Help me with my networking skills--I need to get over my reluctance to ask people for help in my job hunt.
January 20, 2012 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me with my networking skills--I need to get over my reluctance to ask people for help in my job hunt.

I'm graduating in May and still don't have a job lined up. People (career counselors, friends, etc.) keep telling me that in this economy, the best way (possibly the only way) to get a job is through networking. I'm a pretty shy person, but I'm able to meet people at networking events and have pleasant conversations with them. However, I seem to be unable to make the next step and ask them for help/advice finding a job. I feel like to do so would be tantamount to asking someone you hardly know for a favor. I don't know--I just don't feel comfortable doing it, and the people I've talked to about this problem seem to have no idea why I feel this way. They're like, "just email them and ask them if you could have a discussion with them over coffee." But I'm thinking, well, I hardly know them, and I'm supposed to ask them to waste time having coffee with me so they can give me advice on finding a job? The thing is, I can't even ask people to help me over email, not to mention ask them to spend even more time meeting me for coffee.

I read this other post, and it contained some helpful advice. But I have some concrete questions that are not adequately answered in the other post.
1- How do I follow up with people I meet at networking events, i.e., how do I write an email in a way that doesn't feel overly imposing (or doesn't make me feel like I'm asking them for something)?
2- How do I keep in touch with people I met in the past or were introduced to at some point by someone else? (What should I say in emails and how frequently should I send them?)
3- I often fail to even mention to people I meet at networking events that I'm looking for a job because I feel like as soon as I say that, they'll think that the only reason I'm talking to them is because I want them to help me find a job (which isn't even necessarily true). How do I get over this?
posted by raynax to Work & Money (11 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Just be straight up. "Mike, nice to meet you at the Chamber breakfast. Want to grab coffee/lunch/meet at your office sometime? I'd like to get to know you better/learn more about specific thing you do/talk more about thing we have in common."

If you're used to not asking favors you should play Rejection Therapy or just generally force yourself to make larger and larger requests until someone gets mad. That way you start to sound the real limit.
posted by michaelh at 12:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

2. Oh, and if you're looking for a job just reiterate you're looking for a job so please keep you in mind if they hear of anything. Anybody offended by this won't give you one anyway. Try to get a sense of when someone's status "expires" -- that's when you follow up. If you ask someone for updates more frequently than they have them too much, they'll let you know when to check back.

3. Some people are going to think that, and the ones who might actually give you a job won't hold it against you. The odds of you tricking someone into offering you a job by being pleasant and unassuming is a lot lower than the odds of you getting a job by telling everyone what you want. Again, play some game with yourself to go "too far" (not really) and you'll be wiser.
posted by michaelh at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Suggestions above are great. I just wanted to add that it gets easier over time and with practice.

By the way, the people whom you email might be looking for an excuse to get out of the office for a few minutes and go have coffee with someone... so you might be that ticket out. You might be doing them a favor too!
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:54 PM on January 20, 2012

Sorry for three posts. Also, there is a good chance you are going to the wrong events. There's no question chamber etc. can be stuffy and I think you would be surprised how forward you might find yourself acting in a room of people who like and do what you like and do. If that's the case you should be asking people if they know of any other good networks. Asking at the actual networking event is ideal; otherwise just ask over e-mail. "Brian, really enjoyed talking about X with you on Monday. Do you know of other good events in City for people in our field?" Then you go.
posted by michaelh at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2012

Hi! I'm a somewhat recent-ish college grad that was in this position recently and I think I can offer a bit of advice:

if you know what area/region and industry you want to be in, you should definitely try to see if there are alumni (via your college's alumni website -- maybe your career counselors can help you with it) around and email them. My university had a database of alumni that specifically said they were okay with being contacted for job advice. I probably sent about 50 emails and got 10 replies. They were all very warm and pretty flattered that I approached them -- and I tried especially hard to go out and meet them in person. (Phone call is second best, and one or two I have email-only communication with.)

