Recently, I received a LinkedIn message from a student at my alma mater requesting to speak to me by phone about my employer in light of her interest in private equity. I was slightly thrown off because my employer, as well as my background, is far from private equity. I was not surprised, however, that she did not take the time to research my background and employer prior to messaging me.
Ever so often we find ourselves feeling desperate to learn as much about a company or industry that has long interested us and now has open positions. Consequently, we take desperate measures to learn as fast as possible; measures that sometimes result in mass emailing or messaging.
I have not had success with hasty measures like mass emailing/networking to learn about or secure a job. In fact this approach left me frustrated because it makes it hard to distinguish yourself from a hundred other candidates who, too, are writing the same generic, often off-putting, messages to prospective employers.
When I first (and the last time) tried this intensive networking method, I was a Sophomore in college looking for summer internships. Sending tons of messages made me feel like I was interacting with many people in the field and at the companies of my interest, when in reality those interactions were meaningless in terms of what I learned through them and what they offered me at the end.
That is when I realized I needed a different, more targeted approach. Instead of randomly connecting with professionals and asking them to speak with me about their industry or job when there is an open position at their firm, I first needed to have a rock solid understanding of what their job and industry is about. In order to achieve that, I recommend the following:
1. Set-Up Google Alerts
We have all heard the advice to thoroughly research a prospective employer. But honestly, how well can you research them a few days before your interview? That is why it is important to have a list of companies and industries that interest you and set up news alerts about them in Google. That way, you receive industry and company news in your email frequently, which allows you to slowly and steadily familiarize yourself with important market events that can serve as great conversation starters in future networking situations and even interviews. You also learn a ton about industry language, landscape, and key challenges through this approach.
2. Use LinkedIn Wisely
Following a company that you have applied for a position at is not enough; neither is liking one or two of their posts once in a while enough. How does that get you the job or improve your understanding of the company in a way that you can intelligently speak about it in your interview? Therefore, while I do follow companies that I am interested in, I also like to follow their top management to gauge a sense of their priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. I also regularly check the people who are/were in positions and departments that I like. That way, I can evaluate what skills they use everyday, what is their background, and what career development opprtunities they have in and outside the company.
3. Communicate with Key People
I know, I know…I just went on and on about discouraging cold-messaging and mass networking, so I am not about to suggest that you do that. This is, in fact, the exact opposite. I am not suggesting that you message prospective employers when there is a position you have applied for because most candidates will do that. You should, instead, identify key people in positions and departments that interest you prior to an opening, and after you have checked both the aforementioned points, only then approach these professionals personally. The key here is to reach out only to a couple of people; and approach them not with the generic “speak to me about your role and industry,” but with what has piqued your interest from exercising the above points, and how the person you are connecting with can enhance/contribute to your knowledge.
This type of more personal interaction helps you show off your industry knowledge and interest in a company to the right people. It also helps the company consider your interest and remember you in case of an open vacancy in the future. Speaking from recent experience, if your communication with the key people goes well, they may approach you with a vacancy before it is even posted on a job board — how amazing is that?
My intention here is not to be preachy. It is to share the techniques that have worked for me both in the US and in the Netherlands. Feel free to add your own tips that set one up for long-term job search success in the comments, and if you have any questions or concerns about the tips I have shared, do not hesitate to get in touch!