Completely unscientific studies show that many people find their jobs through people they already know. It’s amazing that this ever happens at all since most people are so reluctant to tell anyone they know that they’re looking for work. And the more they need the job, the less likely they are to tell anybody who might actually be able to help.
Part of getting your career in shape is building up your awareness of relationships with people. You also need to practice asking people questions and telling them you’re looking. It does not come easy to most — but managing your career and building your networking skills are critical to finding a rewarding job.
Here’s a good exercise. Do this one even if you don’t need a job at the moment. Think of the kind of job you want: Graphic designer? Marketing analyst? Then think about the cities or even countries you would like to work in. Create a system for organizing these details.
Now, think of the people you know who can get you the details you need to get started. Contact them and explain what you’re looking for. The people you contact should be plugged in to the business and also have a real connection — former coworkers or bosses, someone who works within your desired industry, or has experience you can learn from, for example.
Ask your contacts about three things:
Ask if they have heard about any openings in the industry. If nothing comes to mind immediately, don’t give up. Unless your contacts have very recently talked with friends or a recruiter who’s trying to fill a specific slot, chances are slim that they may know of any openings.
Ask your contacts for names of people who might be of help to you. It may be a friend from another company or a recruiter at a search firm. And, of course, ask if you can use their names. Everyone knows someone, so use this to your advantage.
Get feedback from your contacts. Ask them what you can do to make yourself a stronger candidate for the kind of job you want. Use this as a test closer. If a contact can’t think of a single thing that would make you a more attractive candidate or can’t think of anyone you can talk to, then he probably isn’t the best contact. Thank the person and move on.
If your contacts are interested in you and your plans, they will have at least a couple of suggestions. They may suggest you look at a different kind of job, something they think you’d be better suited for or something that would be good preparation for the kind of job you want. Listen closely, because the message behind what they say will be one of three things — “I believe you can do this now,” or “I believe that with some preparation you could do this someday” or “I don’t believe this is the right path for you.”
Work through this exercise several times. Remember: Practice makes perfect. Whatever you do, don’t stop after just one, particularly if it’s a negative experience. A bad experience could mean you selected the wrong person. There are millions of people out there willing to help. By the time you’ve done this exercise a few times, you will have developed a pretty good picture of the kind of candidate you are for the type of job you want, and you’ll have strengthened your relationships with some people who can help.