I just got a job in my industry (through blind luck, not connections) and now I'm going back and emailing those people I networked with before to tell them the good news. (I asked all of them beforehand if I could keep in touch with updates.) Many of them have offered to meet up with me now over coffee and etc. to talk about the new opportunity. I think the important thing to remember here is that the people that are responsive want to network with YOU, too. You may be young, but maybe later down the road they'll want to ask something of you. So don't feel weird about following up at all. Worst case scenario the person doesn't respond, and then so what? It's kinda like dating -- you just move on to other people :)

I also occasionally send emails to people I've met asking them if they'll be at so-and-so networking event in our area, or maybe forward them some relevant industry news and ask their opinion, etc. I don't do this often, but it's a good, low maintenance way to keep in touch.

Another thing is that you should focus on asking for advice/tips on working in your selected career field. I would definitely mention that you're looking for a job but make sure you have other talking points.

And again, people that are at these networking events are used to people talking about the job search! It's why they're there. So don't worry about looking desperate or pushy.

Also, social networking on LinkedIn is a really good idea if you haven't done so yet.
posted by themaskedwonder at 1:02 PM on January 20, 2012


As someone whose company is hiring (Mozilla) [memail me!], I *like it* when people make it clear they are looking! Finding people is hard, and it is not an imposition to ask me!

If I give you a card, it means to write me!
posted by gregglind at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2012

3. It's okay to only be talking to someone because you hope they can help you find a job. I've been talking to a young lawyer recently who contacted me because he wants to work in my area of practice. He contacted me only because he hoped I could help him. That didn't offend me, it flattered me.
posted by jayder at 2:44 PM on January 20, 2012

Networking isn't about asking for help, it's about meeting people and asking questions, and maybe asking for the names of two more people to talk to.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:36 PM on January 20, 2012

I'm a big fan of Ramit Sethi and he just posted about this very topic.
posted by vivzan at 5:20 PM on January 20, 2012

"doesn't make me feel like I'm asking them for something"

You are asking them for something. How else can you find a job? You have to let people know what you want! You want their sage wisdom, their advice, their thoughts on how your skills might help them with the success of their company or project. And then you have something to give them--your talents, abilities, brawny muscles, big brains, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 7:15 PM on January 20, 2012

The reason networking is thembest way into a job is thwt many jobs aren't formally posted anymore. You are doing companies & individuals a favor by introducing yourself and your skills so that they can hire you if they need someone with your skills.

Personally, I really like meeting and talking to people about my work, my industry, their work/skills/interests and how these things might coincide. Getting asked for advice is really flattering, and helping good organizations hire good people is a thrill. Furthermore, helping you with your job search makes me feel generous & that's a positive emotion I'm into.

I suggest you re-frame for yourself what you're asking for. You aren't asking for a job, you are asking for information & advice about their employer, industry and career path.

Specifically, via email, ask for 15-30 minutes to talk "some more" about something you talked about while networking, eg: "your company's new ...", "where I might find work that complements my training in ...". Attach your resume

If they don't have time to meet with you, write a sincerely grateful response, ask who they think you should talk to and if there might be a good time to meet in the future.

In advance of the private meeting, Read up on the public information that's available about the person & org'n so that you can ask probing, in depth questions that are suitable to the person you're meeting. Take your resume with you, but don't read it to them. Introduce your interests & skills in depth and Ask intelligent questions.

Regarding follow-up, I think forwarding links or articles of interest to your "targets" is the best way to stay in touch. Don't do this more than once a week, monthly seems sufficient in your situation. Quarterly is my goal, annually is more realistic (but I have a job). Include a note about why you are sending it and how you met the person. "Beth, I recall you expressed an interest in nuclear fission, I came across this article on DIY fission and thought it might intrigued you. I'm still looking for my next gig as an Igor, I hope you will keep me in mind if you hear of any openings"

Telling people that you're approaching graduation will likely cause many to realize you're job searching. However, it doesn't hurt to be explicit and there's no shame in it. By the same token, I wouldn't make it the first thing you say. Try for, "... I'm planning on working in this industry/city after graduation, what do you think are the best org'ns to work for hereabouts?"

TL, DR: information interviews (ie post networking event chats) are a great way to help the invisible hand of the market put you in the right place for an employer to find you and employers want great new hires, so you're doing them a favor by introducing yourself.

posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:42 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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