Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

March 24, 2023

Scroll to top


Professional Networking

Cold Calling 101

In this section:

Cold Calls

Smart job seekers know that they don’t know everything, or everyone. As your networking progresses, contacts will recommend that you call others who may be able to help your search. That’s right: cold calls. They’re not called “cold” for nothing – the thought of calling a stranger sends chills down the spine of many people, women especially.

Your initial goal in a cold call is to keep the other person on the phone, so the first few moments are crucial. And even more crucial is your attitude about the calling itself. Good salespeople know that every call can’t be a winner, so take it in stride when you speak to unhelpful, or even rude, people.

Have clear and realistic goals in your mind of what you hope to accomplish from a cold call. Are you seeking advice about where to look next in your search, an informational interview or more contact names? Don’t call without a very specific goal in mind. Most people are happy to answer a few questions from a genuine, polite person, but only if the questions are direct and appropriate.

Perfecting Your Phone Personality

Before you dial, do your homework. Know as much as you can before you cold call anyone you plan to ask for an informational interview, networking contact, or general advice and information. Write down all of this information and have the paper in front you when calling. Don’t leave anything to chance. Make sure you know:

  • The name (and pronunciation) of the person you are calling and their title. Don’t you hang up the phone when a telemarketer pronounces your name incorrectly?
  • The correct name and acronym of the company – you’ll have to refer to it in the call, so don’t make a mistake.
  • A focused description of the job or situation you’re seeking
  • Any current news in your industry or at the company of the person you’re calling.

Be Polished

  • Write a script if you’re nervous. Tailor it to your personality and to the company you are approaching. Keep it short. Your speech should included less than 30 seconds to introduce yourself and get them excited to hear more about you, and subsequently just a few minutes to let him or her get to know the real you. Nobody has the time or interest to listen to your life story over the phone.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Use a friend to play the employer. Repeat your script until you have it down pat. Record it, review it and improve it.

Anatomy of a Cold Call

  • Refer to the person by their formal name. Use “Mr.” or “Ms.” rather than a first name.
  • Introduce yourself using your full name and immediately drop the name of the person who referred you. “Hello, my name is Lara Hall and Tory Johnson recommended that I call you.”
  • Always say “please” and “thank you”, especially at the end of the call thanking the interviewer for his or her time.
  • Never keep a potential employer waiting. If you have call waiting on your phone, disable it before calling. Don’t run to answer the door or put the phone down while conversing with an interviewer.
  • If you’ve left a phone number on an answering machine or voice mail, be prepared to talk when the call is returned. If that’s impossible, be prepared to politely suggest another time for calling.
  • Listen for signals. If the person you’re calling sounds busy or stressed, ask if this is a good time to talk or whether you can schedule a better time to chat. The simple question, “Am I catching you at a good time?” will win major points.
  • Tell them that you are looking for a new position or making a move in your career and that you’re looking for some advice or information. You don’t need to directly say you’re a job seeker if you don’t want to. This can put people on the defensive, especially if their company is not hiring at the moment.
  • Clearly state the career change or new job you’re looking for, and then ask a specific question: “Can you offer some advice or contacts based on your experience in the industry?” “Can you tell me a bit about your company and what opportunities might exist in the near future?” “Can you recommend some organizations I might look into to help with my job search?”
  • Stop and listen. Let the person take over and offer their advice, ask you questions, or refer you to someone else. Don’t do all the talking; it’s important to show that you respect and appreciate the expertise of the person you’re calling.
  • Close the deal. Remember, good networking results in more networking. Ask for a referral to a colleague, client, or acquaintance who might also be able to help you. Ask for an informational interview. Ask if you can remain in touch and if it would it be convenient for you to reconnect.

Be Positive

  • Sit up straight and smile when you speak. There is a clear difference in tonal quality when you’re slouching from when you’re upright and projecting. People will judge your telephone personality in three seconds flat.
  • Let the interviewer know how excited you are about the prospect of working for his or her company or for your career in general.
  • Keep the conversation short. State your purpose. Answer questions. Ask for a follow up.
  • Speak clearly and concisely. Don’t eat, drink, or chew gum while you’re on this call. Eating candy is a definitive don’t. The phone amplifies background noise. If you have to cough or sneeze, cover the mouthpiece and excuse yourself afterwards.
  • Do not use slang or profanity, ever. Speak like somebody they’ll want to have representing their company.
  • If you have an answering machine, make sure your outgoing message is professional. Cute jokes, music, or canned impressions can be a turnoff.
  • Take notes of what you say and what they say for future reference. Make sure to take notes quietly with a pen and paper, rather than noisily typing them on your computer.

