Are you running around with a virtual J (for job seeker) on your forehead? Think about it: If you’re looking for a new opportunity and stopping everyone you know to ask if they’ve heard of any open positions for you (because you “can do anything!”), you may be wearing this imaginary tattoo without realizing it. And the truth is, it’s not doing you much good.
To your credit, career coaches have always alleged that networking is the best way to find a job. However, the difference between convincing someone to join your cause and hitting a dead end is all in your approach. For example, when you ask people if they know of opportunities and they don’t, the conversation ends right there.
So, it’s time to rethink your angle. Here are a few tips to help convince people to be your allies in the job-hunting process—even if they don’t have a position in mind for you right away.
1. Communicate With One Contact at a Time
If you’re tempted to send an email to 300 of your closest friends to ask for their help, stop now! People who receive your note won’t believe you’re really counting on them—because they’ll assume someone else will respond to your plea.
Instead, contact one friend at a time, and be specific about how each person can help. For example, write, “I’m looking for a position as a pharmaceutical sales representative in the Raleigh/Durham area. My top company picks include: X, Y, and Z. I know you have worked with some of those companies before, and I’d really appreciate it if you could consider who in your network might be willing to meet with me to share information.”
2. Listen More Than You Talk at Networking Events
Instead of, “Hello, nice to meet you, how can you help me find a job?” (or the equivalent conversation-killing opening), make a point to have a real exchange with the people you meet. Ask a lot of questions—people love to talk to someone who pays attention and asks pointed follow-up questions. If you build relationships with your networking contacts and avoid vague requests, they will be much more likely to help you.
When it’s your turn to talk, describe what you’re good at and what makes you unique in 30 seconds or less. For example, “I’m an expert in green project management, and I recently worked on an assignment that saved my company more than $65,000 this year.” If you have a good conversation with someone, ask for a follow-up meeting or an introduction to someone she knows.
3. Connect With Long-Lost Contacts
What if you see someone you’ve been meaning to call, but never got around to it? Don’t run the other way—or worse, bombard her with requests to help you on your job hunt. Approach her with a big smile, acknowledge how long it’s been, and invoke a little mutual nostalgia by commenting on your joint history. “Remember when we were both holed up all of Super Bowl Sunday finishing that big project? I’m glad those days are behind us—what are you up to now?”
Keep in mind your goal to be a good listener before you pipe up with a request. After you’ve chatted for a bit, ask if the two of you can meet for coffee or lunch for an informational interview to talk shop and swap ideas.
4. Use Social Media to Get the Conversation Started
No, this isn’t a free pass to spam your Facebook page with “Can you help me find a job?” updates. Instead, fill your social media streams with content that shows off what you know. You’re a financial pro? Post updates with links and commentary about the current economic climate. You’re a marketing guru? Let your contacts know that you’re up-to-date on the latest marketing strategies by sharing information about your expertise.
When people see that you know your stuff, they’re more likely to comply with an occasional request to assist with your job search. Post, “As you can probably tell, I practically live and breathe marketing! If you know anyone who works at X, Y, or Z company, I’d love an introduction so we can swap ideas.”
With the right preparation and mindset, you can tell your contacts that you’re looking for a job without scaring them off. Keep in mind, most people want to assist; it’s your job to make it easy for them to understand how they can help.
Get more practical tips about what to say when job seeking in Miriam Salpeter's book, 100 Conversations for Career Success, available as a paperback or via Kindle.