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Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

When Is It Okay To Ask For A Job Lead

After a workshop I led, an attendee connected to me via LinkedIn.  Shortly thereafter, she asked me for an introduction to a few of my contacts.  I recommended that she find connections who might know her work better than I.  She then responded with a very good question that I bet is on the minds of many:  a lot of the advice out there promotes networking as a way to access those jobs and companies you want, but as you meet more and more people how do you know when it’s okay to ask for referrals?

Kudos to this jobseeker for a number of things: 

1)       She expands her network.  We connected (as it happened via LinkedIn but you can also use email or other social network);

2)       She stays in touch.  Some people stop after one contact;

3)       She doesn’t stop at No.  She didn’t push back on my hesitation for a referral but she did ask for more information (she asked why).  So while she didn’t get exactly what she asked for, she got more information and that will help her search.

You can’t expand your network if you always only focus on people you already know.  You have to take a chance, like this person did, and reach out to people.  Attend social events, go to conferences, take classes, participate in community activities, and then actually reach out to the people you meet.

You also have to follow up because even if you do manage to introduce yourself and get this person in your LinkedIn network or on your email list, if you don’t correspond further, it doesn’t really matter. 

But, the follow up stage is a long stage.  The best follow up is non-committal.  You focus on the other person – just saying hi or giving an article, a recommendation for a good book, a holiday greeting.  Give something that is welcome and doesn’t require a response.  This way, you build familiarity and rapport without bothering the person.  Then, when you have established familiarity and rapport, you might try asking for something.

A connection/ referral to someone else is a big favor.  When you make a referral for a job or even an informational meeting, it is a reflection on you, so you want to make sure that before you refer someone you know them.  Likewise, asking someone else to refer you is a risk for them.  They need to know that you will reflect on them well, so don’t jump the gun to ask your network for this.

Asking for information is less of a favor, so if you’re not sure where you stand with a contact, ask your connection for information on a company or type of job.  The contact may offer on their own to introduce you to someone they know at the company or to pass on your resume for that type of job.  This way, you have put yourself out there, made your aspirations known, but also not imposed too much on the other person.

People have different comfort levels for sharing contacts and referrals.  So when you are expanding your network and not quite sure where people stand, be conservative and assume that you need to know the person very well.  Then be generous and patient with your network so it becomes connections you know very well.

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How To Stay In Touch With Prospective Employers

A former coaching client reached out with this question:  Is it okay to connect to a prospective employer on LinkedIn?

The short answer is, “Of course!”  LinkedIn is a professional networking site, and your contact at the prospective employer is a burgeoning professional relationship.  However, this client shows reluctance similar to what I hear from other jobseekers around staying in touch with prospective employers.  There is the fear of appearing too aggressive, too desperate or too forward.  Whether to connect on LinkedIn is part of a broader question around the best way to stay connected to prospective employers without being a pest.

The first step is to establish the reason to stay connected.  This is why it’s so important to focus the interview on establishing a relationship that will lead to more conversations, rather than trying to close on a specific job.  The strength of the relationship, even if it’s a starter relationship, gives the prospective employer the desire and the rationale for staying connected (via LinkedIn) or otherwise.  Did you give your contact good reason for wanting to stay in touch?

The second step is to understand the best way to stay connected.  Does your contact use LinkedIn?  If they are a recruiter, they most likely will be active and welcome a connection.  If they are a senior executive and many levels above you, their LinkedIn connections might be more privately held, and you might want to first connect via email and phone.  At the interview (or mixer or wherever you met), ask how best to stay in touch.  Ask explicitly if they’d like to connect via LinkedIn.

Finally, when you do connect, the third and subsequent steps are to follow up, follow up and follow up.  This is not about checking in on openings.  This is about expanding and deepening the relationship by focusing on their needs.  Ideas for business solutions.  Referrals to helpful people.  Congratulations when you hear good news about their company.  These are just some of the many connection-focused touches that demonstrate your expertise, reflect your generosity, and have the added bonus of allowing you to stay in touch.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out March 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

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The Right Way To Reconnect With Old Networking Contacts

When I ask jobseekers how they plan on reconnecting with old contacts, I usually hear this:  I will let them know I am no longer at company X, and I will ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for me.  Yikes!  How would you feel if someone you hadn’t spoken to in a while reached out and the first thing they did was ask for help?  Put upon?  Used?  Rushed? 

Yes, lots of people do this (but it’s still annoying).  Yes, this is a tough market, so it’s more understandable why people are asking for help (but it still feels intrusive).  The first time you reconnect, it cannot be about your job search.  You cannot ask for anything that first time, except how the other person is doing.  The point of reconnecting is to reestablish the relationship.  The other person is the focus and by listening to them and being interested, you actually help yourself because you will learn about what’s going on in the market and what people care about and you can act on this LATER.

This is why maintaining your network is so critical when you don’t need anything.  It takes the time pressure off of you to accomplish anything.  But if you’ve waited till you’re in need to work on your network, then you have to self-discipline yourself to still make those early contacts about your network and not about yourself.  One good exercise:  take 3-5 contacts per day and just say hello.  This gets you in the habit of regularly reaching out to your network, so that when you actually have a question to ask or even a favor, the request isn’t the only time you have reached out.

