Build Confidence When You’re Networking for a Job by Setting Attainable Goals

networking series
Set Attainable Goals for Job Networking

Networking can be scary. 

And it can be hard to know where to start. It can be even harder to keep your networking going and then keep up with it.

In this series on networking strategy, I’ve tried to reduce your stress levels by sharing perspective I gained as a recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm.

Now let me cut you some slack.


Momentum and sustainability in networking are key

We’ve talked about the power of referral and how it can keep your networking effort going. Get two to three referrals for each person you reach out to, and you could easily end up in contact with dozens of people within a few weeks. 

Fantastic, right?

But what if everyone you reach out to says “yes” and is ready to give you 20 to 30 minutes of their time, or more? 

What do you do then? 

You could essentially become a full-time networker and fill your calendar with lots of short appointments throughout the week. But you probably have other things that need to get done — like your current job, taking care of your kids if you have them, and grocery shopping.

Even if you’re in between jobs and feel some pressure to reach out to people, you’ll need to set a pace that keeps you fresh and engaged. Otherwise, you could end up coming across as disinterested or even desperate.

And worse — if you can’t keep up with the response to your outreach, you could end up developing a reputation as a flake, or worse.


Strategy: Don’t reach out to more people than you can respond to within a reasonable period of time

Executive recruiters know they shouldn’t reach out to more people than they can reasonably get back to. When I was an executive recruiter, I learned this lesson fairly quickly.

One of the primary benefits a search firm offers to its clients is a responsive network of high-quality professionals. The key here is that the network is and remains responsive. When the search firm reaches out, the network needs to respond reasonably promptly with leads for great candidates.

When I started networking as a recruiter, I was initially paralyzed by fear. (We talked about that one.) But once I got over my fear, I started to become more confident. Making calls and sending out emails started to get easier. I developed bullet point scripts for myself, I had my systems down, and I got faster. I could reach out to a dozen, or even a few dozen people, in an afternoon. 

Check, check, check, check, check!

That was all great — until people started responding. 

I quickly found that I wasn’t able to get back to people as fast as they were getting back to me. It was a little overwhelming, and I started to lose my confidence all over again. Was I really up to the job if I couldn’t even respond to calls and emails? Would I be able to keep up, do a good job for my clients, and maintain the firm’s reputation?

It was time for some math. Not hard math, mind you, but some math. 

I needed to figure out how much time I had for networking each week. Within that amount of time, I needed to determine how many people I could reach out to, knowing that a certain percentage of those people would ultimately get back in touch with me.

If I did this fairly accurately, I could ensure that I would be able to respond to and engage with all the people who were kind enough to get back in touch. It would be beneficial to my clients, and it would also be good for my firm’s reputation. And I would set attainable goals for myself, which would keep me feeling in control of my day and week, my job, and maybe even my life.

Cue the confidence.


How you can apply this strategy

Before you start networking for a job or your career, take a hard look at your calendar. When do you have the time in your week to do it? Be honest with yourself and don’t overcommit. It’s better to set an initial networking goal that you can achieve than to overcommit and end up feeling like a failure.



It’s better to set an initial networking goal that you can achieve than to overcommit and end up feeling like a failure.



Once you have the time blocked off, consider how many people you might reach out to in that time — assuming that a certain percentage of those people will get back to you, will exchange emails with you, or agree to talk. 

To make things easy, start by assuming that you’ll need double the time it takes to reach out to people in the first place. That should leave sufficient time for you to be responsive to the people who are responsive to you. 

Now you have 50% of the time you’ve blocked off on your calendar for networking that you can devote to outreach. Divide that time by how long it will take you on average to compose an email or message or make an outgoing call. Be generous when you’re first starting out. You’ll likely be slower at this than you think. 

The result of your calculation should provide an initial weekly outreach goal. As an example, let’s say that I have 2 hours in a week to network. Reserving 50% of that time to engage with the people who respond to me, I’ll have 1 hour available for outreach. Let’s say then that it usually takes about 15 minutes to write, edit and proof an email, I’d be able to reach out to 4 people. Let’s also say that 3 of those 4 people get back to me (a 75% response rate) and that I spend an average of about 20 minutes exchanging messages or talking with each of those 3 people. That fills the hour I had reserved for networking response.

Networking week over!

As you get more experienced, you’ll likely require less time to execute your outreach. You’ll also get a better sense of how much time you need to reserve for engaging with the people who do respond to you. It may be more than 50%. It may be less. It will depend on your individual response rate and the amount of time you find you’re spending exchanging messages or on the phone.

You can tweak your numbers as you go, with the ultimate goal being that you’re able to manage both the outreach and the response related to your networking. 


Not everyone is going to get back to you

You might have noticed that I slipped in a comment or two above about people not getting back to you. It was the part about a ‘response rate’ in the time calculation. 

Not everyone you reach out to is going to respond. That likely won’t feel great. It may also be a little frustrating. But it’s part of the process.

Most people you reach out to will be well-intentioned. They’ll likely want to help, but they may not always be able to. 


Strategy: Expect (and accept) a little rejection

When I was working in executive search, I learned that a certain percentage of the people I reached out to would not be getting back in touch with me. It wasn’t a large percentage. I was reaching out from a reputable firm, and quite a few of the people I contacted already knew my colleagues, or me.

Still — radio silence wasn’t uncommon. People just didn’t respond. I learned not to take it personally. 

I think most people didn’t get back to me because they just happened to be overwhelmed by their own work, meetings, family commitments, and the like. They would often say so if they did respond a couple of weeks or even several weeks later. We’ve all been there. We intend to do something, but it just keeps on moving down the priority list because other more urgent things come up. Or they just have too much to do. They weren’t passing judgment on me.

I would typically re-ping the people who hadn’t responded to me more than once and through different channels. If I started with email, I might follow up with a call and a voicemail message. And just in case my networking contact might be concerned that I would monopolize too much of their time, I would make it clear that I wasn’t going to ask too much of them.


How you can apply this strategy

First, learn to live with a little rejection. 

The people you’ve reached out to who aren’t getting back in touch aren’t judging you. They’re just busy or distracted. They probably want to get back to you — they just don’t have the time or attention. Chances are your non-responsive contact is even feeling just a little guilty about not getting back to you. 

Take some comfort in that and move on. 

If you’re reaching out to new people consistently, it probably won’t make much of a difference if a couple of people — or even a few — don’t respond to you quickly, or ever.

And if someone you really want to be in touch with doesn’t respond, try pinging them again after a few days to a week. The length of time will depend on your interest as well as their position in the world. If they’re relatively high-ranking with a schedule to match, you might want to give them a little extra time. And try using multiple modes of communication. If your initial outreach was through LinkedIn, try email or a call the second or third time. 

After three attempts over two to three weeks, it’s best to cut your losses and avoid coming across as a stalker. 

Don’t say I didn’t tell you.



In the next post

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series on networking strategy — everything from getting into the right mindset to building stronger relationships.

In the next and final post of the series, I’m going to wrap things up with three thoughts that tie everything together.


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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