February 7, 2012
If referrals were snakes, many job hunters would be bitten
There's an old saying about networking for a job in Seattle: "If you're not sick of the taste of coffee, you're not doing it right."
Amid all the schmoozing, caffeine and random chatting that tends to take place in most networking conversations, however, it's easy to lose sight of what you're really after -- a personal referral to somebody who might be able to help you land a job.
Seems obvious, right? You'd be surprised, though, how many times I've seen job hunters completely blow past golden referral opportunities in networking situations. People tend to get so wrapped up in talking about their career goals, or explaining (or complaining about) their employment situation, they may completely ignore the fact that the person across the table is actually trying to help them -- and has offered up the name of somebody who might be a useful contact.
I know some of you may think I'm crazy in making this observation, but I truly don't think it's an isolated phenomenon. I see this type of behavior happen routinely, month after month, as I attend various networking events and work with folks through the job-hunting challenge.
Case in point? Not long ago I had a client (let's call him Larry) come in to see me three weeks in a row, telling me how interested he was in working for Expedia, but that sending his resume into the company directly hadn't produced any response. Each time he'd say this, I'd casually mention that I knew somebody over at Expedia who might be able to help him. His reaction? A quick nod, before he'd rush on to talk about some other company or other aspect of his search that wasn't going well.
Not once did he stop to ask me who I knew at Expedia, what role they played in the organization or how to contact them.
If you're around trained sales professionals, you won't see this happen. When a sales pro manages to get you to cough up the name of a relevant referral contact, you'll hear screeching tires on pavement. You'll see them stop everything, grab their pencil and say, "Wow, that's great! Before we move on, could I get the name of that person you mentioned? And do you have their contact information handy, since I'd love to reach out to them in the near future? Or better yet, would you perhaps be willing to contact them on my behalf, to open the door?"
Alas, most job hunters don't have a formal sales pedigree. They don't always recognize the importance of the "referral moment" when it happens -- and the attempted introduction then fades into the background tapestry of the discussion, unacknowledged and unrealized.
In Larry's case, though, I wasn't just his networking acquaintance. I was his duly-sworn career coach. So after the third time he failed to ask for the name of the Expedia contact I'd dangled out there, I read him the riot act. I asked if the behavior he'd been demonstrating in my office was indicative of what he'd been doing out on the networking circuit. He confirmed that yeah, it kind of was. And when I pointed out that I'd tried three times to give him a referral, and that all three times he completely blew me off, he was shocked.
"Geez, Matt, you're absolutely right. I remember you saying that, now that you point it out, but I guess I got carried away and forgot to get the name from you. No wonder my networking efforts aren't getting very far!"
The moral of the story? If you're trying to network your way into a new employment opportunity, never forget that personal contact referrals are what make the world go around. Everything else is secondary. So when somebody does you the favor of offering to make an introduction, it's imperative that you immediately recognize this gift, halt the conversation, and field the referral appropriately.
At the end of the day, lots of people are out there willing to help, but I doubt you'll find many that will get down on their knees and BEG you to raid their Rolodex!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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