Another tip:  when using LinkedIn, remind people how you know each other.  Don’t use those template connection invitations.  Make it a personal message about where you met, when you last spoke, or something else that shows genuine interest.  Put an updated and professional-looking picture of yourself so that old connections who may have forgotten your name can recognize you visually.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out March 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

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Passive Job Search Strategies

Once people start feeling better about the market, those currently employed will feel braver about considering job alternatives. While the market has not completely recovered, I find more people emboldened about their prospects and planning to look in early 2010. If you are one of those employed jobseekers itching to test the market, here are some strategies for a passive job search:

Shore up your job search foundation. Update your resume. Complete your LinkedIn profile. Send a holiday mailing as a fun way to get your contacts organized. Reach out to references, mentors, and your key stakeholders from past positions to make sure you haven’t lost touch. Do these basic maintenance chores now while you are not busy actively looking.

Take time for internal reflection. If a great opportunity came along, would you recognize it? Do you know what would make you leave? Do you know what you need in your next role to ensure it keeps you on the career path you desire? Are you ready for that next professional challenge or just bored (in which case you might want to start a hobby rather than a search)?

Get yourself known. If a great opportunity opened up, would the hiring company recognize you? Have you published or presented? Are you active in social networks? Are the people who do know you and like you able to describe what you’re good at and what interests you?

If you’re not sure about launching a search but want to test the waters, you need to use these passive job search strategies. Once you master job search strategies and incorporate them into your regular career management, you won’t need to worry about missing that next big thing. You will naturally be in touch with the market and able to pounce on opportunities according to your interest and timetable. That is the ultimately job security.

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Social Networking Is Not Just About Networking

Because LinkedIn and Facebook are referred to as social networking, most jobseekers use them primarily or even exclusively as networking tools.  However, social networks are valuable at every stage of the job search, not just networking.

Target identification.  Use the detailed profiles in LinkedIn to get a better understanding of different job functions and career paths.  If you think you want to work in corporate philanthropy, find people who have these jobs and review their experience, skills, and projects.  Use this as a guide to what you might need in your career, or at least as good issues to research.

Company and industry research.  Again using the profile data, pay attention to how people talk about their work.  The projects people are working on are invaluable clues to deciphering what their company exactly does, especially when it is a small, privately held company with little published information about clients or projects.  Group Discussions are another way to get a sense for a company or industry.  Find a company alumni group or industry niche and follow the discussions or ask questions out right.

Salary data.  Use the Q&A function or specific Group Discussions in LinkedIn to collect data on salary, lifestyle, growth prospects, and other useful information for your own offer negotiation.   Because so many geographies and industries are represented on online social networks you can specify exactly what you are looking for and likely find a close proxy.

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Small Adjustments That Yield Big Dividends

Successful job searches often turn on small details – the confidence in your hand shake, the banter at a networking event, the typo that sinks a resume.  The best candidates dot the i’s and cross the t’s in everything they do.  Read 3 examples of small adjustments you can make to take your job search to the next level in my latest post for CNBC.com Executive Careers:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/33090816/site/14081545

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3 Tips For Managing Your Emails In the Job Search

An active job search entails lots of email – to prospective employers, to recruiters, to networking targets, to friends who help you along the way. Yet, many jobseekers don’t stop to look at their email habits to see if they are maximizing this powerful but easily overlooked tool:

Read my tips in my latest post for Vault.com Insider Career Advice

http://bit.ly/2yeItu

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Setting Online Boundaries in Your Job Search

One of my clients was recently invited by a recruiter to become a Friend on Facebook.  This client had hoped to keep her Facebook personal and use LinkedIn for professional contacts.  See my advice for how to set boundaries for your online networking in my latest post for CNBC.com Executive Careers:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/32125996/site/14081545

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Jobseekers: Tame The Online Social Networking

One of my most popular workshop topics is how to use social media in your job search.

A high majority of recruiters use online social networks, such as LinkedIn, to find candidates (I used online networks extensively when I recruited), so jobseekers absolutely need to take advantage of these tools.

However, there are so many options and they are all so time-consuming that jobseekers risk being overwhelmed.

Read my tips on how to tame the online social networking overwhelm in my latest post for CNBC.com Executive Careers:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/31505797/site/14081545

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How to Use Linked In to Get a Job In This Market

So many people ignore what LinkedIn can do for you regarding a job search and it’s a huge missed opportunity. 

LinkedIn will help you learn more about a hiring manager.   When you know of an opening, and you know who the manager is, chances are that they are on LinkedIn.  You MUST review their profile, and see who they are connected to.  Keep searching until you find someone you know and ask them about this person.  What are they like?  What can they share about them?  The better you know someone, the more likely you are to be able to get your foot in the door and the better you could perform during the interview.

LinkedIn also allows you to present yourself in a very professional manner, and allow for others to see you before an interview.  So ensure your LinkedIn account is complete.  Check out either my account:  Connie Thanasoulis or my partner’s account:  Caroline Ceniza-Levine.  We have our pictures, our resume outline, people have recommended us, and we belong to groups that connect us to others in our field or interests.

It’s worth your time … get your LinkedIn account complete, and use the network to search for people you’ve worked with in the past, and hopefully for people you’ll work for in the future.

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