One of the reasons we think of networking as so difficult is because we don’t break it down into steps. We think if we want to work somewhere, we have to figure out how to chat with the CEO. Since we don’t believe that will happen, we think networking doesn’t work.
The people who can help you find your next job are not necessarily the people doing the hiring, but the people who know those people. Make connections with local business leaders, government officials, bankers, commercial real estate professionals, and others who can network you into the top opportunities within the area. Ask for the opportunity to meet with them to learn more about a specific company, opportunity, or the industry.
This is crucial: Make it clear you are not asking them for a job — only for information which may be useful to your job search.
Consider contacting members of the professional associations to which you belong. Your colleagues can be a tremendous asset in helping you find unadvertised opportunities. Write a letter or email them asking for their assistance. You want contact names and numbers, ideas, and company information. Be sure to ask if you can mention their name to “get in the door” with their contacts to arrange an informational interview.
Use your time wisely. Prepare a list of questions to ask in the informational interview.
Ask questions related to the type of work required in the position you are targeting, what kind of preparation is required for success in the job, which skills are used most often in the job, what qualities are appreciated in successful employees, and what the individual thinks are the prospects of finding a position in this field.
Be sure to ask questions which allow the person you’re interviewing to talk about themselves. How did they get started in the field? What is their educational background? What do they wish they knew when they got started that they know now? What is the toughest part of their job? What challenges/problems do they have that need solving?
Ask about the competition. If the person finds it difficult to talk about themselves or their company, they may enjoy talking about others in the field.
Ask broad spectrum questions, too. Where do they see the industry in five and 10 years? How do they see the role you desire changing in that time?
At the informational interview
Get business cards from these contacts and write a personalized thank you note. Follow-up with your résumé and cover letter only if you’re asked to provide them. You told them you weren’t hitting them up for a job — keep your word.