how to tell your network you’re looking for a job

If you’re job searching, you’ve probably heard that one of the most effective things you can do is to use your network of connections to find job leads and make connections with hiring managers. But how do you actually reach out to your network and what do you say? Here are five keys to doing it right.

1. Contact people individually, not en masse. It might be tempting to send out a mass email, letting everyone know that you’re looking all once. And realistically, if that’s the only way you’re going to get it done, then do that, because it’s better than not contacting people at all. But it will be far more effective if you send individual emails to people instead of one group email — because people are generally much more inclined to help when they feel like you’re reaching out to them directly.

After all, think about how you feel in similar shoes: If you get a mass email from a friend asking a group of people to, say, donate to a charity she’s supporting, you may or may not spend much time thinking about her request. But if that friend instead reaches out to you personally, you will probably feel more responsible for really thinking over the request and maybe acting on it. When people see that they’re one of many being asked, there’s a diffusion of responsibility, a feeling that others will be taking care of this so the urgency is lowered. So if you can, do individual emails – people will feel more invested.

2. Be clear about exactly what you’re looking for. Too often, job seekers ask for job search assistance without being clear about what they’re looking for. Don’t leave anything open to interpretation – say explicitly that you’re looking for work, and be clear about what types of roles you’re interested in.

3. Ask directly for what kind of help you’d like. When you ask for assistance, don’t say something vague like “let me know if you hear of anything” because many people never pay attention to job openings around them. Instead, be more specific; people are much more likely to help if you give them something concrete they can do. For instance, you might ask your neighbor if she can connect you with a hiring manager at her former company, or you might ask your old manager if she advise you on the companies you’re considering. You can also ask people to think about whether they know anyone it would be helpful for you to talk with, and tell them that you’d be interested in connecting with people even if there’s not a suitable opening right now.

4. Contact everyone in your network, even if you don’t think they would know of any appropriate job openings. Too often, job seekers are hesitant to reach out to people in their network unless they’re a hiring manager or connected to a particular company with openings. But it’s worth reaching out to your full network, because you never know who might be able to tell youabout an opening that you’d be perfect for. (And your chances of being considered for a job go up when you have someone connected to the job saying, “Hey, you should really consider Jane, because ___.”)

5. Don’t forget to include your resume. Sometimes people think including it is too forward or presumptuous to include their resume right off the bat and that they should wait to be asked … but in fact, attaching your resume will save your contacts from having to write back and request it. Don’t be shy about sending it the first time.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

    1. KarenT*

      It’s still a better idea to send out personalized emails. I agree fully with Alison that people are more inclined to help you when you reach out directly.

    2. The IT Manager*

      How? If I get an email and I am BCCed, I know that its not a peroanlized email. I’d actually be more suspicious of this sort of email.

    3. Anonymous*

      If you are going to do a mass email and then later follow up individually with specific requests then yes BCC for the first mass email please. But you won’t get to get specific with your requests, or personalize them, or any of the other bits if you send the same thing to everyone.

    4. Chinook*

      BCC doesn’t allow for the personalization aspect. I think that this type of email should be like a cover letter – personalized to reflect who you are contacting and why you are contacting them specifically.

  1. Andie*

    I think sending out personalized emails also decreases the chances of your current employer finding out you are looking.

  2. ChristineSW*

    #2 has been my biggest problem -.-

    Separate question: What if you’re contacting a network contact through a third party? My dad wants me to send him my resume so that he can pass it along to a fellow professional board member who happens to work at an agency in my field of interest.

    1. Chinook*

      Speaking as someone who once got an interview for a job I later got because my mother was talking to a customer who mentioned he was looking for a new employee, I say to give your dad your resume and let him handle the introduction. If both people are professional (and you would know if you dad is or not), then all he is doing is opening a door for you. If his contact wants to talk to you, they will do so.

    2. Jessa*

      If you trust your dad’s judgement go for it. It really is that simple. Do you trust the judgement of the intervening party as to who they’d pass it on to and what they’d say about you. If your dad normally says good things about you then go for it, if your dad says crazy stuff then um no.

    3. Evan*

      Then, I’d treat it even more like a cover letter: I’d say what sort of job I’m looking for and explain how I’m fit for a job at that agency. At the beginning, though, I’d lead off with explaining why I’m contacting him: “My name is ChristineSW, and I got your name from my father NameSW, who knows you from the Chocolate Teapot Board…”

      I got two of my summer internships during college from that sort of contact, so it does work.

  3. D*

    My struggle is my network (besides my mentors and former coworkers) primarily revolves around professional contacts that I also rely on to accomplish the work of my current job. If I don’t find a new job for a while, I don’t want to jeopardize the success of my current work. Am I being overly cautious?

  4. Anonymous*

    I got the best networking email ever this morning. He must have read your column! It was brief, but it included reminding me when and how we met, EXACTLY what kind of work he wanted/what his goals were and asked if I would mind reviewing his résumé (which was attached already) and offer feedback if I had time. His professionalism, especially as a fresh college grad, made me eager to help him, and if I could, I’d snap him up!

  5. Greg*

    I do view sending a resume unsolicited as a bit presumptuous. One alternative is to include a link to your LinkedIn profile as part of your email sig. Of course, that presupposes that your profile is a good representation of your resume.

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