University career fair

In my last post, I discussed the importance of establishing a personal brand in order to effectively roll-out your job search. The question now becomes what to do with your brand assets (i.e. resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile) once you’ve developed them. This is where we really get down to business, so you can find the best job or internship. And that’s a process that can take six weeks or six months. The key to getting through the peaks and valleys of your job search is to set aside your anxiety, shake off inevitable disappointments and have fun. If you do this right, you’ll have the opportunity to meet dozens of interesting, successful people and learn about some great companies. What you take away could benefit you for many years.

There are two tracks that you should pursue simultaneously. The first is obvious. Use online resources to find job openings that fit your qualifications. But I’ll caution that the chances of finding a job this way are remote at best. It doesn’t mean you should ignore job boards, but you should not spend more than 25 percent of your time submitting resumes. These positions, more often than not, go to people with an inside track at the company. You need your resume and cover letter to hit the top of the pile, which seldom happens when an HR professional spends 10 seconds glancing at your dossier. Your immediate mission is to get your resume onto employers’ “A-lists,” which brings me to the other track: Networking!

Networking for the purpose of finding a job can be confusing and intimidating. But it can also be enjoyable, and it is absolutely essential.  By having a strong inside contact send your resume to HR or the hiring manager, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get the fair shake you deserve. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that networking is a continual process, which begins with LinkedIn.

How to make LinkedIn work for you

I can’t stress enough that LinkedIn is the most crucial component of your networking campaign. It allows you to find any person or contact at a given company. You can use the browsing tool to identify networking prospects and connect to new people who may eventually be able to help you along your path. Anybody who looked for a job before the days of LinkedIn will tell you that cultivating a network used to be more difficult by orders of magnitude. A good LinkedIn program will serve as your base of operations, so get comfortable with it.

  • Step 1: Take out the list you developed of your target companies and job titles in your desired field. Run a directed search. LinkedIn will tell you if you have second-degree contacts at each company, or with somebody who has a job title that interests you. This means that somebody in your network knows that person. Using a directed search is much more time efficient than scouring all of your contacts’ networks.  PS – it’s not important if the company or that person you contact has an open position right now – contact them anyway.
  • Step 2: Reach out to your first-degree contact via email or phone and ask them to introduce you to the person you’ve identified. You can send your contact a LinkedIn message, but I’ll caution that some people rarely check their LinkedIn inbox, so it is much more effective to reach out directly. When you ask your contact to introduce you to his or her contact, simply say that you are looking to learn about company X or position Y and that you’re hoping his or her contact would be willing to talk to you. In most cases, your contact will be happy to help.
  • Step 3: Once your contact has introduced you via email or told you that the person is expecting you to reach out, send her a short email with a brief overview about yourself and what you’re looking for (aka your elevator pitch) and graciously ask if she’d have time to talk to you on the phone or in-person over a cup of coffee.  Do this within 24 hours and do not mention anything about a possible job or more leads. Everybody understands why you want an informational interview. They get it, so leave it at that.
  • Step 4: If you don’t hear back in a week, call her or send a follow-up email.   If you call, be sure to leave a message if she doesn’t pick up.  If you still don’t hear back after a week, call or email one more time and leave another message.

Don’t be discouraged by a slow or lukewarm response. You’re reaching out to a busy professional and asking for a favor. She is probably happy to talk to you, and doesn’t mind your polite persistence. But you’re still pretty low on her priority list.  But if you’ve contacted her three times and there’s still no response, let it go. Maybe she is unhappy in her job, going through a divorce, or has a sick child.   In all likelihood, you’ll make contact and set up an informational interview. But you’ll probably need to do a bunch of these, so get this drill down to muscle memory.

How to approach the Informational Interview

If the idea of an informational interview seems weird or unnatural, get over it. There is not a professional on the planet who’s never initiated one or taken one. The more prepared you are, the less awkward it will be.

