Your parents, professors, or friends have probably told you that it’s hard to get a job these days.
There’s some truth in that, but a more accurate statement would be that it’s hard to get a job these days if you rely on conventional methods.
If your resume came in from a job posting or an Indeed listing, then you’re at a disadvantage already because there are numerous ways to go about getting a company’s attention.
These include creating a resume that looks like the company’s website or even handing out your application on street corners. There are also more resumes coming in through the door, so there’s more competition and it’s harder to differentiate yourself.
I went through a similar dilemma myself.
When I was in my second year of university (“college” to you Americans), I got into my program’s co-op program — a paid, school-sanctioned internship program.
This meant that when I graduated, I would have 5 semesters of work experience.
Great, except that the jobs weren’t guaranteed; I had to find and land them myself.
At this point, I’d never had a full-time job before, and the only paid work experience I’d had was at a hospital (not very relevant since I was a business student).
I also hadn’t joined any student groups because all my free time was consumed with competitive swimming, so my resume didn’t look all that amazing (even if it did include all of these tips).
If a hiring manager was deciding who to interview based on resumes alone, I would lose. Every. Single. Time.
Because of this, I did two things: I started my job search 2-3 months before everyone else and reached out to about 15 professionals for phone calls and coffee. This resulted in two summer jobs offers in February, before most students were even called in for interviews.
In this post, I want to show you exactly how I did that.
OK, first off, you can’t substitute experience for online knowledge. Job descriptions rarely reflect what a position actually entails; company websites tend to showcase the firm’s highlight reel — not their behind-the-scenes takes.
See what it’s really like
By networking and asking intelligent questions, you’ll get a backstage pass to what actually goes on inside an industry and a company. You’ll get an idea for what skills professionals in the industry have, and how you can tweak your application to showcase that.
Hone your social and interview skills
Having coffee meetings or phone calls with people teaches you basic social skills that will help you feel calm talking to people with power. This is a useful skill to have come interview time!
Learn the lingo
You’ll also pick up on exact words and phrases that people in the industry use: a subtle competence trigger for a job interview to show that you did your homework.
Shortcut the experience
Most importantly, by asking experienced people the right questions, you can learn whether a job, industry, or company is right for you or not, without spending an entire summer working there.
I hear ya. — business people have abused trust, honesty, and sincerity over the years so now, we associate networking with trying to bamboozle people to get what we want.
The thing is, when I talk about networking, I’m not talking about slicking your hair back, putting on a power suit, and using long words to try to schmooze someone into giving you a job.
Instead, I’m talking about playing the long game and honestly seeing if there’s a good fit between you and the company or position. I’m talking about being genuinely curious about someone’s job or company, without asking for a job at the end.
Your focus should be on building a relationship, rather than squeezing someone dry from the get-go.
So if I’ve done my job and convinced you that networking is the way to go and that you can do it, even if you’re an emotional and sensitive softie like me, you might be wondering…
Here’s how most people start. They…
- Search up highly visible individuals in high-up positions and send them a long piece of fan mail, fully expecting the busy VIP to respond
- Get rejected or get no response at all, get disappointed, and then think, Maybe this networking thing just isn’t for me. I suck. Or, they get angry and rant to their friends, “Ugh, I can’t believe Bruce Wayne didn’t get back to me. How hard could it be to send one quick email?!”
- Give up networking and start updating their resume
You may have gone through this yourself, so let me show you the trick to get started:
Begin with warm outreach, targeting people you have direct access to — family, friends, older acquaintances, and friends-of-friends — before moving on to the folks you see online.
Only when you’ve exhausted your warm outreach, do you do cold outreach.
So, make a list of 20 people whose job or company you’d be interested in, starting with relatives or your parents’ friends.
Once you have a list of individuals you want to talk to, head on to the next section to learn…
Keep in mind that the goal is not to wrangle a job out of the person you’re meeting. That’s just a totally uncool way to do things.
- Your primary goal for networking is to get the professional’s advice on your job search
- Your secondary (and longer-term) goal is to learn how to build a real network the non-sleazy way.
With that in mind, let’s get back to what you should do with the people on your list.
Send them an email or a LinkedIn message (preferably email since most professionals check that more often than LinkedIn). Say something like:
SUBJECT: CIG University Student interested in being a mad scientist
I was browsing LinkedIn and saw that you’re a mad scientist, specializing in multidimensional portals. I’ve done some preliminary work in space travel and flying cars myself, so I’d be interested in learning more about your work.
Do you have time for a 15-minute phone call or coffee meeting? If so, would any of these times work?
- Tues (2/27) 1:00 pm EST
- Thurs (2/28) all day
- Friday (2/29) all afternoon
If those don’t work, just let me know — I can work around your schedule or send you my questions over email, whatever works for you.
This message is effective because it’s:
- Short – I aim for less than 5 sentences for an outreach email, even shorter if it’s a LinkedIn message
- Specific – You’re showing that you’ve done your research on what they do, and you’re not just out to “pick their brains” (UGH.)
- Casual – The light tone subconsciously preps the reader for a chill call or meeting, which makes it…
- Easy to say yes – all they have to do is say yes and pick a time
Try this format, tweak it to suit your own style, and start reaching out to people!
