“I know that I need to do it, but the thing is… it’s scary,” my friend confides in me as we walk through the Panhandle just outside of Golden Gate Park.
What is she talking about?
Reaching out to people in the job search.
When you’re a first time job-seeker, it can feel like everyone in the world has an opinion about how you should approach your job hunt—professors, family members, friends, your friends’ parents and your parents’ friends. But there’s one piece of advice that almost everyone seems to agree on—you need to reach out to people in your field.
The problem with this advice is that it’s much easier said than done. There’s no doubt that building a network is important for your job search, and later, your career. But actually approaching other professionals in your field can be totally terrifying. Even if you have a connection to someone, your dad played golf with them in high school or they’re an alum from your school, that initial request to connect can really give you butterflies in your stomach.
What if they get upset with you? What if they don’t want to help? Why should they want to talk to you?
It’s natural for these questions to flash through your mind before asking someone for an informational interview or introducing yourself at a networking event. But I’m here to tell you that they don’t have to stop you from meeting the founder of that company or that programmer you admire.
As a writer for the AfterCollege Blog, a large part of my job is reaching out to acquaintances as well as total strangers so that I can write about what it’s like to do their jobs or share the advice they have for students and recent graduates who are looking for a job.
Here’s the thing. I am totally terrified of interacting with people who aren’t intimate friends of mine. Though I love listening to people tell their stories, that initial connection is scary for me. Those questions still flash through my mind every time I introduce myself or ask for a potential interview. But I do it anyway and this is what I’ve learned reaching out to strangers and what you can think about the next time you’re expanding your network (which should be right after you’ve finished reading this blog post).
- It’s flattering
Part of the reason reaching out to people is so scary is because it feels like you’re bothering them.
But let’s take a moment to put the turn the tables. Imagine that you’re a professional in your field. A young, fresh-faced college student or recent graduate reaches out to you. They are interested in the work you do and want to hear all about how you got to where you are today.
That means they think you’ve gotten somewhere. You’re a person they admire. That’s awesome!
I can’t speak for 100% of the people you’ll reach out to, but I can say that the majority of the people you contact will be flattered by your interest in them and will be pretty receptive to your request.
- If someone says no, life goes on
Okay, but what if they’re not flattered or they are but still can’t find the time to meet with you?
Well, then they don’t meet with you. And guess what? Life goes on.
No, really. It does.
As long as you’re cordial and polite in all of your interactions, it’s really better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all. Think of it this way: If you reach out to someone, there’s a chance they’ll say “yes.” If you never reach out to them, the only possible answer you can get is “no.”
The first “Sorry, but I am not going to be able to do this interview” response I ever got floored me. I felt like I was personally being rejected. But, a week and two other interviews later, I realized that it really didn’t affect me at all. Even though it’s a bit of a bummer, you will move on and there will be more opportunities later. Don’t stop trying.
I mean, even Katherine Schwarzenegger (yes, Arnold’s daughter) got some “Sorry, so-and-so is too busy” responses while collecting interviews for her book I Just Graduated… Now What? If even someone as well-connected as Katherine faces a little rejection, then you should definitely be prepared to face some, too. Just know that it’s something that will happen, but that it shouldn’t stop you in your tracks.
- Preparation is key
Now, I’m not saying you should start reaching out to every CEO of every company you’re hoping to apply to. That’s not the way you’re going to meet people who will want to work with you.
Finding the best person to contact is key to successfully setting up a connection. Do some research beforehand to figure out who that person is. I’ll spend a LOT of time scouring LinkedIn or asking around to find someone that will fit the premise of the post I’m planning to write. Only after I’ve identified someone that matches the topic I’m writing about will I reach out to them.
Say why you want to speak with that specific person. What about their particular position interests you? Maybe a friend of a friend personally knows them and recommended you connect. Mention that. Then make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re going to be asking.
Remember, the point of meeting with someone is not to ask questions that you can find out easily on the internet. These people will not want to take a break from their personal activities to speak about topics they’ve discussed with 100 other people.
Give them an approximation of the time you’re hoping to spend talking with them (in most cases, it shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes), the topics you’re looking to discuss, and a brief description of why you’re so interested.
By making it clear that you’ve done your homework, you’re making it easier for that person to agree to this meeting.
- You feel great afterwards
After conducting an interview or offering my contact information to someone I meet at a networking event, I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing I feel.
It’s nerve-racking to meet these people, but it’s so incredibly satisfying once you have. If you start to get nervous about reaching out to someone, remember how rewarding the aftermath will be.
- Sometimes it’s about building a pipeline
Sometimes these sessions won’t lead to anything concrete right away. That’s fine. Just hearing about other people’s career journeys can really help to shape your own. What steps did they take to start their own company? What mistakes do they wish they’d avoided? These are things you can use in the future.
There are times when your email will reach a person, but they won’t be able to talk to you at that time or they don’t think that they’re the best fit. Still, you’ve gotten your name in front of them and that can lead to other things later on. Maybe they’ll introduce you to someone they think you’d be interested in talking to or they’ll keep you in mind if a position opens up.
Don’t feel frustrated if some of your networking efforts don’t translate into immediate leads. These things take time and the people you meet will affect your life. Whether you feel those effects now or later, don’t you think they’re worth creating?
Homework time! Feeling nervous about reaching out to someone in your job search? Think about what I’ve said in this post and start preparing for that connection request. Be sure you make everything easy for the person you’re contacting. Explain exactly what you’re looking for out of your meeting and how much time you’re asking of them. Chances are they’ll agree to meet you or put you in touch with someone who can. And if not, it was definitely worth the try.