The New York Times Book Review has a regular column called “By the Book,” which features famous writers. One frequent question they ask them is this: “You’re throwing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?”
If you’re looking for a new job, you can ask yourself the less literary version of this question: “Which influential person would I invite for a networking conversation if I could?” But the truth is that you already likely have people in your network who would be helpful to consult. The next time you’re thinking about finding a new job, consider these five types of people:
1. Your boss
This one might sound counterintuitive, because it often seems best to hide the fact that you’re looking for a new gig. But your boss just might be the best person to talk with, assuming you play your cards right.
To begin with, when your boss finds out that you have aspirational goals, she may just find a way of helping you achieve them within your present company or your present department. Don’t rule out the possibility of a promotion. And if there is no appropriate position for your advancement, letting your boss know that you are looking for a more senior role will mean she may see you as a candidate for an MBA or some other leadership training.
Of course, when you have this networking conversation, show excitement about your present role, and convey appreciation for what you have learned from your supervisor.
Another group of individuals who are in a great position to help you land that next job are friends—a college acquaintance, a colleague you work with, or a friend you’ve known from childhood.
I once had a friend named Sue, who was a fellow communicator. We both had great respect for each other as professionals, and we had become good friends. She worked for Shell Canada, and I asked her if there would be an opportunity for me in that company. She made some inquiries, and said, “Yes, there’s an opening for a speechwriter.” I was interviewed by the CEO and was appointed his speechwriter.
So don’t be afraid to turn to friends who work in other organizations and who respect you as a professional. Take them for a coffee, and ask if there might be a position in their company that you would be qualified for. Ask them to put in a good word, and arrange an interview. The rest is up to you.
3. An executive
A recommendation or a lead from someone in a high place is golden. If you’ve made connections with executives through previous jobs or networking, this is often a great place to start, as they may be in a good position to help you snag that next big job.
When I founded The Humphrey Group, I often asked my CEO clients, “Do you know anyone else who would like this communications training?” Sure enough, they would give me two or three names of other CEOs I could contact.
So think about all the executives you know—including executives in your company, or executives you might meet at a networking event—and ask them for coffee (most likely in their office) and get leads. If you’re polite, respectful, and to the point, they will likely be obliging.
4. HR professionals
Recruiters and HR managers are also an excellent source of advice and referrals. It’s their business to help people get jobs, so they’ll be very helpful.
I once cold called an HR executive to see if there might be a position for me in the high-tech firm he worked for. He picked up the phone, and I said: “I’m Judith Humphrey, I’ve been teaching at the university, and I’m interested in using my communications skills in a business setting. Would you have an opportunity for someone of my background?” He was gracious and set up an interview with the head of corporate communications. A generous job offer came to me within a month.
Cold calling may not be as easy today as it once was: few people pick up their phones. But try an email, and explain to the recruiter or HR leader why you’d appreciate a discussion over coffee.
5. Your family
Finally, family members can be an effective source of referrals. A mother I know brought an amazing opportunity to her son. He had just graduated from university and wanted eventually to work at the UN. Through a connection of his mom’s, the young man had a meeting with an ambassador, and the ambassador introduced him to the very person he had dreamed of working for. Take your mom (or dad, or aunt) for coffee, and see what leads they can provide.