How to network with pride
March 19, 2010 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently job searching and aside from getting in touch with close contacts and recent colleagues I'm having trouble with the whole idea of contacting people that I haven't spoken to in years when it's obvious my ulterior motive is networking. What's the best thing to say when approaching?

I know that job searching is in many ways a numbers game and the more contacts you have the better chance you have of landing something. So I'm trying to step up my efforts here despite being a relatively introverted person. So what is the best approach to someone you haven't spoken to in years? If I drop a line saying "It's been a long time, how's it going?, it feels insincere and perhaps obvious that I'm just networking. On the other hand, contacting someone you haven't spoken to in years just to let them know you're job searching feels a bit slimy.

Someone I know said the best approach is to simply get in touch and say flat out that you're networking but to not mention that you're looking. Good idea? And how do you best maintain (as in, contact again in a few months to let them know you're still looking) those connections that you may not know very well? Again, "checking in" every few weeks or months just seems really off putting.

In the end, it all feels sort of pride swallowing but right now, the lack of a job is a bigger pride killer so I need to network. I'd just like to do it in the classiest way possible. Tips appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Ask for career advice and about their experiences in their field, let them know you're considering your next step, career-wise, and since you always enjoyed working with them back at ___ and they seem successful, you automatically thought of them as someone who might have some sage advice. That's both the introduction to your conversation and a way to ensure they'll keep you in mind if they hear of something, or potentially create a position for you if they have that kind of pull.
posted by lorrer at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just this week, I was contacted by someone I hadn't heard from in several years because he's recently been laid off. His email was basically, "Hi. Hope you are doing well. At Company, I wrapped up the X, Y, and Z projects, and I've been laid off. So now, I'm looking for work that focuses on A and B, but of course would look at C and D jobs as well. If you have any leads, please let me know! How are you doing?"

It was very obvious. And, it didn't matter that it was obvious. We were friendly colleagues, not friends. Not hearing from him in the last few years didn't bother me at all. Hearing from him now was also fine.

Here's the thing: I would recommend him for a job because he's good at what he does, not because he's good at being a friend. But, I would never think to do so if I didn't know that he's looking. His email was short, friendly yet professional, and gave me important information: His most recent work was on X, Y, and Z projects; he prefers A and B jobs, but C and D jobs are ok; and he's looking.
posted by Houstonian at 4:10 PM on March 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

The approach Houstonian describes above is just what I did when I got laid off. I contacted many former colleagues, and let them know that I was looking. I would be similarly happy to be contacted in that way if they thought I could do something for them.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:24 PM on March 19, 2010

I could have written this question. I am in the middle of doing my own job search and I am not good at networking. Indeed, I hate it. But I'm doing it because no one gets a job, especially not in this economy, by sending unsolicited resumes to HR.

Here's what I've found. People are generally happy to help you out if they can. But, as Houstonian notes, you have to ask. Depending on who you are contacting, you might be asking for actual leads or you might be asking for advice (this is in line with lorrer's suggestion). Either is fine, but you have to ask, and you have to be straightforward in asking. Passive-aggressively beating around the bush about the fact that you are looking for a new job doesn't work. So whether you want advice about a particular market, or specific leads, or even the name of someone else who does hiring so you can contact THAT person and say, "So and so suggested I contact you" -- you have to ask and ask specifically.

(And by the way, from my experience, people are not clueless when you do this. They know you're not "using them" -- they know you're asking for help. And yes, I wrote this response partially to convince myself, because every time I send a networking email, I feel squidgy about it.)
posted by devinemissk at 4:59 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

One more data point: the kind of mail Houstonian and AnnaRat talked about -- I get those all the time, and I welcome them. Don't be embarrassed to send that kind of mail! Don't pretend you're reconnecting for personal reasons -- just be honest, say you hope they're doing well, and tell them what you want.

People enjoy helping other people, and there's something emotionally satisfying about connecting A (job-seeker) with B (employee-seeker). Everybody wins :-)
posted by Susan PG at 5:24 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am adding this to my favs since I could have asked this question. Very good advice given above,I hope to implement it. Good luck on your search!
posted by VickyR at 5:51 PM on March 19, 2010

Yup, nthing everyone else above who's emphasized that most people love the idea of helping other people, and there's nothing insulting about the idea that someone would contact you hoping you knew about a job rather than in a strictly friendly capacity. I recently pointed my friend to a position that she was eminently qualified for and I am still thrilled about the fact that she got it. I think about it all the time, with glee. It's like matchmaking, but without the fear that there will be some horrible, traumatic breakup. Ultimately, even if the breakup is horrible and traumatic, someone still got paid in the meantime and got something to put on the old resume.

Plus, in some professions where good people are scarce, the company pays a bonus to an employee referrer if the candidate gets hired. I don't even want to tell you how much I would get if you got hired by my company based on my referral, but let me put it this way: I am extremely happy to refer qualified candidates.

We've all been in a position where we needed work. Nobody's going to judge you or think you're a sleaze. Don't be shy, don't waste people's time with a bunch of beating about the bush and pleasantries, and pay it forward once you're employed.
posted by little light-giver at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Over the years, I've been contacted by tons of people for networking help. Sometimes for job searches, sometimes for people who want desperately to make a sales call on my company. This is a natural part of doing business.

You probably can't maintain constant contact with your entire professional network, but when you need them, they expect to asked to help. Most of them will enjoy helping you simply because it's a good thing to do. Even if they don't love helping people, it's in their self-interest to help people in their network.

I hire or approve hiring a fair number of people each year. Finding talented, motivated people is very difficult. Yes, even in this economy good people are hard to find. If someone is willing to recommend a candidate it makes my life infinitely easier. Referrals are often the people we select.
posted by 26.2 at 9:09 AM on March 20, 2010

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