ellen-reveesHere’s my mantra: Stop Looking for a Job and Start Looking for a Person. The right person will lead you to the right job. Reach out, using what I call The Rule of Three, to contact three people a day by phone or e-mail  (one in the morning, one at noon, and one at the end of the day) to ask for informational interviews and other leads so you can build your network. In time, this process is guaranteed to uncover an opening. 80% of all jobs reside in the “hidden job market” and are never advertised; 80% of all jobs are filled by personal referrals. So start reaching out—but do it the right way!

There are some rules of the road, and here are 4 keys to successful outreach:

1) When you contact people, be respectful of their time and their right to say no. They don’t owe you anything.  You might send an e-mail or ask an intermediary to ask for you: “Would you be willing to talk with me for a few minutes, on the phone or in person, about your career path and opportunities in this industry now?  Would you be willing to do a brief review of my resume and make suggestions for improvement?” If someone says no, don’t take it personally-they don’t know you!

2) Once you arrange a meeting, do your homework. Google the company, industry, and the person. Set Google alerts for all three so you’ll know about breaking news in the field or whether the person with whom you’ll be speaking or his/her company has been in the news.  Have a list of concrete questions to ask the person based on what you know about his/her experience and based on your experience. Do not just say “do you have any advice for me?” Too general.

3) When someone says “what do you want to do?” don’t say “I’ll do anything.” You might think you’re being helpful and flexible, but you’re not; you’re just making it hard for me to access specific information or names to help you. You MUST have a concrete answer, even if it’s “fake” in the sense that you’re not sure; you must start somewhere. So use The Rule of Three again and choose three areas you’re interested in and pursue each one to the max, one at a time, until you find out either that this is a path you’d like to pursue or that it isn’t.  For example, you might be interested in “media” but you don’t care whether it’s TV, print, or radio. You can mention all three to a radio person so that if he/she knows anyone in the other fields they’ll put you in touch, but focus on the field of the person you’re talking with, since this is his/her area of expertise.

4) The most important and most often overlooked thing: follow up and thank people! When you’ve gotten advice and leads from someone, keep that person in the loop. Send an immediate thank you note or e-mail. If you meet with someone in person and they take you out for a meal, for example, and if you get a job through someone, you might consider a small thank you gift: flowers or a bottle of wine.  If you speak with leads they give you, thank both parties: “Dear Mr. X: I wanted you to know that I had the most helpful conversation with Ms. Y at your suggestion; thanks so much. I appreciate the introduction very much.” Don’t take names from someone and then not use the leads. If you don’t think you’ll contact them, be explicit: “Of all the names you mentioned, I’d like to be in touch with X, Y and Z if you have contact information for them; I’ll hold off on the others for now but thanks for the suggestions.” If you thank me and keep me up to date, I’m more likely to help you again and think of you as opportunities arise.

Follow these rules and you should be off to a great start.

Article written by Ellen Gordon Reeves.

nosering-interviewOver decades of helping job hunters put their best foot forward, Ellen Gordon Reeves has been asked thousands of questions, now collected in Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job (Workman, 2009). Vice President of Engagement and Marketing for the Harvard Alumni Association, she posts daily as a career advisor for and is the resident job-hunting expert at the Columbia Publishing Course.