Debra Feldman

Make New Contacts Where and When You Need Them

Five steps show you how.

September 17, 2009
by Debra Feldman

You’re probably tired of hearing everyone emphasize the critical importance that connections play in finding a new job today. It can be frustrating advice especially if you don’t have a robust network.

How to Make New Contacts

Here are five steps to get you started with building a network purposefully.

  1. Determine which group of employers is most likely to appreciate your background and be attracted to your potential value contribution to their team. Identify where in the job market your skills, background, talents, experience and accomplishments fit into a niche. You are better off being the top choice within a specialized field than being one of many in a large, diverse group of prospects. Being well-connected and highly regarded in a small world is an effective way to learn about new challenges before a position is publicly announced. Maintain a spot on the radar screens of hiring managers so you are among the first they turn to for assistance, even before advertising an opening.
  2. Target firms rather than individual job postings. Choose businesses that are competitors to previous employers, organizations where your credentials logically transfer in their minds and they can envision how you will enhance performance. Choose employers that are familiar with your previous employer and likely to view your past affiliation as an asset. Choose employers in allied industries or in a field where it is obvious that your insider knowledge will enhance your contribution to a new area. Selecting potential new employers at the tier below your most recent employer may generate more interest in meeting you. Firms undergoing change (M&As, downsizings, expanding operations, etc.) often need new staffing resources. Identify vendors and suppliers to past employers and connect within affiliated industries. While every contact may not be able to hire you, they can refer you to their contacts.
  3. Develop customized written and verbal documentation (résumé, bio, elevator pitch) for each market segment of prospective employers designed specifically to grab their attention and pique interest in your personal introduction. Simply mentioning past responsibilities, where and how long you worked and titles held probably will not solicit sufficient interest to spark and initiate a meaningful conversation in which the interaction leads to a mutual agreement to find ways to collaborate. Use challenge-action-result format and aggregate success stories illustrating your unquestionable ability to contribute to a prospective employer’s success without a major investment or significant risk. Focus on the potential employer’s needs. If you are exploring new opportunities among several different industry sectors, prepare this material tailored for each group so that you appear to be their own perfect match, the go-to expert their team needs now. Remember that the job search is all about the employer’s perspective of their needs to achieve their objectives. Draw the line for the employer so they won’t miss how well you fit. Make it easy for them to realize that you can help them by illustrating your abilities: volunteer to attend a meeting, draft a white paper or prepare a compelling presentation beyond what your résumé shows.
  4. Obtain a personal introduction to the hiring decision-maker through your network. The hiring manager is the one who can restructure an organization to accommodate a new staff member, reconfigure a budget to add personnel and is aware of future plans and secret challenges that need to be addressed when the right resources are available at the right cost. Headhunters are paid by and work for their clients — the employer — to find a perfect candidate. It’s very rare that a recruiter will have the ability or interest to present you to an employer if there aren’t any existing openings for which you match the requirements. Connection quality trumps connection quantity in today’s job market.
  5. Expand your network purposefully seeking out new contacts. Don’t have inside contacts? In addition to cold calling prospective employers, tap into alumni databases and other affinity groups, get involved as an organizer or leader in professional organizations, comment on blogs and author a blog showcasing your expertise. In addition, you can participate on an e-list or forum and start dialogues through correspondence with authors and speakers. Another way to increase your visibility is to deliver presentations at well-attended and respected professional meetings, contribute articles to trade publications, plan a conference session and post a Web portfolio. Another route to pursue contacts is using social and business networking sites. The names of top executives are usually available on corporate Web sites, listed in business directories and can be found by searching trade media for current and past employee names. It takes thorough and creative research to identify those who need to know you, but it is well worth the effort in order to get connected to individuals with access to new job leads that meet your search criteria.

What to Do Next

Now that you have honed your job search strategy, are armed with written and verbal messages communicating your value and have determined who you need to contact, a very critical step in the process of networking purposefully is following up on all the connections relevant to reaching your goals. Don’t expect a response; wait a respectful amount of time (three days to seven days) to give people a chance to get in touch, then send a second contact notice or call to inquire about receipt.

Allow about two weeks for a full reply and then follow up a second time. If still no answer, wait a month or so and try again. Persistence does pay off. Staying in touch politely does not hurt and it can help.

How to Be a Valuable Contact

Be very generous offering your assistance and helping others connect among your circle of contacts. Be patient and persevere. Even the absolutely best value proposition may not draw an immediate response from an employer. Most are very busy and their priorities at the moment may not involve you. Don’t take a lack of reply personally; it’s all a matter of timing. Don’t assume that they got your message; call to confirm receipt within a few days and then give them a week or two more before your next contact. Vacation, travel commitments, computer, personal and business issues, may delay their intention to get back to you. Keep a positive attitude.

While your singular focus is connecting and finding a new career challenge, employers are deluged with small and large crises totally unrelated to you. Your polite persistence demonstrates your sincere interest in them and will produce an acknowledgement. Relationships develop over time based on shared experiences and common interests. Networking is about relationships that are mutually beneficial and not transaction-oriented, one time only exchanges. Be prepared to offer something in return for their attention (an invitation to an event, sharing news and links, etc.) and always acknowledge them with an appropriate thank you.

Rate this article 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor). Send your responses here.

© Debra Feldman, 2009

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz™, a nationally-recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic, and customized senior level executive job search campaigns, banishing barriers that prevent immediate success. Her gift for cold calling, executed with high energy and savvy panache, connects candidates directly to decision makers, not HR. Network Purposefully™ with the JobWhiz, and compress your job search into mere weeks, using groundbreaking techniques soon to be profiled in Forbes magazine and featured in an upcoming syndicated television series. In addition to writing columns and conducting workshops for several revered professional associations, Debra provides career guidance to alumni of top-tier business schools. Contact Debra at www.JobWhiz.com to expedite your executive ascent.