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Job Search Strategy 5/6: Network for Referrals & Recommendations

Some time ago, I began a 6-part series on the strategies, or sources of new jobs for you. Recapping, we left off with:

1. Getting Moved Internally

2. The Job Posting Route

3. Getting Called

4. Market Yourself to Target Companies

So, what is #5? Networking of course. Getting referred. Recommended. Sourcing your way into companies via relationships.

This is almost so obvious, that I hesitate to write about it. But, it is that important. Of all the channels to obtain jobs, the most effective is via networks. That's the way it works.

I once read in one of those men's fitness magazines that you can't call a workout complete without having worked on your abs. No abs, not a real workout.

Well, in my opinion, networking, relationship building and targeted efforts to reach and establish a connection with key people are the "abs" of the job search process. If it is not already a part of who you are and how you operate, you are likely resisting this avenue.


Do you know that you could literally build your whole career on this skill? (Not to mention how important it is for doing business.)

There are two basic ways.

1. Incoming referrals. When you have planted the seeds, and tended the garden, you will be able to eat. Over and over again. I wrote about this in Getting Called, and will not repeat myself here.

2. Outgoing...building and working your network. This is the real guts of it. Marketing yourself to people you know, people they know, and the people you want to know.

Of course, being effective at this strategy isn't about what, but about the how. Sending an email blast to your friends and family when you are in need of work is all well and good, but very rarely will it produce the desired result.

a.) One approach is to network your way into target companies and I wrote about this in Market Yourself to Target Companies.

b.) Truly working the network means understanding what you offer, what you want, and where you fit, and then having focused conversations / communications / touchpoints with the people you know. They go something like this:

  • This is what I have been doing and this is what I have achieved

  • This is what I want to do next, this is where I am going

  • This is what I can offer

  • I would value your feedback (listen)

  • The kinds of organizations I am targeting are ________ or the kinds of opportunities I am best suited for are_______

  • Do you know anyone at Company X, or Industry X, or do you know anyone working in the field?

  • Who is doing interesting work in this area? Which companies, which people?

  • Etc.

You get the picture. Notice how this approach is far removed from "I am on the job market. If you know anyone who is hiring, can you please pass on my resume."

c.) Purposefully targeting individuals in your target field or industry is a highly effective activity. You can do this via referral, or you can go direct. When direct, it really helps to have mutual touch points that you can refer to.

  • I notice you worked at Company X. The company I was with did business with you.

  • We share a lot of the same contacts.

  • I am a fellow member of the ________ Association.

  • I have been following your articles / or have been a reader of your blog, or.. (i.e. you have taken the time to do homework on this person)

  • ...You get the idea.

The trick with this technique, and I am telling you it can be hugely effective, is to be clear that you have value to offer. That organizations generally are always interested in quality talent. And, if you are focused, and "invested" in your target market, you can do well.

You can take the approach that you are looking for your next opportunity. Or you can approach based on a desire to know the person. Or, you can approach based on seeking out industry information - not the basic kind, but around what you want to do and where the movement is. Or, perhaps you are in a position to make a connection for them that would be valuable. Or...

Again, you get the idea.


If you haven't realized it yet, this approach, when done successfully, is a side-door to the recruiting process. Why?

1. Companies can be inundated with unqualified resumes. A qualified referral can go to the head of the line.

2. The quality of the referral conveys status to you.

3. Often, the referral provides you with the opportunity to meet the decision maker, an opportunity not provided to the majority of job applicants.

4. Often, you end up being a candidate for an opportunity that hasn't been released yet. In other words, the short-list for the job is very short indeed.

5. Jobs often get shaped at an early stage, and might be shaped to take the most advantage of your offering. Pretty cool. All in all, it sounds like a worthwhile use of your time.

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