Bad Cold Calls

Here’s an introduction that is guaranteed NOT to work. This may sound silly, but many people get nervous and become too casual in a cold call. Avoid sounding like this at all costs:

“Hey there. Remember me? I want to apply for the job you advertised in the paper a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t call then, but I sent my résumé a few days ago. Did you see it? I’ve never worked in advertising, but all my friends say I’m smart and creative. Anyways…”

Why is this awful? The goal of a cold call is to make it convenient and enjoyable for the person to help you. They should feel as good about the call as you do.

  • Never make anyone guess who you are. Don’t use games or cute, casual intros.
  • Don’t speak negatively: telling them you meant to call or couldn’t call earlier puts up a red flag. Why couldn’t you call sooner? What was wrong?
  • Don’t point to lack of experience or knowledge. Rather than saying you have no direct experience, talk about your passion for your field and what you’ve done to become involved and informed about it.
  • If you are calling to follow up on a résumé you sent, don’t say “I’m calling to follow up on a resume I sent – did you receive it?” This adds work for the person on the phone. Make their life easy. Instead, say that you are calling “to reiterate my interest in the position” or “to ask a few additional questions.” This will score points for you without annoying a recruiter with hundreds of résumés on her desk.

Breaking the Barrier

Plenty of corporate offices and their human resource departments in particular are guarded against unknown callers. Many times we are told that nobody is available to take our call.

Your attitude is important and your telephone personality must be engaging, upbeat and respectful of busy people’s time. They know if you are listening, confident, and someone they’d like on their team in the first few moments of speaking. Many job seekers get cut off since they sound underwhelming at best and not professional on the phone. Put your best voice forward.

Before giving your name, find out the name of the person you are trying to reach. Once you have the exact name of the right contact, call back and ask to speak directly with that person by name. Do not offer your name or the reason of your call unless asked. For example, “Hi, is Ms. Anderson in, please?” This will usually provoke a “yes” or “no” response. If the answer is “no”, you will often be asked if you would like to leave a message. Do not give your name and number because it’s likely that your call will not be promptly returned. Instead, you should let the assistant know that you will be away from your phone for a while and will try again another time. If after two or three tries you are still unsuccessful, be sure to ask when it would be good to call back. Do not leave multiple messages because this makes you look desperate.

If you can’t get through to the boss, be sure to politely thank the secretary for his or her time. Make friends at the front line and you’ll have a better chance of getting through.

In cases where you have been referred to as specific individual, immediately state your full name. “My name is Patty Brown, and I am calling to speak to Mr. Johnson about a job opportunity. I was referred by his friend James Smith.” Get to the point.

It’s not easy to make contacts over the phone. Keep calling, politely but persistently, until you reach the person you need to speak to. If you have to leave a message, leave your name, the time and date of your call, your complete telephone number, and a short message. If you offer to call back at a specific time, be sure to do it. If the boss is constantly busy, ask the secretary for help. Say, “You are fortunate to have such a fabulous job. Would you mind giving me some tips on how to get through to Mr. Jones. I’m determined to work at Jones Company and was told I’d be a wonderful addition to the team. I would be grateful for any suggestions you could offer me.”

Busy people often make promises and are often too busy to keep them. If someone says, call me back or contact me at a later date, be sure to include that in your communication. Say, “I was grateful that you asked me to call you back and have looked forward to speaking to you for days. Is this a good time to talk?”

It doesn’t hurt to ask someone you know in common for a favor by saying, “Please help me get in touch with Mr. Jones.” Busy people aren’t usually too busy to do a favor for a friend. Consider all the options.

Don’t give up. Busy people are some of the best people to work for since they are just that – busy – and are likely to have many needs. Be sure to highlight in your conversation how you can benefit them and make their life and work easier, more productive, and successful. They are bound to listen to someone who represents progress, productivity, and a benefit for their company.

Resume Business Card

As seen on ABC’s Good Morning America with workplace contributor Tory Johnson.

New York-based Nova Graphics created a fold out business card, called “epitoME,” featuring a mini resume. It’s a brilliant idea because it’s not always appropriate or even comfortable to hand someone your resume—you’re not about to whip it out when you bump into an old neighbor in the grocery store or while riding the subway—but it’s never really awkward to offer your card. These particular ones leave a lasting impression since they feature much more detail than just your name and number.

