One problem that both Millennials and Boomers frequently share is the need to widen their network. Millennials, being young in their careers, generally don't have much of a network, and Boomers may have too narrow a network – for instance one deep in one industry but not wide across industries. When in a job hunt, a network can make the difference between just being a nameless resume in a pile and having a shorter, more successful job search with real people personally invested in and pulling for your success. Here are some tips to consider when preparing your own networking plan.
The best way to do this type of deeper networking is from your desk, computer and phone not by standing in a meeting hall. As the career center of a prestigious university told one young person I know – find the people who have the jobs you might want 10-15 years from now and start talking to those people.
There are several ways to find these type of influential people from LinkedIn to industry association lists, references from your own contacts, and even cold calling a desired job title of someone in a company of interest. Many job seekers are afraid to call total strangers, but as my young colleague found – people like being contacted, particularly if you're asking an honest question and not formally seeking a job on the call.
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Still nervous about calling someone you don't know? Here are 4 reasons to initiate a cold networking call with a potential new contact:
1. Get a question answered. Generally people are flattered to be asked a question as a perceived expert. Introduce yourself, and state that the reason for your call is to gain some information about a career aspect of your desired profession. Sample questions might include "Do you feel I need extra certification to get started in this field?", "Can you let me know if you feel it's worthwhile to join a particular membership organization?", or "I'm wondering which local companies you think might be leaders in this field that I should consider in pursuing potential opportunities?" The question should be one you really want answered, and without keeping the person too long on the phone, it should lead to at least one or two followup questions that allow you to have a quick,meaningful conversation.
2. Gain feedback. This is similar to getting a question answered, but more personal. You might ask the person to review your resume and let you know what skills they think you might be lacking or need to strengthen. If they did have a job open, could they role play with you and give you honest feedback on what their reaction might be to your resume? Since there is not official job open, their feedback may be more honest, and if you're really lucky they may know of a job position soon to be opening up. Either way, they'll be giving you hints of key attributes hiring managers may be seeking and how to better position yourself in the tight job market.
3. Get Industry Insights or Background. This is great for people looking to enter new careers. For instance, I was considering going back into the field of Association Management during my last job hunt. I made sure to contact association executives in several fields to get their insight into the viability of the career change.
4. Put Yourself on the Radar Screen. Just by reaching out with humility and genuine interest to an influential stranger you'll differentiate yourself as someone bold and willing to take risks. You must start the conversation by introducing yourself and letting the person know why you chose them for the call, as well as asking if they have the time to spare. If all the answers are in your favor, you've met a friendly person who will now know your name. And if you're lucky, your new phone "mentor" of the moment, may have a networking suggestion that can lead you to your next hiring manager, or help you in a career/life decision.
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Never just hang up. The first conversation should be short – likely no longer than 15 minutes. After that time, it's smart to thank them for taking time out of their busy day. You can then ask for more time at a later date when they can fit you in for a longer conversation, or thank them for their time and ask if they can recommend anyone else you should speak to about positive career suggestions. If you only get one new name, it's someone who can continue to help you widen your network with people who can make a real difference in your career hunt.
Important Note: These types of calls are NEVER to HR people. You're targeting people known as "subject matter experts" - people in your desired career, in a desired company, or with a future goal title who can help provide insight on what it takes to succeed in their chosen and your desired career path.
People generally like to help other people. Effective networking means finding the people who can help without it feeling like an imposition on their time. For most, networking has become an evening out hoping to meet someone and generally falls flat. For great networkers, however, effective networking is more likely to be done on the phone. Making a great phone call is a skill most Millennials lack and many Boomers forget to use to their advantage. So the next time you're tempted to attend a local networking event – don't necessarily decline, but before you accept, make at least one new phone call.
P.S. Once you get good at making outbound calls -- check out this related article on "when not to pick up the phone for inbound calls!