If they haven’t responded after a week or so, send them a bump email in the same chain as your initial outreach.
You can do this by hitting reply to your first email with something short and sweet like:
Just wanted to bump this up your inbox. Know you’re super busy checking out the multiverse.
Would it be easier to jump on a call? Got some specific questions on how to get my car off the ground. 🙂
Shrug it off and move on to the next person. Just like you’re never going to pick up every person you ask out on a date, you’re never going to have a 100% success with email outreaches, even if they’re warm emails.
And just like with dating, there’s plenty of fish in the sea of networking, too. 🙌
OK, first off – congratulations. Someone agreed to meet up with you for a phone call or coffee. Awesome!
Here’s what you do next:
24 hours before, send a reminder email
If you really want to impress them, include a 3-point agenda, and ask them (if it’s a coffee meeting) how they like their coffee. This way you don’t have to go through the awkwardness of who picks up the coffee.
Prepare more questions than you need
It’s better to have a lot of questions to pick from than to be scrambling around for something to ask. You don’t have to go through all of them; prioritize them in the order that you want to ask them.
For a 20-minute phone call, I would prep 10 questions about the job, the industry, and the company, like:
- What was your expectation of the role and what was the role like, in reality?
- What does career advancement look like in this industry?
- How much room for growth is there in the company?
- What’s your favorite part of the job?
- What’s your least favorite part of the job?
- What does it take to be successful at the job/company?
- What are you working on right now?
- What do you wish you had known before you started working there?
- How does working as [job title] in [specific company] differ from being a [job title] in other companies?
- What are some trends you think this industry is heading towards?
Take notes on action items
Have a notebook or a piece of paper (no phones or laptops if it’s an in-person meeting!) to take down people or companies they mention, industry lingo to research later, and any resources to check out. These details will help you with your follow up later.
Keep the conversation flowing
The questions are just jumping off points for a productive conversation. Let your contact talk about things in their job that they think are worth mentioning — that’s more important than talking about what you think is interesting
Set a vibrating alarm to end the meeting
When it goes off say, “I just want to be respectful of your time. We’re at 15 minutes right now, so if you have to go, please feel free to let me know!”
Most people drop the ball after the coffee meeting or phone call; they simply disappear and you’ll never hear from them again — until the next time they need something from you.
You don’t want to be that leech, so here is an excellent system I learned from Ramit Sethi on what to do so that you finish things well with people as you build your network:
24-48 hours after the meeting, send a thank-you email
Include your biggest takeaway or to-do from the meeting. Whether that’s reaching out to someone you mentioned or reading up about a specific company they want to work at, flip through your notes and list out 1-3 in your email. Keep it to 3 sentences max!
Thanks again for meeting with me earlier. I’ll definitely look into Bayes’s Theorem to make sure I de-risk my car before I fly it and reach out to Professor Doofenshmirtz for more input.
I’ll let you know how it goes,
1 week after the meeting, send them one article, video, or podcast episode that you think they would enjoy
No need to explain it too in-depth. Just link to it in the email. At the bottom of the email, add “Just thought you’d like this. No response needed.”
Saw this convention for mad scientists and thought of you!
No response needed – just thought you’d be interested.
2-3 weeks after the meeting, let them know what actions you’ve taken since you met
Top performers get asked for their advice a lot, but they know from experience that most people don’t do anything about it. Be different from everyone else. Follow up on what you did with the takeaways from your thank you email.
At the end of the message, I like to add, “If you can think of anyone who could tell me more about the job/company/industry, please feel free to put me in touch with them! I’d love to chat with them, as well.”
If you’ve done everything right up to this point, you’ve shown them what you’d do if they introduced you to someone – from a fun coffee meeting to a comprehensive follow-up – and they’d be more than happy to introduce you to someone who can get you one step closer to the job.
This is how networks grow — and how top performers get the job. 😉
Just wanted to update you: Bayes Theorem did help me calculate the probability that I’d survive my first flight – thanks!
Dr. Doofenshmirtz also clued me in on the failure that he’s experienced as a scientist. He sounds like he’s having the time of his life, though, so I’m still interested in becoming a mad scientist.
If there’s anyone else you think I should speak to, please let me know.
Thanks again! I’ll let you know how it goes.
“Your network is your net worth.” – Porter Gale
After reading all the way down here, you might be feeling overwhelmed at all the things you have to do. I sure did when I first learned about all of this from various influencers like Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, and Jayson Gaignard and tried piecing the steps together.
But imagine if you met up with just one new person a week. Just one.
By the end of the school year, you’d have met 30+ new people who can vouch for you and introduce you to at least another 30 people who work in the industries you’re interested in.
Even if you didn’t land a summer job because you were out meeting people (highly unlikely because your new contacts will send opportunities your way), I’m confident that you could get a job next fall or summer.
When the time comes, you can just reach out to your network and say, “Hey guys! I’m looking for a job in the summer at a bank. If you guys know any hiring managers, please introduce me.” From there, you’re off to the races while everyone else is still updating their resumes.
Let the games begin.
Image Credits: Graduate dabbing, Millennials on phones, Two people holding smartphones, Student on laptop, Three people sitting and talking, Man in black jacket walking on street, Shibuya crossing, Two people having coffee, Thank you very much