At Nova Graphics, 100 of these particular cards come at a price: $75 to $300 depending on size and color. The benefit, however, is having a pro handle the design and printing for you. They can be ordered online or over the phone and shipped anywhere in the US.

To save money, try creating your own. Here’s how:

1) Click here to download the Avery label template for folded business cards—four to a sheet.

2) Using the Avery template, enter the text and any images (optional) to each of the four sides of your card. This information should come straight from your resume.

Tip: You’ll be using two sheets: One for the front of your cards and one for the back.

3) Proof the text carefully to avoid any typos or other mistakes.

4) You have two options for printing:

a) Print both templates from your home computer onto plain white paper or card stock. Or take them to Staples, Kinkos or your local copy shop to have them printed or copied double-sided to card stock. Use the store’s paper cutter to trim each card and ask an associate to assist you with proper scoring. If you’re using your own card stock—instead of the Avery perforated cards—you can even choose a color.This will cost you as little as a $1

b) Purchase Avery’s perforated folded business cards (item numbers 5302, 8820, 5820—or ask an associate for assistance in finding a comparable product) and print directly to those sheets. You’ll have four finished business cards per sheet. A pack of 120 cards cost me $25 at Staples.

Business Cards

Passing out your business cards as if they’re flyers will ensure that they will be thrown away as if they’re flyers. Only pass out cards to those with whom you have had a meaningful conversation, and wait until the end of the exchange.

Even though professional etiquette dictates that it’s inappropriate to request a card from someone in a much higher status or position than your own, we say you often have to step out of the comfort zone. If the mood is right feel free to ask, and couch it by saying that you’ll treat the information respectfully. Be clear that you will not share their contact information, nor will you bombard them with calls and emails. If you aren’t able to get a card, remember their name and company until you have a chance to write it down. The following day, call the company directory for the person’s title, direct line, or email address.

For those who are not of a higher rank or status, be brave enough to offer your card first. You brought these cards for a reason, so use them. Have a pen and paper ready so you can jot down your new contact’s information if they don’t have cards with them.

  • Buy a nice card case, which keeps your cards clean, easy to access, and free of crumples and folds.
  • Don’t use cards from your previous positions, and don’t cross through old information with a pen.
  • When someone hands you a card, take a moment to read it. It’s rude to put it away without looking at it. Write down any special instructions on the back and store it somewhere safe.
  • Do not store others’ cards in the same cardholder as your own. You risk giving out valuable contact’s cards to others by mistake. Not only do you lose an important card, you look unprofessional and disorganized. Another drawback is you may think you have more of your own cards than you really do. The cardholder may seem full, but in reality it may only be full of everyone else’s cards.
  • Refill your case before all events to ensure you never run out.
  • Take any card offered to you. It never pays to be rude when networking.

Formal Networking Events

In this section:

Ready, Set, Network!

Mark your calendar. Seek out professional organizations that relate to your interests. Check out seminars sponsored by places like the local YWCA. Listen in on a book-reading at Barnes & Noble, Borders or a small bookseller in your area. Pay attention to campus happenings such as guest speaker engagements. The more you’re able to meet like-minded people, the more your chances of finding the lead you’re looking for increase.

Check event listings daily. Every local newspaper, many magazines, and lots of Web sites provide event listings. Make a point to check these lists often so you don’t miss out on any networking opportunities. Look for events featuring speakers in your field, general business functions, new business launch parties or anything else that interests you.

Make notes. As you collect business cards at various events, jot down notes on the back of each card to remind you of the person you’ve met and where you met them. When you arrive home from each event, review the cards and decide what your follow-up strategy will be. Who seemed to have good ideas for your search? Who offered to help you further? Who did you speak with at length? Having notes on the back of each card will help you make personal connections when you follow up with each person you met.

Passing Out the Cards

Passing out your business cards as if they’re flyers will ensure that they will be thrown away as if they’re flyers. Only pass out cards to those with whom you’ve had a meaningful conversation, and wait until the end of the exchange to give your card.This technique ensures that your card is a powerful networking tool, one that allows people to contact you in the future when they can help out your job search.

