Target the Right People (and Not a Job) When You're Networking

networking series
Two Strategies To Start Your Job Networking

In the previous post in this series, I shared how I overcame my own fear of networking by just reaching out to the very first person on my list. That didn't mean the conversation was perfect. 

This post offers two strategies I picked up as an executive recruiter that helped me get any of my networking assignments started and on the right track.


The start of a networking effort can often be rough

Your first networking calls or contacts in a job search are almost always going to feel a little rough. You may just be figuring out your job search strategy, or you may be in the process of getting comfortable talking about yourself, the direction you’re headed in, and what you have to offer. 

This isn’t a time to take big risks.


Strategy: Start by having networking conversations with people you know and feel comfortable with

When executive recruiters first get started on a search for one of their clients, they’re also likely going to be less than smooth when they first start talking about it. They may still have things to learn about the role they’re trying to fill or their client’s company. In order to get up to speed — and avoid potential embarrassment with high-potential contacts —  recruiters are likely going to call a few people they know well in a particular part of an industry to get their bearings. You should probably do something similar.


How you can apply this strategy

Your first networking call, email or DM doesn’t have to be to a CEO. Start with a friend, a former colleague or even a relative who might be in or adjacent to the industry you’re focused on. For a lot of people though, especially MBAs and Type A business leaders, the instinct is to cut to the chase and kick things off by reaching out to the person on their list with the most influence, or to a hiring manager directly. They think: “Why waste time?” If this is you, resist the urge. 



Lowering the stakes at the beginning of a networking effort can make it a lot easier and less intimidating to get started.



When you’re making your first contact, you know a lot less than when you’re making your third, fourth or fifth. Why risk making a poor impression on that CEO or hiring manager and damaging your reputation in the process? Lowering the stakes at the beginning of a networking effort can make it a lot easier and less intimidating to get started. And getting started is usually the hardest part.


Reaching out to people can take a lot of time, why not just cut to the chase and find the hiring manager?

In a job search, it can be more effective to think of networking towards a community of people rather than a specific job or company. This approach might seem counterintuitive and less than direct — you ultimately want to get a specific job in a specific company, right? But if you’re too focused, you might be seriously limiting your range of opportunities. You might never hear about some great roles or companies that weren't so obvious. You might never have that conversation with a person who just happens to be a former colleague of your future boss and makes the introduction that puts you at the top of the list of candidates to hire.


Strategy: Start by networking towards a community of people and not an individual person, role or company

In executive search, the beginning of the networking process is often about figuring out which community of professionals will likely be home to the majority of the desirable candidates. Different roles and industries have their own formal and informal ‘communities’. The people in these communities tend to know each other — many of them may have worked with or close to each other at some point in their career. Or, they know each other by reputation.

Executive recruiters know that once they get to the right community of people, the people in that community will know and be able to refer the recruiter to good candidates.


How you can apply this strategy

If you network your way to the community of people that you hope to be a part of, they’ll likely know about the best companies and people to work for, and also who is likely to be hiring.

As an example, let's consider Product Managers in fast-growing health tech companies. If you're looking for a PM role, other PMs are likely going to have heard about open PM jobs, whether it’s through a co-worker or a colleague, or that executive recruiter networking through their community. If you've recently been in touch with a number of PMs, they may very well think of you when they hear about an opening and then pass your name on. They may also be in a position to put in a good word for you with the person ultimately considering whether or not to hire you.

But you have to reach out to and engage them first.



In the next post

So you have a few strategies in your pocket when it comes to who you might reach out to. The question then becomes, what do you say (or write) to get a networking contact to engage, especially when you might be reaching out to someone you don't know so well? In the next post in this series, I'm going to share some tips that are easy to put into practice and that will make your networking contact (and you) feel better about the whole thing.


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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