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Advice / Job Search / Networking

3 Subtle Ways to Ask for a Job That Are Better Than "Please Hire Me!"

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Spinach in your teeth is embarrassing, and talking about politics is always dangerous territory, but perhaps nothing shuts down a networking conversation faster than saying:

“I’m here looking for job opportunities” or “Know anyone hiring?”

That’s because focusing on what you’re looking to gain frames as you needy (and a little boring), instead of as the curious, caring, and resourceful person you are.

If your goal is to create opportunities for yourself, try one of these lines. They’ll set you up to go after your dream role—and skip over having to flat-out ask for a job.

1. “I’d Love to Work on a Team Like That”

Let’s say you’re at an event and you run into someone who you know for a fact is hiring or building something awesome that you want to be a part of. You’ll want to weave this line into the conversation:

“I love what XYZ company is doing when it comes to [name the area or thing you’re interested in doing]. I’d be psyched to work on a team like that!”

This is not only a clever way to nudge your contact into talking about it, but it’s also a great way to show that you’re familiar with their industry. Pepper in a few more questions (try asking about what their needs or timeline are), and then ask how you can get in touch to learn more.

Voilà! Presto! Kaboom! You have all the information you need to send a follow-up email the next day to get your foot in the door. Try this template:

Great seeing you at [event] last night, [Name]! It was interesting to hear about your work with [Company]. I have some ideas on how I could help with [thing you’d knock out of the park for this person] as a member of your team.

Do you have time this month to talk about this some more?
[Your Name]

2. “What Are Your Thoughts on [Approach]?”

Giving more than you take will get you ahead in your career—but there’s a super special magic that comes from giving before you take, and that’s the magic you’ll be working with here.

Research the person you’re hoping to connect with and their company before you see them, and find a way to show your value long before you’ve reached the all-desirable interview step.

This way, you can say something like this:

“I saw/heard [Company Name] is looking to work on [problem]. What are your thoughts on [tool / approach]?”

From here, allow the person to talk (and talk, and talk).

Collect tons of details around a problem you know you can help them solve. After some back and forth, offer to follow up with some additional pointers. Use the template above, and switch out the last line with I'd love to walk you through how I would approach [situation].

How do I know this works?

It’s how my current web developer won my business. He had a commercial license for an application I wanted to use and asked if I wanted him to install it on my website—on the house—so I could give it a try. In the end, he had the chance to show me his expertise in many other things I needed a hand with!

It works in non-freelancing contexts, too. The same principle applies, that if you send on an idea, you’re opening the door to build a relationship with someone who makes hiring decisions.

3. “What’s Your Latest Venture in That Space?”

We all know that person. The one who always seems to have a new iron in the fire: A startup that’ll be featured on TechCrunch or who’s in the C-suite at some amazing place you’d love to work—and if not, they’re connected another mover and shaker who is.

The bad news: While you’re dying to work with this person, you’re not quite sure what they’re up to this very second. And by “not quite sure,” I’m talking about those times where you’re really clueless and in the dark.

The good news: You can still spark a conversation that’ll uncover job opportunities with a line like this one:

“I read your article / saw your TED Talk on [topic]. What’s your latest venture in that space?”

Even if the contact you’re talking to has zilch going on in relation to the topic you point to, they will likely share something new on their plate—giving you the chance to share resources and set up a time to talk more about where you might fit at their company. (And yes, the above template works here, too!)

Make asking for a job less about the fact that you’re itching to make a move (or unemployed altogether) and more about hatching a two-way conversation that extends beyond happy hour.

Show interest and share like crazy, and the referrals, recommendations, and requests for interviews will come your way! Because if even the person in question isn’t hiring—odds are that he or she will be impressed enough to pass along your name to someone who is.