Even though professional etiquette dictates that it’s inappropriate to request a card from someone in a much higher status or position than your own, we say you often have to step out of the comfort zone to get ahead. If the mood is right feel free to ask, and couch it by saying that you’ll treat the information respectfully. Be clear that you will not share their contact information, nor will you bombard them with calls and emails. If you aren’t able to get a card, remember their name and company until you have a chance to write it down. The following day, call the company directory for the person’s title, direct line, or email address.

When networking with those who are not of a higher rank or status than yourself, be brave enough to offer your card first. You brought these cards for a reason, so use them. Have a pen and paper ready so you can jot down your new contact’s information if they don’t have cards with them.

Here are some additional strategies for using business cards as an effective networking tool:

  • Buy a nice card case, which keeps your cards clean, easy to access, and free of crumples and folds.
  • Don’t use cards from your previous positions, and don’t cross through old information with a pen. Always replace outdated cards with new ones!
  • When someone hands you a card, take a moment to read it. It’s rude to put it away without looking at it. Write down any special instructions on the back and store it somewhere safe.
  • Do not store others’ cards in the same cardholder as your own. You risk giving out valuable contacts’ cards instead of your own by mistake. Not only do you lose an important card, you look unprofessional and disorganized. Another drawback is you may think you have more of your own cards than you really do. The cardholder may seem full, but in reality it may only be full of everyone else’s cards.
  • Refill your case before all events to ensure you never run out.
  • Take any card offered to you. It never pays to be rude when networking.

What are you Going to Say?

Your résumé is ready, printed and waiting. You’re stocked with business cards. Your clothes, hair, and accessories would make Donna Karan proud. Now you need the live version of you to live up to all of your preparation. Your sales pitch is the ammunition you need to make the most of any networking opportunity.

You make a great contact at a function, you call a job prospect on the phone, or you meet a recruiter at a career fair…you need to get them interested in you – fast! In these situations you have about 30 seconds to sell yourself. If you can’t, they’ll move on. This little pitch says a whole lot about you. You’re giving someone a nutshell version of who you are and what you offer. The goal is to develop style and substance that will pique their interest enough to inspire further conversation.

Similarly, a poor pathetic pitch – one that’s delivered in a boring monotone manner and lacking any clear message – will surely result in a dead end. Not too many people will go the extra mile to draw out information about you if you aren’t willing or able to do your part.

Think of your pitch as a radio or television commercial that’s all about you. You are the product. What makes you remember a great commercial? It’s short and snappy. It makes its point quickly and cleverly and enables you to remember the product name. According to public-speaking authorities, you have 30 seconds to make your point, before your audience loses concentration. No matter how good or how interesting your pitch, 30 seconds is your limit. So sell, sell, sell! Go for it and make it work for you!

The 30-Second Solid Sell

This is an introduction to who you are and what you are looking for. Choose your words carefully – this is no time to wing it. How you represent yourself will determine if you get any further with this contact. Be short and concise, but add a specific instance to grab attention. For example, if you’ve got a chance to impress a recruiter at a career fair, this is an ideal 30-second opener:

“Hi, my name is Samantha Ward. I’m a computer science major with an art minor, and I’m really excited about combining these two interests. I’ve developed an interactive educational program to teach children how to draw. I’d love the chance to explore entry-level job opportunities with dynamic, creative software companies in the Houston area.”

If you’re at a networking event looking to make new connections, you might try something along these lines:

“I’m Lori Jones and I’m an electrical engineer with extensive experience in the aerospace industry. I’ve worked for Lockheed Martin for almost 15 years, but I’m relocating to New York City to be closer to my family. I’m exploring new arenas in which to apply my vast knowledge and capabilities.”

Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to say, get out a timer or use the second hand on your watch. Tape or record your pitch to make sure you like how it sounds or practice in front of the mirror or a video camera. Keep your chin up, smile bright and shoulders back. Dahling, you look mahvelous!

The 3-Minute Sell

Of course the goal of the 30-second spiel is to lead into a longer conversation once you’ve hooked your contact. You need to be prepared with additional, specific details about your experience and goals to keep the conversation flowing. Keep in mind the principles of the 30-second sales pitch, even in longer conversations: be concise and sell, sell, sell! Remember, this is the live, MTV-Unplugged version of the résumé you’ve worked so hard to perfect.

For your longer sales pitch, be able to identify three solid accomplishments, regardless of your career stage. Some good examples include: an extraordinary college project, a prestigious internship, supporting yourself through college, saving company money, increasing sales, launching a new division, or developing successful strategies for your employer. These are awesome coups that require practice to discuss with polish and poise.

