by Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin
The best way to tap the hidden job market is through your networking contacts in what I call "referral meetings" (on the phone or in-person) where you request advice and information to plan your next career move. However, aside from the fear factor associated with talking to strangers, requesting these meetings often brings negative implications, because many folks believe that they'll inevitably be asked about job openings they may not know about or have. So, to assure these referral meetings work to your best advantage, while building positive rapport with your interviewees, follow these five steps:
1. Think "Positioning" instead of "Networking." In a recent article on this subject, career columnist Jim Pawlak says: "Positioning is a far more accurate description of what [jobseekers are] trying to accomplish. It's also.. less threatening than the networking mindset, which always seems to gravitate toward asking for a job shortly after saying hello.. Positioning is a career-management tool, not an I've-got-to-find-a-job-right-now tool. If you position yourself correctly, you'll find that you are always a player in the hidden job market - those jobs that are filled by word of mouth and reputation, rather than through ads and recruiters." Pawlak likens "positioning" to planting perennials and "short-term networking" to planting annuals: "Because positioning is a career-management tool, it requires a plan, time for the plan to unfold and time to stay in position each day of each month of each year. Think of positioning like a gardener planting seeds. Short-term networking gardeners are forever planting seeds for annuals. These one-season, fast-blooming plants with shallow roots die quickly. Positioning gardeners plant seeds for deep-rooted perennials that bloom year after year if they're tended properly." Within this context, think of your networking contacts as long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships which will bear fruit over time, rather than the immediate future.
2.Use a "Disclaimer" When Requesting A Referral Meeting. Whether you communicate with your contact via email, snail mail, or phone, use this disclaimer (or a form of it), when requesting a referral meeting appointment: "Please understand: I don't expect you to have or know of any positions within your organization at the moment. I am seeking your advice, suggestions, resources and possible contacts to others, which will help me plan the next steps in my career campaign." Doing so will help build rapport with your contact, while lowering expectations and removing the pressure. Your interviewee is then free to relax and give you with the information you want, without feeling that they'll be subject to bait and switch tactics or hidden agendas which, sadly, have occurred too frequently during referral meetings. Of course, if the person you're speaking with does know of a position that fits your career goals, this is icing on the cake! However, be sure to let them tell you about these positions, instead of you asking, which would negate your original disclaimer.
3. Prepare Your Questions Ahead of Time. Know what you will be discussing with your interviewee. Are you looking for information about a specific career field or company? Or do you want to know if you have the required skills to enter a certain industry? Whatever your situation is, preparing your questions (at least 10) in advance will assure that the meeting will go smoothly, while being considerate of your interviewee's valuable time. You might consider emailing the questions to your contact before the meeting, so he/she won't feel overwhelmed. Here are some suggested questions:
If exploring an industry, you might ask these questions:
· How did you get started in this career?
· What do you like best (and least) about your career?
· What did you learn on the job that can't be taught in school?
· If you had to name 5 or 6 skills that make people successful in this field, what would they be?
Ask of these people who are doing what you're interested in or who may hire for that position:
· What are the key skills and knowledge areas necessary for success in this field/role?
· What are the trends in your industry/function?
· What associations, groups or activities are important for professional development and networking?
· What might be the best way to bridge education or experience gaps? How would I "field test" this career?
4. Know that Networking is a Two-Way Street. When you're finished with the meeting, thank your contact for their time - and be sure to ask how you can be helpful to them. You can say something like: "I have an extensive network and come across people all the time. If you can tell me what type of lead, information, or type of contact that would be helpful to you, I'll be glad to pass it along." Asking permission is critical, because you want to avoid bombarding your contact with information that they neither request nor want.
5. Send a Thank You Letter within a day or two of your meeting. Be sure to use this type of verbiage in your letter: "Thank you for all your help. If you want to know how this all turns out for me, I can keep you informed of my progress, is that okay? And, please keep me in mind - if you run across any information or connections that would be helpful, I'd be glad to hear about it - and I will do the same for you." Saying "thank you" and saying it often adds mileage to your career campaign -- even if the information your contact provided didn't work out the way you had hoped. Hearing "thank you" tells your contact you appreciate their efforts unconditionally and they will be motivated to keep on helping you.
© Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, 2008.