I was asked to speak at a Job Networking session recently to a group of Information Technology (IT) Professionals. I was asked to talk about an effective ‘Elevator Speech’ or any other aspect of Networking that I’d like. For the past 23 years I’ve been a Recruiter specializing in placing IT Professionals, and one thing I know, is that with few exceptions, most IT pro’s hate the thought of ‘Networking’! It’s a different story if we’re talking about Networking computers… but actually having to contact people they don’t know??? Please say NO!!!
Like it or not, we’re in a tough job market. I spoke to someone recently that was downright angry that what they did in the past just doesn’t seem to work anymore. In two previous job searches (in 1998 and 2005) all he had to do was post his resume on the major job boards. He got calls, interviews, and ultimately his new jobs. Now he posts his resume, applies to dozens of jobs online… and NOTHING! Now, each job posting is getting dozens, maybe hundreds of responses. Even if you’re a perfect fit, it’s difficult to get noticed in the tsunami of other applicants.
Different times call for different measures.
In the market today, you must network and be a much more active candidate than ever before. Posting your resume, or applying online is passive. You are dropping the bait in the water, but waiting for the fish to bite. In order to get your job today, you have to dive in and use a net!
So… nice analogy… but what does that look like???
For many people, contacting people they don’t know is well outside of their comfort zone. So the first thing to do is decide whether it’s more important to work only within your comfort zone, or to get a new job! Once that choice is made, often the rest becomes easier.
Second, the perception of networking is often much worse than the reality. Perhaps you’ve been approached by someone in the past that bluntly asked if you know of any job openings. Nothing came to mind and the conversation became very awkward for both of you. That’s not networking. That’s an assault!
In reality, good networking is building relationships, one at a time. Following a trail of breadcrumbs from one person to another until the right opportunity presents itself. Generally you will find people want to help, they just don’t know how. They may not know of a specific opening for you and don’t know what else they can offer. Your job is to let them know that you’re simply seeking as many people to connect with as you can until the right situation turns up.
Your objective with each person you meet is to get 2 or 3 additional names of people to connect to. Keep the chain going. Certainly you let them know you’re looking for a position. Certainly let them know that if they know of anything, or hear of anything down the road you’d be grateful for the lead. However, tell them directly: “My job during my search is to follow a trail of breadcrumbs until I get to the right opportunity. So I’m really only hoping you can let me know of a couple of other people you think might be worthwhile to connect to as well. If you were in my situation, who are the first couple people you would contact?”
Give them a good idea of what you do and what you’re looking for. However, be sure to be able to do it succinctly! Most people haven’t crafted a good ‘Elevator Speech’ or practiced it if they have. So they just start talking and keep going until they think they’ve explained it all… maybe 10 minutes later. Your Elevator Speech is as important as your resume. It should clearly and briefly explain your background, and be understandable to someone whether they understand your field or not. Especially in IT, it is very easy for people to get too ‘deep in the weeds’ about what they do, and it sounds like Greek to someone that doesn’t understand technology. Take the time to figure out how to make it understandable to anyone. Make sure it’s in words that are comfortable for you to say and in your speaking style. A contrived, robotic sounding speech is not very useful and won’t get used.
Begin by creating a list of everyone you know. Don’t leave anyone out. Include previous co-workers, people from your church, bowling league, or health club. Include family, friends, neighbors, and second cousins. Include your dry cleaner, accountant, lawyer, and hairdresser. Contact them all. These are warm calls, they are people you know. Don’t disqualify anyone (I know of someone that got their job lead from an 85 year old grandmother at their church). You never know where your best lead will come from, and they can’t help if hey don’t know you’re looking. Ask each of them “Who else would you recommend I talk to?” Contact those names. Since they were a referral from someone you knew, it’s a warm call as well. Tell them: “You were referred to me by ____. Do you have a minute or did I catch you at a bad time?” If they have time, give them your no more than 30-second Elevator Speech and then ask them “Who else would you recommend I talk to?” …and so on. Be respectful, be pleasant and upbeat, and be professional. You can do that!
Follow up every call, meeting, and conversation with an emailed Thank You. Let them know how much you appreciate their help and consideration, and very briefly restate what you are looking for and that any referrals are appreciated. Then make sure to include your full contact information. Be sure that if something comes to their mind, they can easily find how to reach you. Also be sure to have business cards with your contact information handy to give to anyone you meet so if 10 minutes, or 10 days later they think of a position or contact for you, they know how to reach you.
Finally, send out a monthly email update to everyone you’ve connected to throughout your search. Let them know of the activity you’ve had, what prospects you are currently pursuing, what companies you would love referrals into, and that you still very much appreciate any additional ideas or referrals. Often, you may have contacted someone 3 months ago, something recently came to mind for them, but they thought you probably found a new position by now. The update lets them know you are a) actively pursuing things and not just waiting by the phone like a bump on a log; and b) you are still interested in hearing about opportunities and ideas.
Networking may not be one your favorite things you think to do when you wake up in the morning, however, in this tight market it is imperative to move your job search forward. Take Nike’s advice and ‘Just Do It!’