Remember the Rule of Seven: Sales and marketing executives know that it’s rare to close a deal on the first try. The general rule is that the average prospect needs to be exposed to your sales message at least seven times before becoming a motivated buyer. Does this mean that you’ll get a job if you call a recruiter seven times? Not exactly. But it does mean that persistence pays. So remember to follow up with all job opportunities because it is likely you will not be offered a position on your first try…or your second…or your third. But ultimately persistence really does pay off.

Make Your Way Around

To join in a group conversation, walk up, listen for a few moments, and make a comment that does not change the subject.

If the person you’d like to meet is in the middle of a conversation, don’t interrupt. You’ll have a chance to speak with that person later. Once you do have their undivided attention, be cordial. No one wants to be bulldozed into giving you a job or business. If you make a hard sales pitch at a networking event where the mood is light and social, you will be perceived as needy, pushy, inexperienced, and worst of all, desperate.

At a networking event, it’s quite possible that someone will ask you, “So, what do you do?” Prepare an answer so this question doesn’t catch you off guard. More than likely, however, it will be up to you to bring up the fact that you’re searching for a job. It’s actually quite easy to broach the subject. Simply ask someone what he or she does, and often they’ll return the question and ask what you do. This is your chance to announce that you’re looking for a “new challenge”.

Politely say you’d appreciate it if they could send any contacts or potential leads your way. If they agree, exchange cards or contact information and secure a time to follow up. After you’ve handed over your card, leave the topic of job-searching. Discussing other topics will help you build a relationship with this individual and allow you to make a lasting good impression. In general, a networking conversation should last only ten minutes. You want to meet as many contacts as possible, so don’t monopolize someone’s time, and don’t allow yourself to be monopolized.

Avoid alcohol consumption. Getting tipsy is unprofessional, and you lose control of what you say and do. Be aware of your eating and drinking etiquette. Don’t stuff yourself before you go, but don’t arrive at an event famished either. Clean up after yourself, but don’t clear your own plate at a formal dinner event unless appropriate.

Don’t be the last person to leave an event, unless you’re staying to help the host clean up. Take your cue from other guests. Make sure you have talked to everyone you intended to before you leave, and say goodbye to the host, any close friends, and contacts you want to keep in touch with.

Memorization is Key

There’s no better way to convey that someone is important to you than remembering his or her name. Yet, particularly in a job search, when you’re making lots of contacts, your brain may need to work overtime to remember everyone you meet. A few time-tested tricks can help.

Always repeat the name as you’re introduced. When someone introduces herself to you, your appropriate response should be: “Hi Lara Hall. I’m Tory Johnson, and it’s nice to meet you.” Try to say the first name a few more times in a conversation, and definitely repeat it as you’re wrapping up. If it’s a difficult name, don’t be shy about asking how to spell it or even about its origin.

Association is a key tool in memorization. Do you know someone else with the same name as a person you just met? Is there a characteristic of the person you can identify with their name? Some examples include short Sally, long-haired Harriet, or Jane who drinks alot of juice. Try to form a picture in your mind of the person, a defining trait (gorgeous gray hair, dazzling green eyes, or long, lovely nails) and envision their name over the image

It Doesn’t Stop There

So you made some great new contacts at last night’s networking party. Follow up, already! If you want to receive calls or emails, then you have to send some.

Secure follow-up instructions right away. When you first meet a contact or apply for a position, mention when you will contact them next. Write in your cover letter when you will call to check-in. Tell people you have just met when they can expect to hear from you. Ask interviewers when you can reach them.

Take any leads a networking contact gives you. Say your friend gives you a lead for a job you’re overqualified for that doesn’t pay enough. Call the job lead anyway. Your friend might find out if you didn’t and think you don’t appreciate her help. She may think you’re not taking her leads seriously, or that you are no longer job searching, which could result in her not giving you leads anymore. Just because you aren’t impressed with one job lead doesn’t mean you won’t be impressed with the next. Make sure you get the next one.

Contact anyone who serves as a reference for you. Whether you are offered the position or not, if you want to use them as a reference again you need to keep them informed of your job search status.

Follow through. Take action and follow through on all suggestions offered by contacts. Keep in touch and offer updates on how they have helped you.

Respond quickly, the sooner the better. If someone emails or calls, respond to the message the same day you receive it. When you meet someone new, call the next day. If you went to an interview, send a thank-you letter within 24 hours, and include instructions as to when you will follow up on the phone.

