A few months back, I had lunch with a good friend who was feeling pretty glum about her future. She was receiving rejection letter after rejection letter from grad school and was reconsidering her entire career path.
Yes, she had some less-than-ideal test scores, but the piece that didn’t add up is that she’s the kind of candidate everyone is looking for: She’s bright, she’s hard-working, she’s lived around the world, and she’s fluent in multiple languages.
Not only that, but for years she’s worked at a company that has board members who are alumni and trustees at these institutions—and they could really open some doors. When I asked her if she’d reached out to them for intros, she said she hadn’t, because she wanted to “do this for herself.”
Well, that got me into full-on pep talk mode, because the idea that networking is the same thing as taking a handout is completely wrong.
It Takes (a Lot of) Effort on Your Part
You know someone who knows someone at your dream company. But you don’t want to ask for an intro, because you want to know that you got this role for yourself.
For starters, let me dispel the idea that your contact is going to call someone at the company and that person, in turn, will call and offer you a job on the spot. Nine-and-a-half times out of 10, that’s not how it works.
Here’s what actually happens: You reach out to your connection asking for an introduction (here’s a template). Of course, by this point you’ve already pulled together an updated resume. After the fact, you politely follow up, maybe taking him out for coffee or offering to make a separate introduction for that person in return. All of these things take time and thought and effort.
Then, when you get connected with the person at your dream school or company, you still have to go through the process of interviewing—and that’s all you.
Which basically means that it takes more persistence when you reach out to your network—not less. I’m not saying this to discourage you: Reaching out to your network can make all the difference. But when it does, it’s not just because your contact is impressive. It’s because you’re the kind of person who builds relationships and who’ll take the extra step to connect with that person.
It’s About Being Seen (Not Hired)
“Oh, is he donating a library?”
When my friend said she wouldn’t reach out to a well-connected alum for fear he’d move her application along, this was my response. Yes, maybe in the Gossip Girl circles of the world, someone makes a call and donates a science building, and suddenly every distant relative is a legacy.
But for the most part, when I’ve seen people—yes, even important alumni and big donors—make calls, the ask is for the person reviewing applications to take the time to read what a specific candidate submitted. Because if you applied toward the end of a rolling process, and there were strong candidates at the beginning, the hiring manager may never give your application more than a passing glance.
Being moved to the top of the pile is a real thing, and it can make a real difference. And yes, your contact made sure you were seen. But guess what? If your application sucks, you’re not going to be called in for an interview. And if it’s great? Remember, you did that.
So, don’t be like my friend and shy away from asking contacts to put in a good word. It’s admirable that people want to do things for themselves. But remember, building your network and impressing the heck out of influential people also took effort, and that’s something you can be proud of.