I’m blessed. I’m the first to admit it. I’ve never been out of work, and although I’d love to tell you that it is due to my superior skills and hard-working attitude, the truth is that I’ve needed a lot of luck over the years. I was on the right side of a lot of IBM layoffs over my 30 years there, and I know many people who are just as skilled and hard-working as me (if not more so), who ended up on the unemployment line. So, I can’t say that I have been in the position of needing a job. But I am going to give some advice to those of you that are. And the advice is simple: Don’t just ask for help from your social network. Provide help. Instead of using your social network, work your network.
I can’t tell you how many requests I get from people to help them find jobs. Well, actually, I can–it’s several each week (sometimes several each day). And I always do what I can to help them. If I know what they are looking for, and I know there might be a match, I immediately try to hook them up. If not, which is the more likely case, I file away their name and information and I go through the pile when I do hear about someone needing to hire a person.
But there are a few people that I do a lot more for. I’ve worked a lot harder on behalf of people who I know really well, especially if they have helped me in the past. I don’t forget about them–I am always on the lookout.
So, what can you do if you aren’t one of those people? How can you get on my radar when you don’t know me? How can you get me to know you? It’s simple. Help me.
More than once, a new acquaintance has ended up in my trusted zone because they started writing regular posts for my blog. Or introduced me to a new potential consulting client. Or recommended me for a paid speaking appearance. If you know how to do things for me, trust me, I will remember you.
Sometimes, people have done much smaller things that stood out, such as writing a kind review of my books on Amazon, or commenting on my blog, or retweeting things I say. Or recommending my books on a message board. Or sending someone else to me that can help me.
What you need to understand is that the less contact that I have with you, the more you seem like everyone else. And if all of my contact with you is receiving requests to help you, trust me, you definitely sound like everyone else. If you want to stand out from the crowd, find out what I need that you can do. Perhaps this makes me sound craven—I’ll take that chance—but the truth is that working with me gives me a chance to evaluate you and lets me be a much better advocate for you when a position does open up.
Think about the difference between me telling someone, “I got a resume a few months ago from so-and-so that looks like the kind of background you need, but I don’t know her so I can’t vouch for her” and “I have someone that I’ve worked with a little bit recently who I think could help you—she has good writing skills and seems very reliable and hard-working.” Which person would you like to be? I can’t give that second kind of recommendation if I don’t know you and haven’t worked with you.
I’m rather certain that I am not alone in this. I bet that this approach would work for lots of people that you are merely asking for help from right now. It’s hard to imagine anyone being bothered by someone who is legitimately trying to help them. I never am.
Perhaps this sounds difficult. I mean, you are already out of work. You’re depressed, possibly. Exhausted, certainly. I can only imagine how hard the work must be of finding work. So, I know that it is counter-intuitive to give you more work to do. But the truth is that you are probably better off investing heavily in fewer relationships than scattering your resume like Johnny Appleseed. Social networks are built for creating close relationships in simple ways and you don’t need money or fame to do it. But the currency of social media is helpfulness–if all you do is ask for help, you’ll probably get a lot less of it.