Working It: Five Tips for Working Your Network


October 13, 2008

Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.

Whether you're seeking your first or your fifth executive job, working your network effectively is central to your job-seeking success. Recruiters and online ads may be the job-search strategies of choice for many job-seekers, but for the past 20 years, studies have consistently shown that 70-80% of jobs come through a person's network.
What makes networking simultaneously the most effective and the most feared strategy is that few of us have been taught how to do it well and most of us have suffered at the hands of inept networkers. What follows are five tips for making the most of working your network.
Tip #1: Put together a thorough list of the contacts in your network. One of the most common mistakes is to limit your networking list to a small number of people in the exact location, industry, and position you are seeking. This dramatically under-represents the full array of personal and professional contacts that could be of use to you in your job search. After all, you know plenty of people in other locations and professions, and so do the members of your network.
With this in mind, generate the most complete list you can of everyone you know including former and current colleagues, law school and undergraduate friends and professors (as well as career center advisors), family members, family friends, friends from church or synagogue, your children's parents' friends, contacts from community and professional organizations, your accountant, financial advisor, etc.
Tip #2: Organize your contacts by order and approach. For most people, a job search is a part-time effort made while you work at a day job, making it especially important to use the time you devote to it efficiently. You also want to use the time of people in your network efficiently, so give advance thought to the order and manner in which you want to approach each person on your list.
First approach people who might not know the relevant decision makers but who have valuable perspectives on the given industry or organization. For example, if you want to move into the nonprofit world, someone who has successfully made that move could be a useful resource as you begin your search, providing information on the challenges and opportunities in making such a move, how they did it successfully, things to avoid, and nonprofit resources such as job boards or conferences.
To maximize efficiency, pick a social networking site whose features you like and where you have the largest network.
The next thing you have to decide is how to approach a particular contact - i.e., via phone or email. In fact, you should use both approaches with everyone, but select an initial approach consistent with the nature of your relationship and the length of time since your last contact.
With people you have not been in contact with for a long time - which describes most of most people's contacts - an email approach initially can break the ice. Keep the email short, but include what position you are seeking, what you want from them, and when you will follow up to arrange a face-to-face (if local) or telephone (if not) meeting. Attach your resume.
Some people know you too well for an initial approach by email, so in those cases, call and explain what you're looking for, how specifically they can help, and when you want to meet. Reiterate this information in a follow-up email with your resume.
Tip #3: Make it easy for your network to help you. Facilitate the networking process by asking each contact for something specific and by providing the information and follow-up to streamline any efforts they make on your behalf.
People are uncomfortable asking for help, so they often ask a contact to let them know if they hear of anything appropriate and get off the phone as quickly as possible. Wide-open requests like this, however, are too broad to help focus or assist a contact in helping you, and they depend too much on the contact getting back to you.
Prepare by identifying exactly what you want from contacts, such as information on a company or introductions to people in a particular organization or industry. General requests are more likely to simply overwhelm them.
Similarly, give them the information they need to help you in the form of an email that succinctly describes what you're looking for and why you're well qualified for it. And always make the follow-up step yours, since your job search is your top priority, not theirs. Furthermore, make your requests user-friendly by asking for something specific, providing the information about you they need to fulfill the request, and following up once they have completed the requested task(s).
Tip #4: Reciprocity matters. Job-seekers often forget that reciprocity is the currency of all relationships. Don't make that mistake. Seek ways to reciprocate the favors you ask of others, displaying your relationship-building skills to your network.
For example, if you know that a contact is starting to look at other employment opportunities, share what you've learned in the marketplace about opportunities or offer an introduction to a helpful recruiter.
If you can't think of a way to reciprocate, simply ask how you can return the favor. The very fact of asking adds reciprocity to the exchange and explicitly acknowledges its importance. It will make it more comfortable for you to ask for assistance and more likely that you will receive it.
Tip #5: Use online and offline networks. The advent of social networking sites provides a rich source of information to accelerate both the identification and the expansion of your network. In just a few minutes, you can identify people to approach for important information and introductions which can lead you to opportunities, conversations, meetings, and offers.
To maximize efficiency, pick a social networking site whose features you like and where you have the largest network. The particular site you select, though, is less important than simply picking one and investing the necessary time to derive full networking benefit from it.
Spend time writing a detailed profile so that you become a resource to others (remember the reciprocity mantra in Tip #4). Identify contacts already on the site and send invitations to link to them as well as invitations to others not on the site. As with your offline network, cast the net broadly.
Following these five tips provides a tested blueprint for networking success. Put together a full list of the contacts in your network, organize them as to the way you will approach them and in what order, provide them with a specific request and the information from you to fulfill it, follow up, reciprocate the assistance, and use the full array of online and offline networking contacts to work your network with ease and impact. Work it to find your next great job!
About the Author
Rachelle J. Canter is president of RJC Associates, which provides career, leadership, and team development services to client organizations. Shelley has 20+ years of experience in executive search, assessment, development, and outplacement, including work with industry leaders such as Korn/Ferry International and Drake Beam Morin. She is adjunct faculty and lead coach for the Women's Senior Leadership Program at the Kellogg School of Management. She has written and spoken widely on career and leadership issues and has authored an action-oriented career guide, Make the Right Career Move, published in 2007 by Wiley. Shelley earned her PhD in social-personality psychology (where her dissertation was on achievement in women) from the University of Colorado, and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University with a BA in Psychology. Complete information on her firm, services, clients, and publications is available on the RJC website at