Previously, I have written about how to introduce yourself to others. Since then I have been asked, “What if I don’t have any contacts?” Here’s what you can do.
A good job and a good career depend on good information. The most important information, leading to the best jobs and the most fulfilling careers, comes through word of mouth, through contacts. Contacts lead to meetings, meetings lead to interviews, interviews lead to jobs, and jobs lead to careers.
What is a contact?
A contact is a person with whom you establish a mutually beneficial relationship. This is a very different view from the commonly held assumption that a contact is a person who can pull strings for you, who can give you a job or find one for you. Contacts must be seen as sources of information. They will help you make informed decisions about your career, and you will share your own information with them.
A contact is a source of referrals. Every contact you make is in touch with other people who have important information, people you should meet and know. So a contact is a route of access to other people and other information that, directly or indirectly, leads to job and career opportunities.
A contact can, in some cases, be the person who offers you a job. But the main purpose of a contact is to establish a productive relationship in which valuable, mutually beneficial information is exchanged.
Using contacts to ask for a job is like asking for a handout. It places that contact in the embarrassing position of being asked for something they may not have. On the other hand, asking for information and advice is an acknowledgment that the person is important enough to have valuable information. It is a request for something that people are usually willing to give.
Which contacts are valuable and which are not?
People, who do what you would like to do, and do it well, are among the most important contacts you can have. The leaders in your profession, or in the profession you would like to get into, are the ideal contacts. Successful people in any profession are important contacts because they tend to understand the process of achieving success and can help others to understand it. The same is true of people who enjoy what they do. For practical reasons, people who deal with other people and know large numbers of them are useful contacts as well. Actively retired persons can often be among the most valuable contacts you can find, for they can provide a wealth of insight into the work world in general, and their former professions in particular.
Throughout your career, you need to be constantly in touch with who is doing what in your profession. Experience shows that to be in the right place at the right time is the most effective way to advance your career. The best way to accomplish this is to be in many places at all times. You need to be in touch with the people who make things happen, or have made things happen, in your field or related fields.
How do you know who these people are?
Thousands of successful job and career builders have shown that it takes only three or four steps to get to talk to anyone, no matter how important their position.
While most people will accept that there are routes of access even to presidents, job seekers often think that successful access requires an “aggressive” person, someone who can sell themselves.
The fact is that an aggressive attitude usually gets in the way. It is true that there is a time and a place for selling yourself. But in making contacts and in creating a contact network, you are establishing productive human relationships. These relationships are always better accomplished by being “purposeful” rather than by being “aggressive”.
Another attitude that interferes with making successful contacts is expressed by the words “Why should anyone want to see me?” You will learn that, as well as receiving information, you will be in a position to give important information. This can be information that your contact wants and needs. In order to get, you must give. This give and take, above all, makes the process of making contacts work.
The building of a contact network is the first prerequisite. “But,” you may say, “I don’t have any contacts to start with.” The answer is that all of us have access to people. Once you understand that a contact is someone with whom you establish a relationship to exchange information, you are ready to identify a variety of people you know, who are the contacts you will start with.
How do you get to these contacts?
The first step is to identify the bridges to your future contact network. The bridges are provided by people you already know but may never have thought of as contacts. They are people with whom you feel comfortable and can talk easily to.
Write down the names of several people you know from the following categories: anyone who provides a service and deals with people, such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, civic and community leaders, politicians, or clergy. These can be anyone who earns their living by making contacts, such as salespeople, insurance, real estate and stockbrokers, public relations and advertising specialists. Consider anyone important in the business community, such as business owners, executives, business consultants, and bankers. You may also contact former employers and business associates, as well as members of your family, friends, and neighbours, whatever their professions are. Members of the academic community, such as professors, deans, and college presidents also can be starting contacts.
Now select three people from this list, using one or more of the following criteria. Besides being easy to talk with, the contacts should have life experience. They should be mature individuals who have found reasonable success and fulfillment in what they do and are used to dealing with people through their professional or social activities. These are your primary contacts. Take some time now and consider who is on your list and select those you would like to approach.
Wishing you balance, passion and fulfillment in your lifework!
Network diagram courtesy of Jurgen Appelo