Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Applying For Jobs, Part 2 in a Multiple Part Series I appear to have gotten around to: Effective Networking

Most major job sites say that you must network to get a good job, and then offer to do the networking for you. They're right in that networking is one of the best ways to get a job that fits you well and meets your needs, but they're wrong in saying that technology is the way you have to do it.

It's a mix, really. The days of shaking someone's hand in a bank, getting a card, and starting work on Monday are long over. But in the course of your life there are people whose hands you shake regularly, or you hug, or you smile when you meet, or you wouldn't mind having coffee with. Most likely you keep track of these people in some electronic way--email, Facebook, LinkedIn, or some other site for managing people.

Now, a brief aside: Facebook and LinkedIn are (at the time of this writing)very different social networks. One is generally considered for more social networking and the other is one of many job sites that help you keep track of people with whom you've worked (or those close family members who desperately are trying to add lots of connections to impress some employers who check connections on the job sites).

However: my point is that there is not often a clear line in the sand between a business acquaintance, a regular acquaintance, and a friend. There are people I work with right now that I'd go right on hanging out with if they or I got a new job tomorrow. They're fun and they're smart and I have a good time with them. Do I consider them work colleagues and put them in the work networking category, or do I consider them friends and put them in the more social networking category?

The answer is, you can put them in both. There's no guilt, here, that you'll doing that person a disservice. Psychologically, we typically like to keep "home" and "work" life separate because its easier to let go of the stresses of either if you're operating in the other. We do, however, spend a lot of our lives living in the in between, and, oddly, this can really help on a job search.

Now, before you make a post on a social networking site along the lines of "Anybody heard of any jobs?" you do have a better way of going about this. I always recommend creating a spreadsheet, preferably a digital one.

Then, go through your list of all friends and acquaintances and weed out the folks who would be annoyed by you asking them for help related to work, and those folks who really cannot help you with work you want. For example, your second grade best friend may be interested in the fact that you're status has changed to "in a relationship" but they don't remember you well enough to give you a good job reference ("He didn't eat as much paste as the other kids..."). Also, if you don't want to relocate, asking your friend in another country for help is likely to be counterproductive (although, upon occasion, people can surprise you).

Once you've got your list of folks--from any sites, or email, or whatever--look up where they work. Yes, it's a bit like cyber stalking, but its not actually illegal. Which is good. Look at their workplace, review the career options there, and what that place does for each person. If they work in a career (and have for a while) that does not intersect with your own, you can probably cross them off the list (at least for your first pass). For example, you're a software developer and you're friend is a pediatrician's assistant, chances are likely he can't directly connect you with work (though you keep him on a secondary list so that you can always check in your next pass to see if he/she can review all software developer options that may not be listed on the job website for the pediatrician).

If they work at a place that you think you'd like working at, browse the career options. If there are open job reqs that you can do, make notes about the reqs next to that person's name and reasons you might like to work there/they might like to have you. If there are not, make notes about what makes you interested in working there and why they might like to have you, but note that there aren't any current reqs at this time.

Now, open up your email. Note I haven't said a THING about your resume/CV. I have a whole post on my feelings on the resume here. At this point, you're gently asking questions of your friends and you don't want to pressure them.

Open the email with some basic chatter--how are you, how is X (where X is a dog or a friend or something)--and then cut to the chase "I'm here to pester you about a job as I have been reading about where you work and it seems kinda cool." Or your own words and level of formality, as appropriate to the person you are, in fact, pestering.

Note: the email you are now writing could be forwarded to anyone within the company you have expressed interest in. Anyone. HR. The hiring manager. Some guy who five years from now works at another company and could make a hiring decision about you. Even though this is your friend/acquaintance/etc., be polite, be funny, stick to facts, and treat this like a cover letter, because it could be.

Review your spreadsheet and write a little about why you think you'd like working there and why you think you might be a good fit--no more than four sentences, tops. If this is a place that has open reqs in which you are interested, mention them (and any specific helpful identifying information about them like the url for the req and/or the job ID). Then conclude with a request to your friend to find if they think you might be a good fit, and, if they do, if you can pass your resume to them so it goes on its way to the appropriate person. Finally, end your email with understanding that they're work time is really busy and that you appreciate their time and effort. Then close the email as you would for a friend (the kind you don't swear at or remind of the time you flushed their head down a toilet).

Basically, you want something to look like this:

Hi Person X,

I'm sorry I haven't contacted you in forever, and that the first time I'm doing it is to pester you about where you work. That said, I saw Y Position available on your work site: (spiffy URL) and it looks up my alley.

I looked over your work site, and I see that I have a lot of the same interests as the company, such as 1, 2, and 3. And it looks like they could use someone like me with X years of experience in Q type of work.

So my questions for you (if you have time) are as follows: 1) do you think it might be a good fit for me? 2) should I go ahead and submit through the site or may I pass my resume on to you if you think I might be a good fit?

Thanks for your time. I was just taking a look around at available positions and remembered I enjoyed working with you/hanging out with you/etc., looked up where you were working, and well, this email is the result.



Repeat this for all the folks on your list in the first group (the group most likely to produce a good result for you). If you are connected through a networking site, feel free to send your requests through the site, but be sure to identify yourself in a way that person will know who you are.

Wait a week. For those who did not respond, cross them off your list; you were asking them for a favor, and for whatever reason they did not feel comfortable granting it. They're allowed. For those who did respond, respond to them and keep the discussion open...sometimes they'll want to catch up on friend stuff, sometimes they'll know about a gig at a different company, sometimes they want you to use the normal website mechanism for submitting a resume, and sometimes they'll readily take what you have and hand it to the right people directly. Whatever they offer, whatever they do, thank them and make it worth their while in terms of good conversation, a polite thank you, etc. This is because they did what they could for you this time; even if it doesn't pan out, it means they're more likely to do what they can for you next time, too, and maybe the result will be different.

After you've exhausted folks in fields of actual interest, repeat this with folks in fields not necessarily up your alley, but in terms of "I'm looking for this whale washing job, you know anyone with whales looking for a washer?" It's a lot less likely to directly connect you to a new gig, but it still has a higher chance of you getting a new gig than cold calling or going through classifieds.

On the whole, friends are, well, friends. The same way you want to help them and look out for them is the same way they want to look out for you and help you. Treat them with respect, respect their comfort levels, and generally be your normal kind self (or your abnormal kind self if you're not usually kind) and you get both the gift of their continuing friendship, and occasionally a really good job to boot.

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