Find a Mentor/Role Model


Sometimes you need an expert with specific information, life experience, and advice that will help you move forward. That’s when you need a mentor. She is a counselor, guide, leader, and pin-up picture on your calendar of success.

  • Start with a clear focus. What do you need right now?
  • List the people you admire professionally.
  • Interview prospective mentors.
  • Be clear about what you are asking with regard to time commitments and expectations.
  • Remember that mentoring is a two-way street. Both of you must benefit.

Here are some places to start your search.

  • Know yourself. Know what you’re looking for before you expect someone else to help in the search for it. You’ll increase your self-awareness through the search process, but have a general idea ahead of time where you think you want to go.
  • Talk to people. Anyone can be a mentor and anyone can help you find one. Talk to parents, friends, and co-workers. Sometimes this kind of talk turns into a mentoring relationship, but more often it leads to finding others better suited to help you.
  • Talk to your company. Savvy corporations set up mentoring programs to develop their talent. If they have such a program, you may benefit from it. If they don’t, you might get points for making the suggestion. This can be a marvelous low-cost or no-cost benefit for the company to include as on-the-job training.
  • Use your human resource department. Have a chat with your company’s human resource professional, not as a mentor but as a facilitator to get you together with a good one.
  • Contact role models you read about in newspapers, magazines, and books. Be polite, state what you’re looking for. Many “famous” people had mentors themselves and will be glad to work with you, even on a limited basis. It can’t hurt to try.
  • Use your connections. Check out your high school or college alumni organization. Get active in one or more. Check with teachers and professors to see if they can help you get in touch with a prospective mentor. That “old school tie” is a strong bond when you’re looking for advice.
  • Look at contacts from your old jobs. They know you, your skills, and your value. As long as you left on good terms, these people can be valuable assets.
  • Look for mentors among your peers. Mentors don’t have to have executive titles or strings of degrees after their names. They have to be someone who can further your career ambitions.
  • Retired executives often love to stay in touch by mentoring rising stars. Let them help your light shine. They’ve got a wealth of experience and insight to share.
  • Investigate professional organizations. Many local and national groups have both formal and informal programs.
  • Read professional journals and magazines. Initiate a correspondence with someone whose words grab your attention. Show your interest in her and she may reciprocate.

Make Your Move!

You’ve found a person you’d like to mentor you along, and she’s agreed to support your efforts. So what’s next?

First, define the relationship. Let her know what you want from her, why you want her, and how you envision benefits for the both of you. (And by the way, there’s no rule that says you are limited to a single mentor. You may find you want several people, at different times or for different aspects of your career advancement.) Do your research to learn about her career path, and use this information when asking her to help you advance. Ask good questions and show you’re interested in the answers.

Work together with your mentor to set the ground rules. Here are a few things to consider:

  • How often will you meet? Before you approach your mentor, have a good idea of how much time you’d like from her. Do you need to meet once a month or once every other month?
  • Under what circumstances will you meet? Coffee shop, home, office? Morning, lunch, evening, weekends?
  • How you will stay in touch? By phone or email? Ask what is easiest for her and be willing to accommodate that.
  • Confidentiality. This is a must on both sides, especially if you work for the same company or know many of the same people professionally. You’re likely to discuss work situations and professional relationships in the course of your work together, and you must agree to keep all information just between you.
    (Remember, just because you have a confidential relationship doesn’t mean you’re free to spread nasty gossip about mutual acquaintances. Be professional!)
  • Honesty. If you can’t exchange ideas freely there’s no use in getting started.
  • Sensitivity. Be willing to take constructive criticism, but be sensitive to each other’s feelings at the same time.
  • Willingness to learn. Isn’t that what this is all about?
  • A no-fault escape clause. If your personalities don’t mesh or one of you finds you don’t have the time to devote to this cause, agree ahead of time on a graceful, no excuses needed, exit.

They don’t have to know your name

Sometimes the person who provides you with exceptional inspiration doesn’t even know your name. Role models are usually professionals whom we look up to – we follow their careers and we admire their success. We might even long to be just like them.

Aspiring journalists often cite superstars Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Katie Couric as their role models. These three ladies of network news paved the way for generations of talented female television journalists and they continue to inspire legions of women both in the television industry and out. They do this by being the best in their business and by giving speeches and interviews, thereby spreading their expertise to the masses. Similarly, by becoming the first woman in space, Sally Ride’s strides led other women to dream big and to reach for the stars in their own chosen profession.

