Your perfect job – fulfilling, energizing, challenging. And not listed on any career site. Why? Because someone else has already taken it.
Last week my wife and I headed out for a relaxing dinner at a quaint restaurant. My wife’s work has brought us to Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada. It’s a town carved out of gaps between farmers’ fields. We are hours from the nearest big city.
In the casual flow of the evening we struck up a conversation with the owner of the restaurant. She shared the trials and tribulations of finding a good chef to work for her.
It was the second conversation I’d had that day with business owners struggling to find great talent. The other conversation was with the co-founders of a tech company in the core of a bustling urban center.
This is the irony of the job market. For job seekers, there seems to be a shortage of exciting, fulfilling jobs available. For employers, finding and attracting awesome talent verges on impossible.
So how do you get involved in this black market for talent?
The psychology of connecting
The answer comes from two important psychological phenomenon.
The first is the Mere-Exposure Effect. Advertisers know this one well. We tend to develop a preference for things that are familiar to us. Brands work hard to make sure we know their product.
Think about it. When you go to the grocery store, do you buy the brand you know well or the brand you’ve never heard of? Similarly, when you go to a party, do you gravitate first to the people you know or to complete strangers? For most of us, the familiar wins out.
The same is true in finding candidates. Hiring managers are drawn to the familiar, the people and companies they know best.
The second important bit of psychology is the Principle of Least Effort. The name is self-explanatory and applies to a wide range of human behaviour.
Most important here is a study on how we consume information. “…An information seeking client will tend to use the most convenient search method, in the least exacting mode available. Information seeking behavior stops as soon as minimally acceptable results are found.” As humans we use the easiest and most trusted resources when looking for jobs and for candidates. We go first to the people and companies we know.
“Being in the know” is at the heart of the black market of matching awesome jobs and ace candidates. And the key to “being in the know”? Networking.
The foundation of building a fantastic network
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
I have the DNA of an introvert. This is not the profile that usually comes to mind when thinking about networking. And yet I’ve learned to master the skill over time. Job seeking friends often reach out to me looking for networking advice. Here are the top five tips I share every time they do.
Mindset: Giving more than receiving
One of the most challenging hurdles in networking is making personal contact. We gravitate instead to less intrusive methods. A post on social networks. An application to a job site. We are not immune to the Principle of Least Effort.
The voice in our head kicks into overdrive.
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Why would they help me?”
“They’ll just say no anyways.”
And on goes the list of crushing thoughts.
The problem is that we’re focusing on our need to receive help. Instead, focus on giving. Just by reaching out, you are providing value. You are offering a potential solution by building a personal connection.
Incorporate a version of the phrase, “How can I be helpful to you?” into each conversation.
Focus: Them more than me
Eighty years ago Dale Carnegie famously said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” If we reach out to people to talk about ourselves, success will be a long time coming. Instead, we need to do our research and connect with a genuine interest in “them”. Spend time putting yourself into their chair before you pick up the phone.
For example, what is top of mind for an executive recruiter? How do they make a living? Take some time to ponder these questions before calling your next recruiter.
Frequency: More rather than less
Who did you talk to last Thursday? Don’t remember? Neither do I. This is the Mere-Exposure Effect in action.
We each communicate with hundreds of people every week. Staying top of mind takes more than one email or conversation. Frequency is key.
And drifting into the annoyance zone is also a concern. Studies have found that the Mere-Exposure Effect can be over done. The result is ambivalence and reputation damage.
I generally limit reach outs to between 3 & 6 weeks or longer. It depends on my relationship with the contact and the urgency of the connection. I also have a three touch point rule. If I try to reach a contact three times, ideally in three different ways, and they don’t respond, I move on.
Content: Less rather than more
This one is simple. Keep touch points light and easy. Here are a couple of examples.
For email: “Hey Zamir – It’s been a long time since we connected. Hope all is well for you. I see that you recently moved into your first manager role. Congrats! I read the attached management article earlier today. Thought you might find it interesting. I’m reaching out to see if you can spare 5 minutes for a quick call? I’m interested in what your company is doing and would like to learn more.”
By voicemail: “Hi Julia – We haven’t spoken before. My name is Brent Lowe and I’ve been following your company for a while. I enjoyed your CEO’s post about XYZ. That topic is of great interest to me. I also see that you have a role posted for ABC. This is a great fit for my skill set and I think I could be helpful to your team. I’ve applied online and would appreciate if you could take a look at my resume. I’m sure you have received many resumes and am calling to put my name on your radar. You can reach me at ### if you would like to chat further.”
Ask: Focused rather than broad
When we do ask for help, specificity is crucial to a successful outcome.
We hate closing doors. Being focused forces us to be a door closer. I often tell people that I’m a coach for entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial-spirited. In doing so, I’ve just closed a door to everyone who doesn’t resonate with that statement. I’ve excluded an entire population that I could help. I’ve also helped you focus your thinking on how I can be most helpful to you and your business.
Most of my clients find this to be a big challenge in networking. Remember the principle of least effort? We need to make it easy for others to help us.
Let’s say a job seeker calls me and tells me he’s looking for a new role. He says that he enjoys working in the technology space and building strategies to help companies grow. Who should I refer him to? I’m not sure.
Instead, let’s say he reaches out looking to work for an early stage SaaS (software as a service) company. He tells me that his ideal company sells direct to small businesses. It likely has annual revenues of between $5 & $10M. Based on his experience, he sees himself reporting to the CEO. The company is likely growing fast and out pacing the strategic abilities of its young software development team. My mind zones in on a handful of people who could be great contacts.
One important goal in your networking reach outs is to expand your contact list. In each networking connection, ask for help connecting with new people. Come up with your version of the following. “The best way for me to find my next great job is through my network. Can you think of two people in your network who could be a relevant connection for me? Would you be open to making an intro or providing contact details so I can reach out?”
Are you contemplating a career change or other life pivot? I work with entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit to see and unlock their potential.