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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Actually "Use Your Network" to Get Through a Job Search (Even the Tough Parts)

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You’re always told to “use your network” to find a job. But what exactly does that mean?

Well, it means that wherever you’re getting tripped up, whether it’s starting out (you’re stuck in a dead-end job and don’t even know where to begin) or landing an interview (you’re applying for jobs but never hearing back), reaching out will help you move ahead.

If You’re Stuck Trying to Decide What to Do Next

If you know you’re unhappy with your current situation but don’t have a clue what to do about it, fear not! This is actually the most fun problem to fix. You read that right: I said fun! And that’s because you don’t even have to stress out about applications or interviews yet. Instead, you can just focus on fantasizing about a better career.

Daydream productively by using LinkedIn’s Alumni Tool:

  1. Go to LinkedIn’s alumni page, which will give you a taste of what your classmates are up to.
  2. Click the right arrow to scroll to the second page of search criteria, so you see “What They Studied.”
  3. Select your major from the list of degrees (or search for it by clicking the magnifying glass).

You’ll now see a list of professionals from your same school with your same credentials. In other words, the jobs they’re doing today are likely jobs you’d be qualified to get! And so all you have to do is just start scrolling through the results. Then, ask yourself:

  • Does this sound like an interesting job? (“I’m passionate about the environment—maybe ‘Sustainability Manager’ is right up my alley.”)
  • Does this seem like an intriguing company? (“I’ve heard really good things about this place.”)
  • Is this person someone you admire? (“I’ve always thought Sarah would be a great person to work with.”)

If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, reach out to your fellow alum and see if they’d be open to an informational interview, or answering a few questions over email. If you’re not connected on LinkedIn, there may be a fellow classmate who can introduce you, or you can look up contact information via your school’s alumni directory. Hearing someone else’s real-life career path can help inspire your next steps.

If You’re Stuck After Sending Out an Application to Your Dream Company

It could be that you’re just not putting out enough applications. While I’m all for being focused, don’t let that concentration become a justification for laziness (Think: “I only applied to one company this month because I’m just so laser-focused…”). After all, if the odds of getting a job at a place like Google are something like 0.2%, you’re going to want to apply other places, too.

To that end, enlist others to motivate you to get more applications out there. One option is to look for a headhunter, since they have a monetary incentive to get you out there as fast and broadly as possible. Try searching “executive recruiter,” and then your industry or location on Google or LinkedIn to find someone specific to your space. They’re not going to do all the work for you, but it’s nice to have someone else on your team.

Another option is to have an accountability buddy. Sign-up for a site like Stickk that makes you commit to a certain goal (e.g., three applications a week for the next four weeks), along with a referee and a consequence. Stickk’s free, but you if you make your consequence monetary (e.g., if you don’t send out all 12 resumes your best friend will take your $100 and donate it ), you’ll be shocked at all the time you find to start submitting applications.

If You’re Stuck Despite Sending Out All the Applications to Every Company

Let’s say you’re putting out tons of applications a week—double digits even—but still having nothing to show for it. Well, in that case, your trap may have more to do with quality than quantity, and the solution isn’t to just keep sending out more. Change up your tactic and start reaching out to your network.

If you know someone in your desired field, ask if he’ll review your application candidly. As in: “Could you tell me if you see any reasons why you wouldn’t offer me an interview. And don’t pull any punches—I’d rather hear it from you than hear nothing from recruiters at all!”

Of course, make sure to moderate your ask to how close you actually are. Giving feedback takes time, and you don’t want to reach out to someone at your dream company and, after having lost touch a decade ago, ask her to carefully check over your cover letter and resume ASAP—for free.

Instead of asking a relative stranger to “review your materials,” ask if she might be able to take a two-minute scan and tell you if anything big jumps out. Just knowing one thing; like that everyone in your field does (or doesn’t) have a certain resume section, that lengthy descriptions are frowned upon (or expected), or that there’s a glaring typo you overlooked, can make a big difference. And if you need more advice, book a slot with a career coach.

Feeling good about your materials but worried they’re not getting seen? Turn to your network to get a referral.

The next time someone advises you to shake up your lackluster job search by “reaching out to your network,” you can do more than just nod enthusiastically. You can use the steps above to get in touch with others and start moving forward in the process.

Want more tips on getting the most out of your network? Get my free guide to avoiding the #1 networking mistake that most people make.