You can learn a lot from women you don’t know personally but who have achieved documented monumental success. Study their paths and research their backgrounds to find clues to their success. As you advance in your career, remember that your advice and experiences are valuable to others. Be willing to return the favor and lend a hand, because it’s the best way to build meaningful personal and professional relationships.

Networking 101

In this Section:

Specifics to Get You Started

The aim of networking is to develop and maintain relationships – something women are naturally good at in their personal lives but not so great at when it comes to their careers. Think of networking as sharing: time, information, resources and opportunities. It can be as simple as just talking to everyone you know.

Networking is crucial throughout your career, but at this moment, you’re networking with a purpose: to find job opportunities. Your goal is to spin a huge web of contacts who will lead you to the person who will offer you a great new job. The larger your web, the more prospects you’ll have. The following tips and ideas will help you network like a pro, but it’s up to you to take action.

Keep a Rolodex. It’s crucial to keep track of everyone you contact. We love the old-fashioned fun of flipping through a Rolodex, but you may prefer the convenience of a Palm Pilot. An inexpensive notebook, address book, or box of index cards is just as effective too. Save all the business cards you receive during your networking activities and make cards for prospective contacts. Mark down the date of each interaction with each person: meetings, phone calls, and résumé mailings. Record who refers you to whom and how you followed up. Regularly flip through these contact cards or notebook pages to make sure no contact falls through the cracks.

Start close to home. The question is: who do you know? And the answer is: more people than you think! And those people know countless other people. So get the word out – seize every opportunity to publicize your job search. Shout it from the rooftops! Begin asking for assistance with the right attitude. You are in business to get a job. Tell your clergy, clubs, professional organization members, volunteer contacts, merchants, civic leaders, neighbors, and anyone and everyone they know as well. Don’t leave out your classmates, former classmates, school alumni, teachers, professors, coaches, and anyone who was ever on your team or in your class. Co-workers, former co-workers, bosses and friends’ bosses count, too. Be specific! Instead of just asking them “who’s hiring,” let them know the type of position you’re looking for.

Get your hair cut and your teeth cleaned. Mention what you’re interested in to everyone: your personal trainer, the babysitter, the butcher, the baker…you get the idea. You never know who might know someone who knows someone who knows someone. Hairdressers and dentists tend to know everyone, so tap them for leads.

Be a good listener. Even if you’re not great at small talk, it’s easy to be a good listener. Everyone loves to talk about him- or herself, and other people’s experiences are a great way to learn about a career or a company, as well as potential job openings. Just ask a few key questions:

  • “What do you do?”
  • “Where are you working?”
  • “How’d you get started in that line of work?”

Then sit back and soak up the information. A random encounter at a coffee shop or on a subway may spark a new job or industry idea in your head.

Find a reason to call. We know it’s uncomfortable to call someone out of the blue to say “hello”, especially when what you really want to do is scream, “Can’t you find me a friggin’ job?” Find articles or news programs that you might recommend to your key contacts. “I saw this article and thought of you” shows people that you are up on your current events and that your professional life is at the top of their mind. This tactic is sure to impress! If you can’t come up with something quite as clever, invite your contact for afternoon tea or an evening cocktail at the newest spot in town. It’s less expensive than a whole meal, and that drink could lead to great connections. Instead of asking for a job, start by offering your contact the opportunity to share their career advice and individual stories.

Use your alumni association. College alumni are an often-untapped resource, which is a shame since they can be some of your best connections for career networking. Aside from maintaining a vast network of contacts, many of whom are ready to help fellow graduates, career service offices also offer a range of services. These include résumé critiques, career assessment instruments, seminars, career days, employer information sessions, alumni networking clubs, and access to online job listings. Most schools around the country provide reciprocity for their alumni at other schools. If you attended a small college and you’ve found that none of the alumni connections are relevant, ask your alma mater to write a letter on your behalf seeking services at other career centers around the country. Such arrangements allow you to tap into that network and make use of their resources. Similarly, when approaching alumni for assistance with your search, be prepared to share the latest campus news and excitement. This often provokes a sense of nostalgia and triggers memories from their time on campus. That connection can strengthen their desire to assist your efforts. It is also an opportunity for them to learn what kind of career opportunities new graduates are currently pursuing.

