If you’re like most executives in career transition,
your definition of networking includes informing trusted associates that you’re interested in new career opportunities and asking them to keep you in mind if they hear of open positions that may be a fit for you. You also circulate your executive resume, asking others to provide feedback and/or forward it to hiring managers who may be interested. Although this seems like a natural approach, and it may have even worked for you in the past, it is a highly ineffective strategy.
Asking for this type of help doesn’t work for several reasons. First, most of your networking contacts are not in a position to hire you. They may be genuinely interested in supporting you, but if they can’t help you immediately, you will more than likely fall off their radar. Put yourself in their shoes. You have the best of intentions, but as soon as the discussion ends, you return to your hectic schedule and that request for help falls by the wayside.
Another reason this approach doesn’t work is because it puts undue pressure on your networking contact. Most people want to help others, but if they don’t feel that they are in a position to do so, they tend not to respond at all. If you’ve been using this approach, you’ve likely experienced this already.
Finally, most people don’t know how to help. Executives who have not proactively searched for a job in many years are unfamiliar with today’s complex job search process. It is unrealistic and inadvisable to rely on others to sell you to decision-makers.
The secret to maximizing your executive network is not asking for help, but asking for information. When you ask for information, the dynamic of the discussion shifts dramatically. You no longer put someone in the uncomfortable position of having to tell you that they can’t help you. Instead, you elevate them to an expert, which is flattering.
Asking for information rather than help makes it easy for your networking contacts to say yes. Most of your contacts won’t have the ability to hire you or directly refer you to an appropriate executive-level position, but all of your contacts have insights and experience they can share with you. This information is invaluable to your executive search process.
Here are several key benefits of networking for information:
1. Build trust and rapport.
Most people are not interested in others’ work. When you ask your networking contacts for insights on their company and their roles, and you approach the discussions with genuine interest, you build critical trust and goodwill. By doing so, they are far more likely to voluntarily help you, whenever possible.
2. Avoid opportunities that aren’t a fit.
Networking for information allows you to get an inside look at specific companies and executive roles. By talking with people in target organizations, you glean far more valuable insights than you would from a company website or even a formal job interview. Gathering this information will enable you to quickly identify those opportunities that best align with your goals and values, as well as quickly eliminate those that do not.
3. Uncover hidden executive career opportunities.
Working with an executive recruiter or responding to an online job posting requires that you match a company’s pre-determined profile of the ideal candidate. Without a near-perfect match, your candidacy will not be given serious consideration. When talking with key decision-makers, you have an opportunity to understand their key challenges and frame your strengths and experiences accordingly. In the right situation, this could result in a newly created opportunity that best aligns with your background.
If you are networking for help, your chances of experiencing positive results are minimal for all of the reasons previously described. A more strategic and efficient approach is to network for information. This highly underutilized strategy will make a significant impact on your executive career search.