  • Step 5: Learn as much about the person’s career as you can. Read company press releases and media clippings. Write up 10 smart questions. Understand that you may not be able to ask all 10. In fact if the conversation goes well, it will take a natural course; the questions are a fallback, but make sure you have two or three that you’ll make a point to ask.
  • Step 6: Do not dominate the conversation, and be mindful of her time. You are there to listen and learn. Impress the interviewee with questions that reflect thought and preparation rather than trying to dazzle her with your brilliant insight into her latest project or her company’s competition. But be able to briefly discuss why you’re interested in the company and why you’d like to have a job like hers.  People love to talk about themselves. They just do. The more talking she does, the more she’ll like you.
  • Step 7: Forget that you’re looking for a job. It’s a faux pas to even ask about it. You should bring along your resume (you never know when you’ll be in the right place at the right time), but your goal is three-fold. First, you want to learn something new that will help you shape better conversations as you continue to network. Second, you want to leave a great impression so when a position does open, she will let you know and serve as an “inside” ally. Third, try to leave with at least one additional contact. Networking is about building an ever-expanding web of people who can lead you to the Promised Land. It’s totally fine to politely ask if he or she has anybody else in mind who you should talk to. He or she may have even mentioned people during the course of the conversation.
  • Step 8: It should go without saying that you’ll thank him or her for the time and insight, but also make sure to connect on LinkedIn. By accepting your invitation to connect, she has indicated that you passed the “cool” test and you are welcome to keep in touch. This way, you’ll be able to stay top of mind by sharing great articles, liking the content she shares and offering congrats when they are in order.

As you conduct more informational interviews, they will become easier. The friends you make through this process can become career-long resources and friends. So relax if she didn’t mention any current openings. There are still more informational interviews to set up and networking events to attend.

Making the most of networking events 

At a networking event, such as a guest speaker or industry panel, you don’t need to be the life of the party. In fact, you shouldn’t try. You just need to show up as prepared as you are for your informational interviews. Unlike a career fair, there is a much more informal vibe, but the subtext of career development is still very much present. Even if you’re the guy who sat on the bleachers playing Nintendo DS during school dances, you still need to put yourself out there. Undergrad Success has a fantastic blogpost with advice for introverts.

  • Show up with a friend. If initiating conversations is hard, bring along a wingman so you’ll have somebody to talk to when things are slow.
  • Approach groups of two. Inc. Magazine’s Kim Weisul recently wrote about the great strategy of approaching groups of two. She says it’s easier because they can either work you into their conversation or they are there together and want to branch out (they are also looking to meet people).
  • Talking about the weather is fine. Some people will tell you to talk about anything other than the weather. I say that’s hogwash. If you don’t know what else you have in common, the weather can be a very effective departure point for good small talk.  Once you have a great convo going, nobody will stop and say, “I can’t believe this idiot started a conversation with a comment about the weather.” And if somebody is that judgmental, chances are he’s not good networking material to begin with.
  • Don’t bring your resume. Even though finding a job is the operative subtext, nobody wants to associate with somebody who seems like he or she can’t respect a more relaxed, social atmosphere. What would it be like to have to deal with someone like this every day at work?
  • Try to meet the speaker. Since many people will try to bum rush the speaker after the talk, show up early. There may be an opportunity to meet him or her before the onslaught. Fighting the crowd won’t get you anywhere, so if you don’t have a chance to have a good interaction, based on a question you ask, get the speaker’s contact info from the event organizer and then send an email the next day asking for an informational interview.

There are a lot of great ways to find out when and where these events are happening. Professional associations with local chapters publicize these events on their websites and social media feeds, and they often offer student discounts. Vendors and service providers also regularly schedule networking events. On campus, career centers invite alumni in specific fields to speak, and student organizations also plan worthwhile events. If you are the President, VP of Programming, or VP of Alumni Affairs for a student club, you’ll get great access to the speakers and other professionals.

The best way to view networking is through the long-distance lens. Not every person you meet will turn out to be a helpful breadcrumb on the way to finding a job. You need a job, and the ultimate prize from this process is a company business card with your name on it. But your network really represents the foundation for a long and successful career. That’s where the lasting value resides.

So tell us, how are you incorporating networking into your job or internship search?