Learn to have the right conversations with the right people.  The other day a client told me he literally contacted almost 1,000 in his network to help him with his job search.  No luck. Problem is he had the wrong conversation with the right people.  As Tom Cruise said in Jerry McGuire, “Help me to help you”.  His contacts were left confused and therefor unable to help.

I propose you have two types of conversations: Strategic and Focused.  Strategic conversations are broader based and thought provoking, helping you to learn.  Focused conversations are specific and action oriented, helping you to get inside a company.

Strategic Conversations

These types of conversations are for when you are not 100% sure of your career objective and need general direction.  I would estimate 10-20% of your network might have a broad enough perspective and a long enough attention span to provide you with high level advice.

The benefit of these conversations is you can ask the tough questions such as “Where do I belong in investment banking these days given all the changes?” or “Having obtained a Certificate in Amazon Web Services, how can I best take advantage of these skills in the NYC tech scene today?” You are not guiding or directing the contact.  You are asking and listening.  Not an easy skill for those of us with big egos.

Unless your contact proposes to get your resume to a hiring manager, the conversation has no natural next step. You succeeded if you got information to help you ask better questions in the future.

Focused Conversations

You know what you want from your career, or at least have a few different ideas.  Most of your contacts have a short attention span, want to help but can only keep one or maybe two facts about you in their head.  Your goal is to plant 1 idea with them about how they can help you. The conversation is simple: you want X and you need your contact to help you achieve X.

“Hey John, after 15 years of equity sales at Goldman, I would like to transition to selling software products in the financial services sector.  Do you have any contacts at company X, Y or Z?”.  You have given John a task, very simple, definable and easy to remember.  In this era where bees beat us for attention span, you can only empower your contacts if they can do the least work possible to help you.

Please do not give John 2 or 3 asks.  Not only will he not remember, but you will leave him with the impression you are not focused.  Focus is key for job search success.

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