This post originally appeared on Medium.
We’ve said it many times, even in our ebook Everything Startups, a warm intro is your best way into a new company. Of course, if you see listings online, you should prep your best cover letter, polish your resume and submit away. But remember, many jobs are filled through informal networks and word-of-mouth referrals. Many companies will even create a new role just to bring on someone they’ve met who’s impressed them.
Networking effectively is more important than ever when looking for a job during an economic downturn. There are fewer jobs than there are qualified candidates and companies that are hiring are acutely aware of this. During these times, companies may actually be less likely to post their open jobs publicly to avoid an avalanche of resumes they’ll eventually have to sift through. Now more than ever, the ability to get a direct referral or intro to a hiring manager is crucial.
Follow these tips to build the kind of network that can help you get there.
Don’t be afraid to reach out.
It can seem rude or inappropriate to attempt to network in the midst of a crisis like the pandemic we’re currently seeing. Many people are trying to figure out how to navigate their companies through difficult times, juggle a schedule with out-of-school kids, check in on relatives’ well-being, and keep their own wellness in order. But, many companies were relatively well positioned to weather this kind of storm. Once you’ve done your research you should have a better idea of where your target company stands. However, you won’t truly know until you reach out.
With many teams forced to work remotely, CEOs and senior executives who usually spend most of their time on the road traveling are finding themselves with more than a few open slots on their calendars. Again, you won’t know until you reach out and try to connect with them. Follow these steps to identify and get in touch with them.
Don’t waste time.
You got some time on that big wig’s calendar! Great! Now, you have to make the most of it. Do not waste this person’s time and make them regret responding to your message in the first place.
First, do basic research on the company. Read through their website, understand their company history, learn about their products or services, then do a deep dive into their industry as a whole. How prepared were they for this current crisis? What are the economic prospects for the future? Where will their future growth come from?
Next, do a second round of research. This time, focus on the person you’ll be talking to: study their bio and LinkedIn profile; read any blogs or articles they’ve published; sift through their public social handles and timelines. Come in prepared with questions tailored specifically to them. Understand their career trajectory and ask questions about what motivated them and how they navigated each move they made. Try to glean what things they’re worried or thinking about as it relates to their company or industry and ask how they plan to approach it.
Your goals in connecting with this person should be to walk away with a better understanding of their personal experience and their outlook on their industry. Focus your questions on learning more in those two areas.
Don’t ask for a job.
When you have the head of that really cool company on the phone, you may be tempted to pitch yourself for a job. Don’t.
That senior leader is probably coming into the conversation with their guard up. They know it’s a tough job market and whether or not they’re hiring. They are very likely expecting a sales pitch from you on why you’d be an awesome hire, which means they absolutely have a gentle but firm “no” prepared that they’ve probably already delivered 20 times.
Surprise them instead. Show genuine curiosity and interest in their experiences and advice. But do not ask them for a job.
What you can ask are things like: “If you were me, with my background, what kinds of companies or roles would you focus on?” Or: “Given my interest and experience, is there anyone else in this industry you think I should talk to?” If they made time on their schedule for you, they want to be helpful, even if they don’t want to or can’t directly hire you. You may be surprised by how they open up their rolodex and offer to connect you with other people, so long as you show them that you’re smart, eager, and worthy of a referral because you won’t waste their colleagues’ time or reflect poorly on them.
Do network for the long run.
You’re not networking only to find a job. Hopefully, that will be a positive outcome of your efforts, but it’s not your only goal. You’re doing this to build genuine, professional relationships that you expect to last.
To do that, you’ll have to invest your time and energy into building the relationship until it becomes a genuine professional friendship (as much as realistically possible).
This means you should be the one to follow up after you’ve spoken. Thank the person for their time again via email and close the loop on things you discussed. Check in with them every so often as well. If you read an article that you think they may find interesting, share it with them. If they mentioned an important upcoming project, check in a little later to see how it all went. This may take a few weeks or even months, but remember, you’re in this for the long run!
Do ask when the time is right.
Once you’ve built a rapport, meaning you’ve connected and they generally respond when you reach out, then and only then can you ask for a favor. Keep an eye out on their company jobs page. If you see something you’re interested in AND qualified for, reach out and ask how best to be considered for the role. If you see an open role elsewhere, look through the person’s LinkedIn to see if they’re connected then ask if they’d be willing to make an intro.
Remember, asking for something comes only after you’ve built a real relationship with them! Never make an ask during your first conversation. They’ll be more likely to help you once they feel like they’ve gotten to know you.
Finding a job now will be tougher than it has been in recent years, but it won’t be impossible. Building a strong network and following these steps will help you get there. As you grow in your career and are in a position to do the same for someone else, remember that we’re often defined by how we help others. Even a brief conversation or introduction can go a long way in helping someone else in their time of need.