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Home  > Article

Talking your way into a great job

By Sarah Auerbach

The biggest secret about job hunting is that the best jobs go unadvertised. The only way to tap into this pool of desirable positions is to talk to the people who know about them.

Always, always, ask who else you should talk to.
That's where networking comes in. If you get in touch with everyone you know (and everyone who knows them), someone will have heard about a job that's suited to your skills and interests.

Networking is non-optional

If you think you can "skip" the networking part of the job search, think again. There's no way to avoid it. And if you try, someone else is going to end up with that great job that might have been yours.

Nobody likes to impose on friends or strangers, but you have to just grit your teeth and do it. Also, it might make you feel better to remember that networking isn't just about asking people you don't know for favors. It's also about returning those favors later. If you've never worked before, you may not have a lot of information to offer people just yet. But that'll change fast; in a year, you'll be able to give information back to people who've helped you in the past.

Everyone wants to help
The truth is that most people love to play the expert. They don't mind having an excuse to procrastinate their daily jobs while they talk to someone who's just starting out.

Contact everyone you can
The more phone calls you make, the more likely you are to come up holding a job possibility. So make a list of absolutely everyone you know who knows something about the industry you're interested in: professors, parents, friends, friends' parents, parents' friends, an aunt, the editor at your hometown paper.

Send a letter or an email first
How you approach each person depends on how well you know them. If it's someone you've never met before, send a letter asking if you can take 10 minutes to ask some questions. Then follow up by calling in a week or so. An email will work just as well, particularly for someone you only know slightly or have talked to in the past. If you feel nervy, you can also use the direct approach: Call your contacts. Introduce yourself, remind them of who you are or tell them where you got their name, and explain why you're calling.

Know why you're calling
So why are you calling? You're looking for a job in the field, and you're interested in finding out as much as possible about where the field is headed, and what's available. Also ask:

  • How long have you been in the field?
  • How did you get started?
  • What do you like best and least about what you do?
  • How would someone enter the field at the entrylevel?
  • Do you know of any available positions within your company or at other companies?
  • Are there other people I should talk to?

The most important question you can ask

Always, always, ask who else you should talk to. If you do nothing else; if you're a stuttering, blithering wreck, ask that one question. If each person you talk to gives you two more people to talk to, before too long you can network with a whole city.

It can take a while

Networking can be discouraging. Sometimes it seems like you're making a million calls and finding nothing. But don't give up. One of those calls might turn into a job down the line. When I was a senior in college, I called up an alumna of my school who was working at a Boston area magazine. The first time we talked, it was October. In May, a job opened up at her company, and she remembered my name.

And don't forget to check with your school's career center for additional guidance. 

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