In this article we explore how to network for job search and access the hidden job market when you are at a senior executive or C-suite level with executive experience looking for project, permanent or board positions.
Many professionals we work with are highly capable and experienced but lack confidence when it comes to networking for job search and accessing the hidden job market. This is often because most roles they’ve secured have been as a result of head hunters or decision makers approaching them due to the outstanding results they’ve achieved. Making the decision to be more strategic and intentional with their job, project and board search means they now need to consider and leverage their professional networks to help secure their next opportunity.
My Philosophy about How to Network for Job Search
I’ve shared my philosophy about how to network for job search and access the hidden job market with many Think Bespoke clients, but it was not until a very senior client, a former CEO, gave me some very interesting feedback after I shared my philosophy with him that I realised its true value. He told me this:
“I paid a sickening amount of money to a guy to coach me to get board roles. You’ve taught me more in 5 or 10 minutes than this guy has in a year”.
Step 1 – How to Network for Job Search (The Contact List)
The first step in networking for job search and accessing the hidden job market is to make a list of the individuals you have worked with or know who are CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, Head of People & Culture, Executive Directors, Board Chairs, Independent Executive Directors and in any senior roles or positions of authority. They are likely to be well connected with other business, industry or community leaders.
I want you to avoid the common mistake many people make when they’ve drawn up this list and start approaching their contacts. Because you’re likely to be a relatively task focused person, despite your strategic prowess, you may be inclined to start the conversation with “I am looking for a job or board role. Can you please help me?”
Do not do this.
Navigating conversations with your contacts in this way is a dead end and will not achieve the result you desire. This is because it will make you sound desperate. But it’s more than this. Asking this question is not seeing things from their perspective. Think about it. If you’re asking someone you have not spoken to for a while for a favour, right at the start of your conversation, you are not helping them help you. Instead, consider the conversation from their point of view. Most of the people you’ll be approaching are extremely busy. They have demanding roles and their network is asking them for things all the time. Your request is another one of many favours on a never ending to do list.
Step 2 – How to Network for Job Search (The LinkedIn Message)
Regardless of how kind or connected your contact may be, they are likely to have a limited capacity, headspace or desire to tune into what you need from them. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. The second step in my philosophy about networking for job search is to take more of an ego stroking approach. A more graceful way to say that last statement is to provide them with positive reinforcement and validation.
Let’s bring this to life for you in practical terms. When you contact each individual, start by checking you are connected on LinkedIn. If you are not yet connected, take the time to have a good look at their LinkedIn profile. If they have not ‘tended to their LinkedIn garden’ (updated their profile) recently, do a quick Google search and see what you can find out about them. Armed with this information, I recommend you reach out and invite them to connect on LinkedIn (assuming you are not already connected) and make sure you’ve included a personalised note with the request. You may write something like this:
You’ve been in my thoughts, so I’m sending you an invite to connect. How are things in your world?
There are some key things to remember when reaching out to your contacts via LinkedIn in this way:
- Make sure the invitation is personalised.
- Tell the truth. “You’ve been in my thoughts” is a true statement, without oversharing your reasons for connecting.
- Use language that sounds like you when you talk “How are things in your world?” is how I speak. What’s your version of this? Use that sort of language/wording in your message.
- Make sure your profile is up to date and showcasing the relevant information for your current professional focus
Please note – if you’re already connected with them on LinkedIn, you can still start the LinkedIn message this way, but you will not be including the words “I’m sending you an invite to connect”.
The tone in the LinkedIn message should not be as formal as an email, but it should not be as casual or direct as a text message. You should write the way you would speak to this contact if you were physically chatting to them in real life. However you would normally speak in a conversation with this contact is how you should write in this message.
Let’s explore this more deeply. Imagine it is a contact that you know has had something happen with their family (e.g. a new addition, milestone birthdays, they became a grandparent, etc), or perhaps you’ve reviewed their profile and noticed they’ve moved on from a recent role and are working somewhere else. Take the time to think about your relationship with this person and consider what is important to them. Include a note in the message that says something like:
“I see you’re at (name of organisation). How’s the new role / name of the role going?
The point is to ask an open question.
Side note – if this person is not on LinkedIn, and you have their email address, then send them an email with a similar message instead.
Step 3 – How to Network for Job Search (The Ask)
If they respond, you’ve opened the opportunity to suggest you’d like to please have a chat with them over the phone. After responding to the information in their return message, you may include something like:
Would you have time for a quick chat? I’m doing some research about (insert relevant industry / tech development) and would value your opinion.
And this is the critical thing. It’s important you mention you’re researching or exploring and would like their perspective /opinion. You may also say something like:
I’m keen to hear your thoughts about what’s going on with (a particular industry trend).
