Activating your network to improve your job search

Tapping into your professional network of associates and friends can power up your next career move. Here's how.
Activating your network to improve your job search

If you found yourself looking for work recently, you might be spending hours daily trawling online job boards and submitting tens or hundreds of applications without ever hearing back.

You are not alone in your frustration and disappointment. Perhaps your CV does not market you well, and it might be worth your time to invest in a CV or résumé writing service to position you better. The economy is also not doing you any favours, as many employers post jobs to build candidate pipelines without concrete plans to make immediate hires.

But don't lose hope: The vast majority of jobs never get advertised, and you are applying to the small percentage — as little as 20% by some estimates that do get posted, each of which receives an average 250 applications. Your application is then screened by automated applicant tracking systems before a human ever sees your CV. Against those odds, the radio silence should be no surprise.

What might you do instead to give yourself a fair shake? Pursue a more targeted strategy in your job search by connecting to the 80% of opportunities in the "hidden" job market by activating your network.

Your personal network is a resource that is unique to you and ready to go to work on your behalf — if you know how to activate it. This network is not the same thing as your LinkedIn connections, nor is it the tenuous contacts in your social media that you cannot quite remember meeting.

And it is not the events and happy hours that disappeared from your diary after the onset of COVID-19, which hiring managers and executives were too busy to attend anyway.

Your network is and always has been online, within your personal contact list. To activate it, you will need to:

Get comfortable asking for what you need

Most people's immediate response to the idea of asking for help is resistance. Nobody likes to ask for favours, appear needy, or face rejection, so we avoid asking for what we need. Naturally, we never get it. People aren't mind-readers, after all.

But the truth is that reaching out to your personal contacts to help you find the right opportunity is not asking for favours: It is leveraging social capital. If a person refers you to a job that you end up landing, their social capital with the employer rises as well. You make them look good. It's a win-win.

Generally, people also enjoy helping others, but between leading busy lives and not being clairvoyant, they have no idea who needs help when — unless they are told. Think about the reverse situation: You receive a personal update from someone you know, asking for your assistance. You would feel honoured to learn that you made it into that person's inner circle and they see you as someone in a position to help.

That is exactly how your outreaching would feel to your network. So do your contacts a favour and help them feel good about themselves by entrusting them with the opportunity to help you.

Polish your digital presence

To network in an online world, your online identity must be in shape.

Once you reach out to your personal contacts, you can be absolutely certain that they will look you up online. They will be seeking confirmation that you are as impressive as they remember and that recommending you to their contacts would indeed raise their social capital. Don't let them down. The same is true of any recruiter and hiring manager considering you for an interview; these professionals want to know you are worth their time to interview.

So make sure you look good on LinkedIn by having: (1) a powerful introduction or summary at the top; (2) a list of high-value skills for your target role and industry; (3) at least three bullet points describing your accomplishments (not job duties!) for each of the roles you have held; (4) a professional headshot; and (5) recommendations that you have both given and received.

Formulate the ask

Start your message by saying you have enjoyed following their career, respect their accomplishments, and would like to impose on them to help you achieve your goals as well. People love knowing that they matter and that they are in your inner circle, so tell them!

Now that you are ready to ask people to go to work on your impressive behalf, make sure you are not unintentionally expecting them to also put in the work to figure out how to do it. Be clear and make their lives easier by telling them exactly what you want them to do.

Your ask should include: (1) a sentence about what you have been up to professionally the past six months, even if that is just job searching; (2) a couple of sentences describing the industry and job function you are targeting; (3) a link to your polished LinkedIn profile; and (4) your CV or résumé as a PDF.

Since you want to make it easy for people to help you, make sure 1, 2, and 3 are in a neat paragraph that can be easily copied and pasted into an email that your contacts can forward to their networks. And since you are asking people to help you, let them know you care about them, too.

Take action and tell everyone you meet

This is the hard part: actually activating your network. Your network is not the same as your LinkedIn contacts. Unless you have carefully managed your LinkedIn connections to include only people whom you personally know, do not blast off your ask to just anyone.

Take the time to carefully comb through your email, phone, and LinkedIn account for people with whom you have enough rapport to be confident they remember you. And when you message them, remind them of how you know each other.

Do not be shy about firing off a blast to multiple email addresses, as long as everyone is on bcc. You are not abusing your email privileges. Think about how many times you have fired off a mass email to your contacts in the past. Perhaps once? Most likely, never. You will not come off as a nuisance, but rather as a pleasant surprise to people who suddenly realise they matter to you. For those contacts whose emails you do not have, use LinkedIn. And do not forget your other social accounts. Post about your job search on both LinkedIn and Facebook.

Similarly, do not keep your job search a secret from people you meet offline. This includes people outside your field, the barista in the corner coffeeshop, and your child's friend's mother. Particularly in this interconnected world, everyone knows someone, and the only way to expand your network is to tap into someone else's. Do not be shy. Remember that people cannot help you unless they know how you would like to be helped.

Be patient

Now, you wait. You should expect that most of your recipients will not respond — and that is not because they do not like you. Many people will not respond because they got busy and forgot, despite planning to. Most of these people would even be grateful if you followed up, so do not write people off for not responding or take it as a referendum on your likeability and self-worth.

Many others simply will not know how to help because no solution or contact in their network comes readily to mind. These people would very likely enjoy hearing from you again, perhaps with an update after you land your new job.

But be ready to respond vigorously and quickly to the people who do respond. Do not keep these people waiting. You have opened your window of opportunity — now climb through it. And remember, the average job hunt takes six to nine months of intensive searching, follow-ups, and interviewing.

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.




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Anastasia Uglova is a communications and personal branding consultant based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at