President, Lingua Franca
How do you run a job search for a senior position when you haven’t looked for a job in 20 years?
Part 2. Networking: How to Most Effectively Engage People to Help
This is the second part in a three-part series called “How to Run a Successful Job Search.” In short, when I realized I needed to get back into the job market, I didn’t have much information to go on. If you missed it, read Part 1 here about how to get started.
I’ve broken my thoughts down about the process into three parts:
Part 1. Getting organized: Heavy Lifting Now Means Less Work Later
Part 2. Networking: How to Most Effectively Engage People to Help
Part 3. The Best You: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward (coming soon)
Let’s get to Part 2.
Networking: How to Most Effectively Engage People to Help
When you’re looking for a more senior role, you probably won’t be applying for them on job boards. Most senior roles aren’t posted on job boards, and few of them are even posted on company websites. These jobs tend to be filled in a few ways – search firms, internal recruiting and referrals. What all three of these things have in common is that you’re going to need to talk to other people. In fancy business terms, we call this networking.
Despite the possibility that all of us at one time or another may not have had a job or may be interested in leaving the job we currently have, the general belief is that the best candidates are gainfully and happily employed. That means if you’re actively looking, people frequently discount you to some degree. The real trick of a job search for a senior role is to get the opportunities to come to you. This also means networking.
There are many books written about how to network effectively. This article isn’t about me rehashing those authors’ thoughts. It’s about how I learned to effectively network in the context of finding a new job. Maybe there’s a book out there that would’ve short-circuited this, but here’s what I learned. A lot may seem to fly in the face of what you think the right answer should be.
Weak Connections Can Be the Most Powerful
This sounds counter intuitive at first, but the most important people in your job search will be acquaintances and ex-colleagues you probably don’t keep up with all that well, not your closest friends and confidants. It’s so much easier to reach out to the people you know well and ask for help. But the people you don’t see as often are more likely to be aware of new opportunities because they’ll be exposed to things you haven’t already heard of. The folks you keep close likely know of the same stuff you do. So pick up the phone and call that person you worked with 10 years ago.
In fact, the person who connected me to my first role after 19 years at Capital One was a former co-worker who I hadn’t worked with on the same team for a decade, and we had only tangential professional ties since then. But when I called him, armed with the tips below, he made a connection that set me on my way.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Once we’ve got that person speaking with us, we want to share all the details of that perfect role that’s going to bring us all the professional and personal joy we’ve ever wanted, right? We don’t want them to miss a detail – because even if that perfect role isn’t there, if that next job had some of those things, it would still be great. Right? Wrong.
Your job search is really important to you, but not nearly as important to most of the people you talk with. That means you can’t force someone to interpret whether a role is a good fit for your interests, and you can’t hope that they memorize a list of things you’d be interested in doing.
Let me start with an example. If you say, “I’m looking to be the Chief Marketing Officer of an e-Commerce business,” there’s a good bet people will forward those opportunities your way. If you say, “I like to use analytics to solve interesting challenges in consumer marketing. Those can be in Financial Services, E-Commerce or CPG, but it’s really better in digital channels since that’s where my passion is and if there’s a product development component then…” there’s a good bet no one will remember any of that. [Did you start tuning out before you got to the end of that sentence?]
When I said I was open to a wide variety of things, people rarely got back to me. I got more help when I narrowed the role profiles because people could remember what I was looking for. This was one of the most counter intuitive and difficult lessons I learned in my entire job search: to have more opportunities to consider, you have to start telling people your interests are narrower. Sounds strange, I know. But would you rather have a lot of people send you nothing or few people send you something? That’s the math.
Telling people you’re open to a huge variety of things makes it difficult to remember what you want to do. When a job opportunity comes to their attention, you are not memorable and therefore don’t get notified. But when you tell people that you want to do just this one thing, and that thing comes across their desk, they’ll let you know about it. Once I started painting my interests more narrowly than they were, a lot more opportunities came my way.
What do you do if you are actually open to a number of different opportunities? The real trick here is to know which one thing to tell each person. You don’t have to tell everyone the same thing. You just have to tell one thing to each person. Consider which of types of role you’d be interested in that they’d be most likely to hear about and talk to them about that.
Help Me Help You
People will want to help you, but they are busy. If it’s a bunch of work, they may set it aside, meaning to do it later…but never get around to it.
Jerry McGuire was onto something. If you want to your network to help you, make it as easy as humanly possible to be helped.
If you ask them for an introduction, write the email for them so they can just copy, paste and send. Tell them they are of course free to edit. If you want them to do anything, do every possible bit of work you can so that it’s super easy for them to do it. If you can do that, you’ll get more help.
As you go about networking with folks, there will be many well-meaning contacts that offer to help you, but don’t follow through. People have busy lives and you can’t have any bad feelings here. If you can get a few connections or introductions, that’s great. But you’re on your own in driving this thing forward and you can’t depend on a few people doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
If someone offers to do something and doesn’t, a few friendly reminders are fine because sometimes they just get distracted and forget. But if they don’t follow through after a few reminders, just move on.
Never Say Never
You will get 0% of the jobs you don’t engage on, so never cut off an opportunity prematurely. If someone comes to you with a potential role that doesn’t sound like a fit, still take the call and discuss it. Especially if it is a recruiter, as they may have other roles later that are a great fit. And you might find the role is better than you thought as you learn more. But if you know the job still isn’t for you after a conversation or two, gracefully bow out before going too deep.
In the worst case, you spend a few minutes to hear out the other person, politely decline with your rationale and offer a few folks that might be relevant if you can. Particularly if you’ve offered other relevant candidates, you’ve made a new contact that will appreciate you and want to help you, and they may bring you an opportunity that is relevant to what you seek now that they know what you’re looking for. You’ll build your network and you’ll get better and better at each of these conversations. You don’t want your first few interviews to be for your dream job and be out of practice.
In the best case, the role that didn’t seem to fit is much better than what you thought and the constraints that seemed immovable aren’t set in stone. Now that I sit on the executive search side of the business, something I slowly realized as a candidate is abundantly clear to me. Roles and the candidates that fill them can be flexible. Sometimes company position descriptions and requirements aren’t clear or up to date. Sometimes, the right candidate comes along, and the job can be adjusted to fit them – or a company may create an entirely new job to hire someone they really like. There is often a way you and the company can get to a “yes” if the match is perfect. Engage and give it a try.
Lingua Franca: Accelerate your career.
We work with some of the most interesting companies in FinTech, Banking and beyond to fill critical strategic and analytic roles in their organizations. If you’d like to be considered for new opportunities in the future, visit our Candidates page and create a profile: https://lfsearch.com/candidates/.
Brian Lawton is the President of Lingua Franca.
Before launching Lingua Franca, Brian spent 20 years in various P&L ownership and strategic leadership roles across lending and deposit businesses. He then served as a Managing Director in a boutique strategy consulting firm leading due diligence engagements for M&A deals on behalf of Private Equity clients and also credit strategy projects for Fintechs and regional banks.