if it’s ok to go longer. People are busy and it shows a lot of respect and understanding to show you realize this.
A note on talking with strangers: Keep in mind, the person you are talking with may not be great at talking to strangers. This is perfectly OK! Be sure to keep an open mind and pay attention to how comfortable both you and your connection seem. If the conversation starts lagging, or you’re getting one word answers, don’t be afraid to cut things short. There’s no reason to force a conversation if it’s not going anywhere. Make sure to say thank you and end things gracefully.
The importance of environment: Don’t let distractions like roommates, pets, or a TV in the other room, become a source of noise which detracts from the conversation. Set aside more than enough time and make the call in a private space. Take a few minutes after your conversation to review notes and make sure to write down anything you may have missed while talking. If you wait even a few hours, you’re likely to forget important details.
Grow your network
On top of getting information and learning more about a role, company, or industry, a goal you should have during every discussion is to get another introduction. Everyone you call has their own network. Use this to your advantage! If you ask nicely and can specifically describe the type of person you’re hoping to meet, they may be able to provide you a name or two. This is how you build a network. The more people you know and talk with the better. Not only will you learn more, but you’ll also have a robust list of contacts that could help you find new opportunities in a variety of ways. Just reserve the last few minutes of every chat to politely ask if they know of anyone else you should reach out to. The key here is to be specific. If you can describe exactly the type of introduction you’re looking for (role, experience, age, etc) people will be much more likely to refer you to their own connections. Sometimes people are most comfortable giving you just a name or an email address. Sometimes they’ll actually send an email to both of you as an introduction. In this case, make sure to respond quickly and graciously. It’s a big favor to take the time to connect you to their network, and they’re trusting you to be respectful.
If your contact doesn’t seem open to sharing a name or introducing you, don’t push it. You don’t want to come off as demanding. While this is a great goal, it’s not necessary. It’s more important to end the conversation on a positive note and strengthen this relationship before asking for any favors.
Post Chat Follow Up
Not every conversation needs a follow up, but it can be really helpful to remind your new connection about anything they offered to do or send you. It’s also a great way to express your appreciation for sharing their time. You should customize your follow up to match your conversation, but there are a few points to include.
- Thank them for their time.
- Express your continued interest in what you discussed.
- Ask them to send any additional resources they have when they get the chance.
- Ask if any other referrals come to mind.
Maintain Your Network
The strongest networks are nurtured over time. As with any personal relationship, stay in touch with your network. Keep track of your best conversations and commit to strengthening those connections. Depending on the relationship, take the time to reach out between one and four times a year. If you make an impression early, you’ll set yourself up for success. People will get promoted, switch jobs, go back to school, and more. Staying in touch guarantees you’ll have a professional support system no matter what.
This process is evergreen. You can do it anytime, any place, over and over again. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a job, trying to learn about an industry or role, or just exploring a particular company, networking is a must. The best part is this strategy is completely free. There are no tricks, no expensive training, and no proprietary software. Most people don’t put much effort into networking. A lot of your peers will spend all of their effort refining resumes, researching interview techniques, or worrying about looking for jobs to apply to. This is your chance to get ahead, learn more than your potential competition, and even get to know people along the way.