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I recently had lunch with a data scientist who had just finished a long-term assignment. He’s an elite professional with an in-demand skill set. But the scientist had spent months finding a new job, sending over 200 carefully tailored resumes and landing exactly one job offer.
Unfortunately, like many people, he had taken exactly the wrong approach to finding a new position.
Most people who find themselves unemployed head straight for the job boards—and stay there. They spend ages polishing their resumes, writing the perfect cover letter and submitting to every position that fits their skills. There’s nothing wrong with cold-applying for posted jobs, but it’s a lot less effective than other methods.
A recent survey found that 85 percent of jobs were filled through referrals—and many of those jobs were never advertised. This backs up what I already know: to get a professional job, you should spend a lot more less time working on your resume and a lot more leveraging your network.
Step 1. Get a legal pad and pen. I know it sounds archaic but hear me out: Your first thought might be to go to LinkedIn or a job board, but I find when people go online, they tend to get lost there. So use pen and paper to write down the name of everyone you work with at your current job, vendors and consulting firms you’ve done business with. Rack your brain to remember professionals you shared consulting gigs consulting with. Then do it for your prior job, and every job before.
Step 2: Hit LinkedIn. If you’re been diligent about connecting with people you work or do business with, you’ve likely acquired a long list of contacts. Now is the time to look to see where they’re working now and who they know that you’d like to know. You’ll be surprised at the journeys your former colleagues and business partners have been on since you worked together.
Step 3: Reconnect with your connections. It’s time to reach out to the people you know and call them. I can’t emphasize this enough: Call them. Ask how they’re doing, chat about friends or interests you share. After catching up, make it clear that you’re networking for your next opportunity and based on your research they know someone you would love to talk to.
The worst thing you can do on the call is ask if their company is hiring. The person will offer to send your resume to HR, which is the end of your story. But a dialogue about your interests and how you think you can contribute, with a chance for your connection to be creative, is what will lead to interesting opportunities and connections.
A main goal for the call should be to ask the person to broker an introduction to someone involved with a company or team you want to work with. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help; people love to help and especially enjoy being connectors.
Finally, don’t forget to call any recruiters you’ve built relationships with. (You are taking calls from respectable recruiters, aren’t you? The best time to invest in that relationship is before you need it). Beyond the jobs recruiters are currently trying to fill—most of which never get posted publicly—a recruiting pro builds and maintains deep relationships with hiring managers, and can proactively talk about a candidate who is a great fit. They also know which company is going to be looking soon.
Step 4: Network locally. Local user groups and professional associations are terrific places to network. Check LinkedIn and Meetup.com to find the local groups, which are often inexpensive or free to join. Attend every session you can—they’re a great forum for connecting with professionals who can help you find your next position. Bonus: Brushing up on all the current trends in your field is great preparation for your interview.
To make the most of these networking events, don’t be afraid to get out there and ask people questions: “Where are you currently working? What kind of role do you play? What are some of the top projects? What’s the workload like?” Absolutely let people know you’re looking after you’ve taken some time to establish rapport—people love to help. Ask those who seem like they could be good leads to connect with you over a cup of coffee in the near future. Relatively informal meetings can turn into great opportunities.
More resources to help you get that next position: