If you’ve ever spent time looking for a job you’ve probably sent emails to your network asking them to, ‘let you know if they know something that might be the right fit for you.’
We all know that making sure you’re on people’s radar screens is an important part of any job search.
While it might seem like you’re doing the right thing by connecting and reaching out, the type of outreach, and the specific ask you’re making may not be yielding the results you’re hoping for if you’re taking this approach.
Let’s see how this plays out with a real-life example that illustrates a tweak in your networking approach that can vastly improve your success rate of landing your next job.
Version 1: Asking your Network for Leads
Earlier this year, I was scrolling through a Facebook group and came across the following post by a woman named Sarah*:
I just graduated with my MPH from GWU and have worked in healthcare for the past 4 years. I am currently applying to jobs more in line with what I focused on in grad school (health policy and global health).
I'm open to trying just about anything in the general realm of health policy or global health, though I've mostly been applying to policy analyst and consulting jobs. I'm currently in DC but am open to going just about anywhere.
If you know of anything that might be a good fit, please let me know!
At first glance this seems like a pretty good post, right?
Days later, the post had gotten eight likes and zero comments. Why? Were there no jobs available in those areas? Probably not.
The Challenge with Asking for Leads
There are a few reasons this approach doesn’t produce great results.
1. It puts the onus on the person you're reaching out to (who is already busy!) to think of things proactively for you.
Plus, when you’re doing it in a mass email, a listserv or a platform like Facebook there’s zero personal obligation by the reader to make a connection for you. They know you’re not specifically asking them, so they don’t feel like they need to respond.
2. It puts the reader in a tricky position of having to jump straight to potentially forwarding a resume, making a connection, or putting in a good word. Those are things usually reserved for people you know and can vouch for. It’s a heavy lift for someone who hasn’t worked with you, let alone hasn’t even had a conversation with you.
3. It’s a very broad ask – saying you’re open to almost anything is overwhelming for the reader to digest. The more specific you can be about the type of organization, position, industry you are looking for, or the info you are looking for, will yield a higher number of and more quality responses.
That may seem counter-intuitive. You might worry about not keeping your net wide enough to capture potential opportunities of interest. But ask any recruiter or anyone who’s ever offered to help others and they will tell you that saying you’re open to any job or any field makes it harder for them to help you. You always want to make it as easy as possible for others to help you on your journey.
4. Most importantly, if the reader doesn’t have any opportunities in mind, you’re left with no connections or conversations to pursue that might lead to other opportunities.
Side note: Putting your request out there the way Sarah did is definitely better than nothing and there’s nothing wrong with it! There’s still a chance that someone might be hiring or know of an opportunity. It’s just not the best way to go about finding opportunities.
So what is?
Shift Your Ask from Leads to Information
Shifting your ask towards information, experiences, and personal stories. Explain the options you’re exploring, and ask for people or resources who can help you learn about those options in order to help you figure out what might be a good fit for you.
But what if you already really know what you want to do?
That’s great! And it’s likely there’s still more you can learn about the field or type of job that will help you be a better candidate or know what to expect.
Stanford Design School professor Dave Evans shares that even when you generally know what you’re trying to do, you’re still just looking for directions:
Proof This Approach Works
Sarah actually did take this broader approach about a year ago in the same Facebook group.
Here’s her post from 2017:
Does anyone in this group have advice or experience choosing to apply to either JD programs or PhD programs in health policy?
I'm halfway done with my MPH and considering next steps but am having trouble deciding which, if any, of those degrees would be most useful for a career in health policy.
I'd love to connect and hear from people in this space and get any advice!
Sarah was truly looking for directions. Yes, she was asking about a degree and not a specific job but the approach is what counts, and it produced far more successful connections than the 2018 post.
This post got 13 valuable comments plus other threads that spun off of those comments! Sarah got a recommendation for someone to talk to, and gained over a dozen people she could reach out to and follow up with based on their advice. (Remember, the 2018 one got zero helpful comments.)
Most people really do want to be helpful to others and can relate to trying to find their next career move. Maximizing the number of people who raise their hand to talk to you opens up opportunities and connections you might not access otherwise.
So how can you shift your ask in your job search?
Version 2: Asking your Network for Info and Insight
With this shift in her approach, Sarah could have posted:
I've recently graduated with my MPH from GWU and have worked in healthcare for the past 4 years.
I am exploring my next move and I’m looking into health policy and global health.
I’m looking to get more insight and info from people who work in those areas to determine which one I want to focus my job search on.
Would anyone currently working in health policy or global health be willing to chat with me for 20 minutes so I can hear more about your day-to-day work?
Who wouldn’t be willing to chat with her for 20 minutes?! Most people love the chance to talk about themselves and their experience.
This approach doesn't mean you can’t ask for their advice on how you might get your foot in the door for a position, it’s just not in the initial ask or first part of the conversation.
Plus, after a 20-minute conversation they’ll be more likely to pass your resume on for a position if you've managed to slip in some info about your own talents and value!
In today’s professional world, there’s a sense that we should all have our elevator pitches down cold, and be crystal clear on where our career is going. The truth is that most of us aren’t 100% sure exactly what we’re looking for – and definitely not all of the time!
We get better results when we don’t have it all figured out; asking for information and stories helps us learn as much as we can about something before we jump into it.
And that means that we make better decisions when we do leap.
*Names and institutions changed.