Networking Advice For Self-Conscious Noobs

A younger friend – she’s a History major – posted on Facebook that she was frustrated with her experience at career fairs.

I left a comment saying “the trick is to avoid career fairs altogether. All the cool and interesting jobs get snapped up long before job descriptions get written.”

Someone else commented that most of the companies at a career fair are there out of obligation and not for actual recruitment. The best use of the career fair, he said, is just to look up the companies present, then submit your application directly to the company online.

I replied: Yes – and a step beyond that  is…

  1. look up people working in the company,
  2. ask them out for coffee, then
  3. have them refer you to whoever’s hiring for whatever role you’re interested in.

Because people are always more interested in referrals from their peers than in CVs from strangers. You improve your response rate probably 10x-100x by getting a referral.

Another friend messaged me about the above comment.

Here’s how that conversation went:

>> can you tell me a bit more about how that goes? hahaha ick job hunting woes

Well, where do you want to work? You should start by putting together a list of specific companies you think you’d like to work for.

If you like, you could then add a bunch of people from that company on LinkedIn. (I’ve found that people are quite willing to add strangers on LinkedIn.) That way, when you eventually talk to someone from the company, and they look you up on LinkedIn, it’ll look like you already know a bunch of people in their company.

I have a bunch of people on my LinkedIn who I don’t know personally – but I think of it as having the option of getting to know them personally later on. I can now message them over LinkedIn to introduce myself, for example.

You can also do this over Twitter, if they’re on Twitter. It’s a very peripheral way of building relationships, but it does work.

>> My main fear/gripe is that it sounds too informal or like a date(?!) and i wouldnt know what to say while having coffee

The thing with that is to manage expectations as early as possible. Say you’re curious to learn more about the industry, and that you’re looking for a couple of specific pointers. Say you want to ask them about their experiences. Don’t be vague.

>> do you have tips on things i should/ shouldnt say? eg like dont even ask for job openings

Offer to buy the coffee, obviously.

Definitely don’t ask about a job in the message itself. People are interested in interesting conversation with interesting people, but they’re less interested in being used merely as a stepping stone for a job.

You can ask about jobs midway in the conversation, or towards the end, depending on how it goes.

You want them to get the impression that you’re smart and have initiative.

Ask them about what challenges their company is facing, what do most people not know, etc. People are always eager to talk about the the things they can’t quite say in public.

Once they’ve gotten comfortable with you, like you, see that you’re thoughtful and smart, you can ask about a job.

>> is there anything i strictly shouldnt do or say? and also do you think 30 min is a good time or too long?

I would just say “quick coffee”, which is generally assumed I think to be about 15-20 minutes. And if the conversation is good they can stick around. Or if they need to, they have the freedom to say they need to get back to work. Then you can ask to email them.

>> how would you work the whole getting them to refer you to HR thing into the conversation (like assuming its going well)

You don’t need to be like, “yo can you hook me up with John Smith from HR”. You want to let them make the decision themselves.

Ask something along the lines of, “Do you know anybody I can talk to about getting my foot in the door, maybe an internship or a starting role”.

>> oh! one more… should you buy the coffee before hand or is it okay to just pay for it at the shop tgt

Well, you’d want to get there before them. Then when they get there, you stand up smile shake hand say hi, then just ask them what they’d like. “Coffee? Tea?”.

And if they make a show of taking out their wallet or whatever you say, “No, no, it’s my treat!” It’s a small thing, but it should trigger some reciprocal, “I should do her a favor in return” feelings.

It’ll also be good if you have a mutual friend who can introduce you to the first person. Same principle. If you have a friend who works in the company, chat with them first. So it all starts with knowing which companies you’re interested in, then talking to your existing network to see if anybody knows anyone.

Generally I find that it’s better to do this sort of thing 1-1 (asking people over IM) rather than broadcasting it over Facebook or Twitter – unless you’re so talented that your friends will be fighting amongst themselves to refer you to their colleague(s).

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