The 2-step Method to Getting Job Referrals

The other day I was talking with an executive in career transition that has over 20 years experience in operations management roles with medium to large size companies. He was obviously talented and could easily be the 10th player on a baseball team (so to speak) to most companies, but only if that’s what the company really needed? Now he is ready to write the next chapter in his career, maybe do something new, and wanted to know if I could help him?

We had the following exchange:

Me: What are you looking for?

Him: Anything, really. I just want it to be a good a fit.

Me: What sized company would be right?

Him: I’m comfortable with both big and small companies. It’s more important that I like the people.

Me: Is there a particular industry that interests you?

Him: I want to be passionate about the product, but I’m otherwise industry-agnostic.

Me: So, how can I be helpful to you?

Him: If there are any good startups you’d think would be a good match, I’d love an intro.

Well, this kind of introduction drives me crazy. I actually really want to help this person. I also have the ability to help him. But I need him to help me engage. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s making it very hard for me to really provide concrete help. Because he was flexible about everything, I can’t really think of a good contact to offer. I like making introductions when it feels like there is a high probability of a match and the person will not embarrass themselves or me with my referral. However, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time, so I won’t help her throw darts at the map. His inability to make any specific preference decisions makes it sound like he hasn’t thought through what he really wants. I’m thinking in the back of my head: go figure out what you want, and then come back when I can be more helpful.

But what I tell him is this: “Sounds good. I’ll let you know if I hear of anything?”

And of course, nothing happens and all is forgotten. He probably won’t pop into my head again. Suppose 2 days later, someone randomly asks me if I know anyone with his level of experience looking for an opportunity. Because he was not memorable or more specific with me – I draw a blank and he just lost out on an referral opportunity from me to make some real progress in his job search.

And here’s the kicker. He was being 100% honest. He’s done small and big companies. He’s done several different industries. When he says he wants to be passionate about the product and have a great fit with the team, that’s all true! He has honed in on what works for him. He thinks that by being flexible, he’s expanding his possibilities. However, the opposite is true. He’ll have fewer opportunities come his way because people like me can’t figure out how to help him. But there’s a trick to solving this problem. It’s not super hard to pull off, and I’ve seen it work great for many people. Here’s the method:

Step 1: Create a Specific Plan A

This little trick is all about positioning. Whenever you talk to someone about job search stuff/career advisory stuff, give them a very specific interest. For instance, tell me that you’re interested in joining a seed-stage team focused on mobile payments. Or a post-Series A startup doing breakthrough surgical scalpel medical products. Or a high-growth startup specializing in online cloud advertising optimization. Whatever! Just make it very specific.

If he had said he was interested in mobile payments at the seed-stage level, I would have immediately thought of several people with whom it would be ideal for him to chat. I would send a warm intro saying that he shares a similar passion and ask them if they would be willing to chat with him. These people, regardless of whether they were hiring, would be happy to make further introductions if he impressed them with his passion and intelligence.

And now, he would be making progress. Talking to great people. Meeting founders of startups. This is HOW he’d find that group of people out there that will make a great fit.

Step 2: Create a Specific Plan B

Now that you’re making progress meeting people related to Plan A, start a new stream of networking around Plan B. Let’s say you’re also interested in medical product companies. When talking to a new person that could be helpful with introductions or advice, tell them that you want to get into a medical products manufacturer such as; do your research and be specific with actual names of companies. Don’t make mention of breakthrough surgical scalpels, which maybe too limiting and too specific.

And presto! You’ve got a new stream of referred people to meet. New startups, new founders, new connectors and opportunities for serendipity to strike.

As long as you’re being respectful and not wasting anyone’s time, most people won’t care that you have other interests. You can even caveat it a bit if you want to let people know that you have other interests outside of your “focused” plan. But don’t caveat too much. One, having multiple interests will only dilute your message and two, the goal here is to present an ability to focus on your true specific career goal.

Maybe now is the time to finally hire a career coach to keep you focused, accountable and on task to manage your job search campaign more effectively. The cost of a working with a professional career coach can be invaluable – case and point, if you land your new job one month quicker – you have recovered you entire investment!

Email, Call or Ping me on LinkedIn and let me know how I can help you?

Good Hunting!
Coach Mark

Mark S. James, CPC
Founder and President
Hire Consulting Services
Twitter: @HireConsultant

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