Leadership Development

Networking Your Way in to an Organization When You Don’t Know Anyone

In my opinion, and others would agree, trying to get a job solely by filling out applications is a waste of time. If you want to make a pivot in your career or move to a new company, at the very least, don’t spend all of your time looking at ads and filling out applications. Instead, talk to people. Network.

As you are talking to people, work on your story. Polish it. Be succinct in describing your strengths and skills. Be clear about what you want. But don’t wait until your message is perfect, just start talking to people. Ask good questions and listen, listen, listen. Each time you talk with someone, reflect on what you learned and how it fits, or doesn’t, into your desired goal. Refine your message so it gets more succinct and clearer as you go.

So, how do you find people to talk to? It probably sounds cliche, but ask (almost) everyone you know for a connection (except your current boss). “Hey, Uncle Charlie, do you know anyone who works at _______?” Who’s the most well-connected person you know? Ask them. Who’s in an adjacent field? Ask them. Who’s your hairdresser? Ask him or her. Ask your neighbors, friends, associates, significant other’s associates, etc. It’s like following breadcrumbs until the path becomes clear. The main thing is, keep moving. If you get stuck or don’t like the results you’re getting, get help. You can always call me.

Here’s the thing – it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. It’s not that you need to know all the “right” people, it’s more about the people that you do know having a clear idea of what you’re up to and how they can help. It’s the people who know you that can be your “evangelists.” But if you keep your dream or goal a secret, they can’t help you.

Here’s my networking-your-way-into-an-organization story. When I first started out on my own as an independent coach and consultant, I was trying out all sorts of things, including looking for remote, part time work. One day I ran across an ad for a remote job working with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning. My first thought was, “This is the perfect job for me!” I immediately filled out the application and sent it off. My second thought was, “There’s no way I’ve got a chance – I’m like a needle in a haystack applying for a job online with an organization clear across the country.” Being the savvy professional that I am (wink, wink), I knew I needed to network my way in. Keep in mind, Harvard Business Publishing offices are in Boston, MA and I’m in Minneapolis, MN. I thought it wouldn’t be too far-fetched, since my career path is linked to the programs they offer, I have friends in Boston and who went to Harvard, etc.

First I sent a message out to my LinkedIn contacts to see if anybody had a connection. No response. Mind you, I only did that once so chances are slim that my peeps would even see it.

Next, I contacted anyone I knew with a connection to Harvard or Boston. No response.

I had had professional associations with HBP marketing reps from a few years back, but they were long gone.

It seemed I was stuck. But, then…

A couple of weeks later I went to the airport to pick up a friend who was returning home from NYC. Obviously, she knew of my interest in this position and that I was looking for a connection. She said, “Guess who I sat next to on the plane? Someone who works for Harvard Business Publishing.” Fortunately, they exchanged contact information, then I connected with the woman and we met for coffee.

When we met for coffee, I told her my story and showed her the job description and asked if she was familiar with the position. She said, “Yes, I know that job and I know the person who hires for it.”

From there, I began months of persistent follow up to make a connection. (How I did that is for another blog post.) Ultimately, I was offered a contract and now I’m on the Global Delivery team with Harvard Business Publishing, helping to deliver leadership development programs to the world’s best companies. (Pinch me, I can hardly believe it’s real.)

The success in my story may seem like serendipity, but not completely. Granted, it helps to have a chatty friend who flies to NYC often. My friend had to know what my passion is to help me make the connection. Even though the position seemed like a long shot to me, I actually was well-prepared and well-suited for it. And, it took months and months of persistent follow up. So, I’m not saying it’s not a lot of work. I AM saying that it’s possible.

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