Over the past few days, I’ve been contacted by a number of acquaintances looking for help in their job searches. Each of them is understandably distraught and desperate… it’s awful out there, and looking for work is an ego-bashing experience, especially when mortgages and bills are due. It’s very clear how terror can set in when not having a job could mean losing everything and ending out on the street.
However, all of these panicky inquiries made to me have been totally unspecific on what they are looking for, and it’s been frustrating to me because I want to help but can’t, due to their vagueness. I simply don’t keep a running tab of jobs that are open…no one does except a job board or Web site.
The good news is that that most people really want to help friends, colleagues, and family members who are out of work, and how they can help is by connecting the job seeker to the people who control the jobs.
But sending out an APB for any type of job isn’t an effective way to ask for help. Job seekers can’t expect their network to magically pull a job out of a hat… this requires cultivating contacts and being specific in what it is that you’re looking for so friends and contacts can act on specifics.
If you are in the middle of a job search, here are some critical missteps to avoid killing any help that someone might be able to offer you:
1) Don’t send out a general broadcast asking about any job openings… with no focus.
This is so awkward simply because people want to help the job seeker, but can’t. When a person says that they’ll do anything… from building rockets to washing cars, that’s just too broad a range. You need to be tightly focused on a specific area or a particular job so people know what to look for on your behalf. “Any job” isn’t effective and serves to cripple any help someone might offer to you in the job search – we simply don’t know what to look for to help you out, so we end up doing nothing. That alone can squelch any kind of assistance we might be able to offer.
2) If you have a specific job target, make sure you are qualified for it.
Before your career 'cheerleaders' can go onto LinkedIn or make calls to start the whole introduction process, they need to understand and see how the candidate’s career assets directly connect to the person they are contacting on the job seeker's behalf. Straight up from my perspective: I am not going to put my reputation on the line by trying to open doors for a candidate who, in the long run, isn’t directly qualified. It makes me look bad by trying to pull strings when I really shouldn’t be, and the candidate looks bad by overreaching their bounds or grasping at straws.
The Wall Street Journal had an article earlier this spring which reported that while you might be 80% qualified for a job, the person who is getting it is 110% qualified. Make sure you fit the job… don’t start playing the ‘just in case’ game… it’s not effective for you or the person trying to aid your job search.
3) Don’t think in terms of jobs; instead, think of people and relationships leading to those jobs.
People sometimes get so focused on the job that they forget that there are people who can help pave the way to the job. You need to ask yourself, “Who do I know who is connected to this company or job?” and build your road towards that position by cultivating and nurturing a relationship with the people who can provide access to those jobs.
4) Don’t forget to thank those who do help you.
No one likes to be clambered over, used, and then dropped suddenly, never heard from again. For example, I’ve gone to bat for several people who have been in dire need of assistance, and with the exception of one person, each and every one of those folks have sent thank you notes acknowledging the effort I put forth on their behalf. I didn’t expect their gratitude; but the one person from whom I have not heard back gave me a loud and clear message:
"I used you to get what I needed and you don’t matter to me anymore."
No one likes to be used... "Love 'em and leave 'em" shouldn't apply to your career relationships either.
5) Finally, don’t let on or show how desperate you are.
No matter how bad things are, you have to keep your dignity. Begging means you have crossed a dangerous threshold where you have lost perspective of your value. Keep your composure. Looking for a job is like playing poker, and that means keeping your poker face on at all times. Anything that is not relevant to the job search should be checked outside the door to avoid tipping your hand to what's going on in your personal life. Employers know that it is bad out there - they see the hundreds of applications pouring in. But if you drop your guard and start pleading your case, that could send the wrong message.
Keep these tips in mind to stay on course and engage your contacts on your behalf. And once you find your next position, "Pay it Forward" - remember to help someone else out who was once in your shoes... keep the positive energy moving forward.