Everyone says networking is the best way to land a job, but what should you do if you have no network to speak of?

When you’re in the market for a new job, what’s the same piece of advice you hear over and over?


And there’s good reason why people give you that advice. Experts estimate that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of people find jobs through personal contacts.

But what if you don’t have a network with which to, well, network? Let’s start with the excuses reasons why you might not have a network to tap:

  • You just graduated from college.
  • You just moved to a new city and don’t know anyone yet.
  • You’re changing industries.
  • You don’t want the people you work with now to know you’re looking.
  • You’re just not good at networking.

If you’re making any of these excuses, it’s time to get over it!

Take a new approach to networking

You’re a human being, right? You know other human beings, right? You have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, old friends, new friends, current neighbors, past neighbors, former classmates, former teachers or professors, maybe a community or church group you belong to, the guys you play basketball (or softball or flag football) with, the girls in your book club, the people you chat with at the health club… And on and on.

And don’t even get me started on your social networks.

The average American knows about 600 people. And if those 600 people know another 600 each, that’s 360,000 people! If that’s not a big enough network for you to work with, you have too much time on your hands.

But sometimes people say, “Those people don’t know anyone in my industry. They can’t help me find a job.” The truth is, you have no idea who the people you know also know. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Or who they know who may also know someone else who could help you. That’s why “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is such a fun game to play. But I digress.

In networking, the whole point is to cast your net broadly to see what leads, contacts and ideas you can reel in.

How to tap your “non-network” network

Here’s the real secret behind networking: The people in your network won’t find you a job. But what they can do is connect you to people who know other people. And those people may know just that person who has a job you’d be perfect for.

1. Make the biggest, broadest list of everybody you know

Your only two criteria for adding anyone to this list are:

  • The person is breathing.
  • The person will recognize either your name or the name of the person who connected you to them. (“We both lived on 3 Allen sophomore year,” or “I’m a friend of your sister Penelope.”)

2. Prioritize your list as follows:

  • Extroverts who know a lot of people. (They’ll be “above-average” on  how many people they can connect you to.)
  • People who “owe you one” because you’ve done them a favor or lent them assistance in the past. Now’s the time to collect on your debt.
  • People who seem like they probably like helping people (or at least, would like to help you).

Believe it or not, it doesn’t matter whether they have any connection to the industry or job you’re interested in. If they do, that’s gravy. But it shouldn’t be your only reason for contacting someone in your network. Keep in mind you don’t know who else they know. Remember… 600 people.

3. Know what you need from them and how to ask for it

Now that you have your list categorized, it’s time to start reaching out. Here’s how the basic conversation should go: Start with, “I’m interested in (blank) job or industry.” Next, ask one or all of the following questions:

  • Do you know anything about that industry or this type of position?
  • Do you know anyone who works in it or a related one?
  • Can you think of anyone you know who I should talk to? Would you connect me with them?

That’s it. Keep it simple. Remember, you’re not asking them to help you find a job. Honestly, that tends to make most people uncomfortable. You’re just trying to find out if they know anyone (or know someone who might know someone) who can give you some info or advice.

Some people say this approach to networking is like searching for a needle in a haystack. And sometimes it is. If you’ve got a big, robust professional network you’ve been building for years, then you don’t need this approach.

But if you don’t, you have a choice. You can either spend time searching for jobs online and sending your resume again and again to computers that won’t read it. Or you can find a few real, breathing human beings you already know — or someone who knows them — who can give you real info, advice and ultimately access to that perfect job.

So stop saying you don’t have a network. You do. Everybody has one. You just have to use it.

Sue Matson is partner with Executive Coaching firm rd&partners in Chicago, IL. Her clients enjoy her practical, straightforward advice and her ability to help them focus on what’s most important to their career success. Read more articles like this on her blog.


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