This part of the conversation is really important. You do genuinely want their opinion and you do genuinely value their perspective, and the key is to get into the conversation where you are connecting in a more meaningful way then just asking for help. Most people are more than happy to share their perspectives and opinions with you, when approached in this way. What’s important is to word your message in way that talks about exploring and researching. You do not need to use the exact words I used here. These examples are to help you understand my philosophy. You know your relationship with each individual contact, and you speak differently to how I speak, so please make sure what you write sounds like you.
Step 4 – How to Network for Job Search (Securing the Chat)
The thinking behind this approach is very simple. The minute you say to someone “I’m looking for work. Can you help me?” they are more likely to shut down and respond with “I’m too busy right now”. But if you approach it from the perspective of viewing them as a leader in their industry, someone who’s informed about what’s really going on and has a valuable perspective to share, you are much more likely to gain their agreement for a quick chat.
Asking for someone’s wise counsel, advice, feedback, thoughts, perspective (ego stroke, ego stroke) is a much more effective way to get into a conversation with them. Most people love to share what they think about what’s happening in their industry right now. Which person is not going to respond to that? Choose contacts who like to share their opinion and are well connected. And depending on how good your relationship is with them, they may also be willing to catch up for a longer Zoom meeting or even an in real life coffee or lunch (as long as you’re paying).
Suggest something like:
What suits you best? Can I give you a call? I’m based in (your location). Would you ever come out this way? Where are you based these days?
Think about where they are when you’re next in their area and make it really, really easy for them to engage with you.
Step 5 – How to Network for Job Search (The Chat)
When you get into the conversation you need to have a series of questions ready to get them talking. Examples may be:
What have you been up to since we last spoke?
I see you’re working at (organisation name). How’s that going?
Who have you been in contact with from (previous organisations you both work with)? How are they going?
What’s been happening in your industry with technological changes / post COVID / etc?
This is an important rapport builder and also provides the potential to indirectly learn during your time with each contact about future job opportunities within or beyond their industry. To be effective in this conversation, you need to be ready to answer their question “What have you been up to?” This is your opportunity to plant the seed about your job search, without directly asking for help to secure your next role. Hold steady!
Let’s explore this more deeply. I don’t want to call it your pitch, but you do need to be ready to say a few lines about your recent history that summarise your career to date and where you’re heading. If you’ve worked with me on a well written LinkedIn profile, this should come quite easily to you. Share some of your shorter term goals (e.g. researching trends in industry X,Y and Z) and then expand to some of your longer term career goals in terms of where you hope to be heading in the next 3-5 years. You may say something like:
It’s been a really interesting few years. I’ve been enjoying working on some key projects, which has encouraged me to explore a few different future opportunities. This is why I am researching the trends in (industry names) as a way to explore how my skills and experience can best be used to help (insert your focus).
Remind them again that this is what you’re really keen to talk to them about. Here are some questions you could ask.
What are the main changes happening in your industry at the moment?
How have these changes created opportunities or developments?
How do you see things playing out?
What are your/your organisations plans to effectively navigate this?
Hopefully seeing these questions helps you realise you’re really just having a conversation with an interesting person, asking a few open questions, encouraging them to share their invaluable knowledge and perspective, learning about what’s going on in their industry, including the trends. What is critical is that you mention during the conversation, almost as a side note, that you’re exploring potential opportunities that peak your interest to make a change or move in a certain direction, if the timing and opportunity feels right.
And that is the seed you are planting.
“Love that” was my client’s response to this philosophy for networking for job search and accessing the hidden job market.
This approach is subtle and it’s genuine. At the very least, you have a good chat with a colleague, learn a thing or two along the way and they don’t feeling like you’re asking them for work.
Step 6 – How to Network for Job Search (After the Chat)
What is likely to happen after the chat is that your contact will walk away from the conversation in a good headspace about you, because you got them talking about their view of current industry trends, thinking about where they are and and where they are heading. Genuine human connection is always good for the soul. They hopefully enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with you and take some time out from their day for some deeper and reflective thinking and conversation.
And that is it! There’s no follow up, other than the book or podcast or film or vintage sneaker site you may have mentioned during the chat, that you’ve flicked to them via text or LinkedIn message. There’s no direct ask about helping you find a job.
Having spent time talking about their experiences and perspective and where they are at, what they’ll remember from this encounter with you is a rich deep conversation. And when someone says “Do you know anyone who you’d recommend for this role?” or “Is there anyone in your network who can help us manage this project for the next 12 months?”, you’ll be top of mind and likely to be recommended. That is of course, only if you’ve done the following:
- Clearly explained in that brief moment when they asked you “What are you up to?” or when you planted that side note seed, explaining the types of opportunities / roles you would consider when the time is right.
- Have a well written profile that accurately showcases your focus that he/she/they may revisit and forward to the person asking for the recommendation.
- Have the skills and experience to match the opportunities their network is looking for.
And this is how people at the C-suite level with executive experience looking for project or permanent work get jobs and board positions. They’re not necessarily advertised and, in my world, that’s what job search, or networking for job search looks like.
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