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Three surprising ways your network can help your job search

Networking doesn’t always lead to referrals or introductions to hiring managers. But sometimes your contacts can prove helpful in ways you hadn’t expected.

Three surprising ways your network can help your job search
[Photo: Jeff Tong Photography/Tech.Co/Flickr]

My professional network has never led directly to a job opportunity. I’ve had people on the inside graciously pass along my resume and extend referrals, but while I’ve landed interviews this way, they’ve never crystallized into an offer. In fact, every job offer I’ve ever received has come about the old-fashioned way: by applying to a job posting.

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Which is odd. Isn’t it those “weak connections”–not the people you know but the people they know–who are supposed to be such effective job-hunting resources? It’s possible that my personal track record is a reflection of my network, my networking abilities, my resume-writing skills, some weird quirk of probability, or none of the above. In any case, it does remind me of some other ways–short of landing job offers–that networking can come in handy throughout the job-search process. Here are a few of them.

Networking lets you practice talking about your work

If it’s been at least a year since your last job search, there’s a good chance you’re out of practice describing your work to people outside your organization. There’s actually an art to answering the familiar question, “So what do you do?” and since most interviews kick off with, “Tell me a little about yourself,” networking conversations can actually double as interview prep.

Networking with people while you’re job hunting forces you to get beyond those boring one-line summaries of your current job description. As you start telling folks in your network what you’re looking to do next, you’ll also have to characterize your strengths and interests, drum up examples of recent projects you’re proud of, and make connections between your current role and your ambitions for the next stage in your career.

Articulating all of this takes practice. Plus, in addition to helping you refine your pitch to hiring managers and recruiters, this also gives your network a clearer sense of what opportunities to keep a lookout for on your behalf.

Here’s what to ask your contacts:

  • “Does the experience I’ve just described make sense? And does it sound interesting?
  • “Based on what I’ve told you, what sounds like my top strength? What about my biggest weakness?”

Related: How to answer “What do you do?” without boring anyone

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Talking to your network helps you focus (or expand) your search

You may never have had a professional mentor, but as soon as you mention you’re job searching, just about everyone snaps into mentorship mode. They’re quick to ask questions about your current job and what you’re hoping for in the next one. They grill you about where you’re looking and whether you’ve landed any interviews yet. They wrack their brains for people they know that you might want to talk to.

This knee-jerk generosity can be helpful, or not. (Your friend’s new roommate might not know a damn thing about your industry even though he’s really excited to help.) But these discussions can be clarifying even when they don’t cough up job leads. Sometimes you’ll notice somebody interpreting your work history in a different light than you see it, which could cue you to reframe your experience in future career conversations. Other times someone may suggest a company or a type of role that you hadn’t considered before. And once in a while, a contact with deeper experience in your field might brush away worries about your competitive weaknesses and put their finger on something completely different that you should really focus on.

These networking interactions can lead you to shift your strategy, sometimes in small ways and sometimes much more radically. The best part is that even people who are relatively ignorant about your field or career ambitions can still help you adjust your game plan, whether it’s to find focus or think more broadly.

Here’s what to ask your contacts:

  • For people who are less knowledgable about your field: “Hypothetically, If I were to leave my field, what types of other roles do you think I’d be qualified for?”
  • For those who know a lot about your field: “What types of candidates do you think I’m most likely to be competing with for this role? Should I consider different types of positions?”

Related: These two exercises can help you radically think your career


Your network can help you vet job offers

In my experience, a professional network is most effective at helping you size up job opportunities. Sometimes the hardest part of the hiring process isn’t crafting a great resume or preparing for an interview, it’s deciding whether to take the job once it’s finally offered.

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The folks in your network might not know the hiring manager or an HR rep inside the company, but they’re much more likely to know someone who works there and can speak generally about their experiences on the inside. This is often the real benefit of those “weak connections”; the people who know the people you know, even though they’ve never met you, probably won’t give you an endorsement. But many are happy to jump on a 20-minute call with you and share their thoughts on the position you’re applying to, plus any words of caution or advice.

All of this is underappreciated intel. If you can land these conversations before going on a job interview or even before applying, they’ll help you tailor the way you position your candidacy. These second-degree contacts can also clue you into potential drawbacks and suggest good questions to ask about the team, the work culture, and the demands of the role. And if someone has already agreed to chat with you about a job opportunity, they probably won’t blink when you ask if there are any other insiders they might be willing to introduce you to. Before you know it, you’ll have tapped into a brain trust of in-the-know contacts who can share critical insight to guide your strategy and decision making.

Here’s what to ask your contacts:

  • When you’re looking for company insiders: “Do you know any current or former employees at X company who might be willing to chat with me about their experience there?”
  • After speaking with company insiders: “Thanks for chatting with me! If you can think of anyone else you work with who may have some insight into the role I’m pursuing, I’d love to be connected.”

Related: 4 questions to help answer the big one: “Should I take this job?”


So no, your immediate network might not be much help in connecting you with the top decision makers for the specific job opportunities that appeal to you. But if you give them a chance, your professional contacts can probably help you out much more–and in many more ways–than you think.

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About the author

Rich Bellis was previously the Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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