People have often told me that it’s not what you know, but who you know that will get you closer to that job you’ve been eyeing. Now, I’m not referring to nepotism, but creating a genuine relationship with an employer—something that will help you stand out from the 100 or more candidates. Through a few different jobs over the course of my career, I’ve come to see how beneficial these personal connections can be.
So, why is it that so many people still focus most of their attention on job search sites? It could be the assurance of knowing an opening is available, or the narrower scope of where to look. You might stumble upon a few jobs through sites such as Indeed, Monster, Workopolis or CharityVillage, but you’ll quickly realize that you’re likely to be one of hundreds or thousands of people applying for the same position. What will really distinguish you from the rest? A well-written resumé and cover letter stating similar qualifications can help, but sometimes being selected just comes down to the numbers.
Experience has taught me that a combination of both online research and direct engagement, such as sending a LinkedIn message or email introduction, can open up a conversation and lead to the end goal of securing an informational meeting. Showcase your interest or any relevant qualifications you have to help cement the employer’s interest in connecting. This can help even if there isn’t a position available because you’ll stand out and be remembered when a position does open up. If you’re still unsure of what career path to take, informational interviews can also iron out those lingering questions about a particular occupation—from challenges to corporate culture.
Sometimes, the difficulty can arise from not knowing who to contact. That’s where networking events with professional associations can work really well. You’ll find subject matter experts who are open to mingling in public, and so are likely to do the same online or in a one-on-one conversation at a coffee shop. These associations often hold events for students or young professionals to bring them even closer to professionals in their interested fields.
Keep in mind that some people have tight schedules or may not be able to meet with you right away. That’s why it’s important to contact a number of people. Also, to avoid wasting their time, make sure to do your research and come up with a good set of questions that can help you discover more about the job or the company you’re interested in.
As you browse LinkedIn or try to find contacts through your existing network, be open and try new things. If someone suggests you attend an event or contact someone, take their advice! I remember working in the public sector a few years ago where I met a colleague who, unknowingly at the time, would help shape my career path. One day we struck up a conversation about how he was starting to use Twitter for his projects at work—something that was still fairly new to most departments. We spoke a bit about its purposes and how to use it effectively because as a newbie at the time, I found it a bit overwhelming. After a bit of research and his suggestion of reading a Twitter how-to book, I was well on my way to jumping into the Twitterverse. Although Twitter was most obviously useful for seeking out information about events or interesting people, I soon found out that there were careers that revolved around or made use of social media.
As I transition into a new role that involves digital communication and social media, I have to smile a bit because I never realized that a simple conversation a few years back could be so influential and turn into an amazing career opportunity.
As you navigate your job search, just remember that others were in once your shoes and are willing to provide you with advice—if you’re willing to take it.