Make it Easy for Your Job Networking Contacts to Say "Yes"

networking series

In the previous post in this series, I made the case for networking towards a community of people as opposed to a specific job or company.

This post offers insight I picked up as an executive recruiter that should increase the number of people in that community who respond to your outreach with a “Yes — sure I can talk.” 

No one likes rejection, and maybe I can help spare you just a little.


Signal that you’re a reasonable person

People get anxious — and become evasive — when they think other people might be expecting too much of their time, attention and assistance.

Executive recruiters are always mindful that the most knowledgeable and respected people in their networks face a constant barrage of calls, emails and messages from other recruiters looking for their advice, wisdom and referrals. Even when the relationship is an established and strong one, executive recruiters try to be mindful of their contacts’ time and attention. And they never assume that one well-placed contact is going to be the key to assembling an entire pool of candidates for their client’s search.


Strategy: Don’t lay the full weight of your job search at someone else’s feet

If you ask for a contact’s help getting a specific job at a specific company — or even imply that you might want that — they’re going to think that you might be expecting way too much. Too much time, too much attention, too much assistance. And they’re probably meeting you for the very first time.

Cue the anxiety and concern. 

In your initial outreach, clearly signal that the expectations you have are reasonable. Keep your request fairly general and lightweight.


How you can apply this strategy

Try saying that you’ve been thinking about your future and you wanted to get the perspective of someone who has experience in your chosen or intended industry. See if they might have 15 or 20 minutes to talk at a time that’s convenient for them. 

No expectations of leads (I was wondering if you knew of any openings…). No implied follow-up work (I was hoping you could introduce me to…).

No anxiety. Or at least not so much.


Set your contacts up for success

Everyone wants to feel like a winner. Right?

Executive recruiters are experts at making the people in their networks feel important and valued. If the recruiter is good at their job, every person the recruiter reaches out to in their network ends up feeling like they’ve been helpful to the recruiter, the recruiter’s client, and even their industry. 

If everyone ends up feeling well served and appreciated, then the search firm’s network is strengthened. It’s also going to remain responsive in the months and years to come, and that’s good for business. 

So how can you make your networking contacts feel helpful and appreciated in their interactions with you?


Strategy: Make the ask easy and safe

When you’re reaching out to someone, don’t ask for anything that could potentially set your contact up for failure.

But how could they possibly fail? They’re probably significantly more experienced than you are. 

It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, most people recognize that they have areas of weakness. As an example, your contact may be very focused on a particular project and may not be keeping up with overall industry trends and the competition. Your contact might be concerned that you would expect them to be entirely up to date. 

Cue the anxiety.

Your contact may also be concerned that you’re going to expect them to come up with a few hot job leads or conveniently introduce you to your future manager. Chances are, they won’t be able to do either. Or they might not want to. Remember — they probably don’t even know you yet. 

If they get even a sense that your expectations are too high, they’re likely going to stiffen up. Expect them to say that they’d love to talk, but that their calendar is just too jam-packed. For the next year.


How you can apply this strategy

Start off by asking your networking contact to talk about themselves: their experience, their career path, their choices, their aspirations. 

That’s easy and safe. 



If you start by asking your networking contact to talk about themselves, they know they can do it. And they know they can be helpful. So you've set them up for success.



They won’t need to prepare, and they won’t need to worry that they could be exposed as uninformed, out of date, or worse. And they won’t immediately imagine you repeatedly pinging them for hot job leads and introductions.

If you start by asking your networking contact to talk about themselves, they know they can do it. And they know they can be helpful. So you've set them up for success.

And there’s the potential for you to pick up all kinds of valuable information that will help inform your own networking and career strategy. 

On the other hand — if you start out by asking them if they know of an opening for a specific job at a specific company, chances are they won’t. The conversation will be over, and your new contact will likely feel that they’ve disappointed you. And that won’t feel very good. It will be a failure.

If they’re going to invest the time with you, they’ll want to feel that they’ve helped. It’s only natural. If they can do that simply by sharing what they already know, then they begin the conversation feeling like a winner. And if the conversation goes well at the start, then you'll have an opportunity to move on to more specific questions and requests.



In the next post

Once you’ve targeted the right community of people and gotten your networking contacts to engage, you’ll want to make the most of it.  In the next post in this series, I'm going to share strategies that I picked up in executive search that should encourage your networking contacts to engage more deeply and become invested in your ultimate success.


next post in the Networking Strategy Series → 

previous post in the Networking Strategy Series 


Doug Lester is a career strategist and executive coach who has helped over a thousand people craft their work-life narratives and advance meaningful careers. A former Fortune 100 marketing executive and recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm, he is the founder of Career Narratives and has been on the coaching staff at the Harvard Business School for over 10 years. He also leads an executive coaching program for the corporate strategy group of a Fortune 100 company in Boston.

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