Oh, job hunting. We’ve all been there; searching for jobs that you actually feel qualified for, filling out various applications, trying to think of appropriate wording, and stressing everyday that you don’t hear back. Job Hunting hands down was my least favorite thing about graduating from college. I felt like I knew my direction that last year in school, and turns out I had no idea where I was going to end up, or even what my next step would be. I applied to jobs left and right, but realized pretty quickly that I got jobs faster when I knew someone already at the company.
No matter what field you are going into, it does help to know someone on the inside. Connections and networking can have a super positive impact on landing that interview as well as moving up in the company later on.
But what’s the best method on approaching your network, and how do you use these connections without using the person?
In a later post I will talk about strategies to build your network, because obviously that’s a fantastic place to start. You can’t reach out to people that aren’t there. Maintain the relationships you have because you never know when they will come in handy.
Let’s look at some networking methods based on how close you are with that person, and the least sleazy way to approach them.
If you have a close friend in a business that you are dying to get into, that’s a fantastic place to start. Most of us are not that lucky. Grabbing dinner with this person or just talking one on one the next time you hang out to let them know you are applying for an opening at their company can usually be enough for them to put in a good word for you. (Always make sure the setting is appropriate. Late night drinks at a bar or a raging house party is not a good time to talk referrals or business. Lunch or hanging out at home are much more appropriate.) Though, my advice in this instance is to make sure you friend is in good standing with the company as well. Do NOT ask for a reference from a friend that you know shows up late to meetings, or procrastinates badly, or has been in trouble before. Sure, they are your friend and you probably don’t have the same faults as they do, but from the boss’ point of view they will associate the two of you together and that may not play in your favor.
Depending on how close a relation this relative is, I would usually call them and ask them to put in a good word, or simply ask to use them as a reference. Sometimes just having someone from the company on your list of references can be enough to warrant getting an interview, without them having to approach their boss beforehand. But if it is your parent/spouse/other close relative, it may not always be best to use them as a direct reference. Most parents or spouses are not going to be objective and will undoubtable put in a good word for someone they love. The boss will know this and not take it as seriously. It’s much more professional for you or your connection to mention in passing how you both know each other, but keep them off of your formal reference list.
Old Coworker/Old Classmate
This one can be tricky but is typically the most likely scenario. People you knew in school or people you used to work with that have moved on to a job that seems very interesting to you as well. After all, you both have experience or knowledge of the same industry so there is bound to be some overlap. In this instance, I would email them saying that you are applying for a position at their company and ask them a few questions about what it is like to work there. It will put you on their radar and show your actual interest without coming right out and asking for a reference. If they are a recent hire as well, they may not have the clout to get you an interview, but they can certainly give you a better idea of what the job entails and how to prepare for the interview.
Friend of a Friend
Very similar to the old coworker/classmate, though I would still personally reach out to them and don’t have your mutual friend do the bidding on your part. They will probably get facts about you wrong, or may paint you in a different light than you would like, and won’t be able to sell you the way you could sell yourself. Again, show your interest, but don’t necessarily look for a direct reference. Some people are hesitant to attach their name to someone else when they are unsure of their work ethic.
Usually in this case it would a boss that you are still on good terms with; someone you would stop to talk to if you saw them on the street. An old boss with connections to another company can be a HUGE help to your networking because they know your work ethic, may have connections higher up in the company than you do, and will almost always write a formal reference for you. A professional email or phone call will be enough, but always, always, ALWAYS ask if they would like to be a reference before you put their name down. No one likes to be called out of the blue for a reference when they are totally unprepared. Make sure they have time to prepare some things to say about you in advance, to really highlight all that you can do.
Chances are, unless you know someone directly on the hiring committee, all your connection can do is put in a good word and hope that you can handle the rest. In rare cases your connection may have a position of power where they make the final decision, in which case if you get the job it is now up to you to work above and beyond to prove that you were worth the hire. Never burn bridges with your connections by falling short of the job requirements, causing you both to look bad.
And as I said before, always make sure the person you are reaching out to is in good standing and will be someone you want your name associated with. Never attach yourself to people that may hinder your career because of their own actions.
And always use your references as sparingly as possible. I say this because no one admires or appreciates the person who was handed a position because of who they know, not because of what they can do. Don’t coast through life on your network, build your own legacy and do work that you can be proud of.
Along with every good reference should be a portfolio of work that seals the deal.
What other tips do you have when it comes to networking and using connections in the workplace?