Build your Board of Directors. Success is not just about what you know, it’s who you know…and how you keep it all organized. Make sure you begin building a personal dream team or your very own Board of Directors, those people whose helping hands will boost you to the top of the career ladder. From people with a heart of gold to those with a pot of gold, the ideas is to create a prize-winning database of individuals who know your name and take your calls.

Support network. Oprah has Gayle – her best friend and sidekick – who she knows will always tell it to her straight. In addition to shopping, gossiping and doing other activities, they’re also able to love, laugh, and cry together. They know each other’s secrets, strengths, and foibles – and they adore each other, on good and bad days.

It’s rare for any of us to thrive on our own. We don’t need just need intimate partners or romance, we also need a solid support system to aid us in our personal and professional pursuits. The most successful women have indentified and developed such circles to aid their success. Regardless of your income level or field, it’s important to have best friend, mentor and role model. Sometimes it’s one person who fills all three roles; for other women it’s many.

Do your homework. Before getting in touch with your new or old contact, research his or her company thoroughly. Familiarize yourself with the organization’s structure, products and services, and competitors, as well as how this person’s job fits into the organization. Go beyond reading the website. Read trade journals and other industry magazines.

Prepare for an informational interview. You’ve convinced someone to give you their valuable time. Don’t squander it. Be prepared, professional, polite, and to the point. Create a list of questions to ask them based on your individual goals and the knowledge you have gained through your research. Among those potential questions are:

  • Why does this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?
  • Why did you choose to join your current company?
  • What do you find most satisfying in your work?
  • What are the major frustrations in your job?
  • What pitfalls should I be sure to avoid?
  • If you had to start over, would you pick this role again? Would you pick this company again?
  • What are the top skills someone must possess to be successful in this line of work?
  • What’s the best career advice you ever received?
  • What advice would you give to someone starting out in or looking to break into this field?
  • What professional organizations do you consider most beneficial for career development?
  • What is the current hiring outlook for your organization? How does that differ from the hiring outlook in the industry as a whole?
  • Would you be willing to review my résumé and provide feedback?
  • What specific steps should I take to advance my career?
  • When would be a good time to follow up with you to stay in touch

Asking questions like these ensures that you will help this contact feel confident that they have valuable knowledge to impart and that you will learn much from this networking opportunity.

Beyond the Basics

Getting ahead in your career is not just about contacts, it’s about relationships. And one way to solidify relationships is with consideration. Remember, it’s often the little things that count such as cards, gifts, a phone call, or an interesting article clipped from the newspaper. Here are some inexpensive ways to keep yourself in the minds of your professional contacts.

Meet for drinks and appetizers. This is an easy way to say hello and spend a few minutes with a casual contact. If there’s someone she knows who you want to know too, ask her to bring that person along too, and remind them that you’re treating so there’s no arguing or confusion. Tell your contact why you want her to bring someone else along, of course. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being used without their permission.

Make a sports date. This is a classic stay in touch ploy in the world of men. It’s time we adopted it too. There are so many avenues to pursue:golf, tennis, jogging, walking, Yoga, a Pilates class, aerobics or kickboxing, for instance. You’ll be doing your heart a favor as you work on your networking too!

Have a networking party. This is like a Tupperware party, but you’re selling yourself, not plastics. Invite a group of contacts you think would be congenial with each other for brunch or wine and cheese. There’s no need to do any kind of presentation, because you’re just inviting folks to get together socially. Your hostess skills and your enthusiasm will leave them with a positive impression without the stiffness of a formal presentation.

Make this gathering a tradition. Make your get-togethers so great that people will be clamoring to get in. Remember reading about the Grand Salon in Paris? In 1750, it was THE place to be seen. But not only was it fashionable to visit the salon and view beautiful artwork, it was political too. There’s great prestige in rubbing elbows with influential types…and that goes for today as well as 18th century France.

Get in for free. Call your local Chamber of Commerce and other major business organizations in your city to get a calendar of events where you might make good contacts. Volunteer to help prepare, set up, clean up, or perform any other service that will get you into the event at no charge. Women For Hire’s favorite trick is to volunteer to work at the check-in desk where the nametags are displayed. This way you’ll be able to meet and greet every attendee, then schmooze with them later when you’re off duty.

Use the power of technology. Design a website about yourself and promote it to everyone in your address book. One woman we know got a job by writing a very clever email about herself and sending it to everyone on her address list. She requested her email buddies to forward her information to five friends. She received two job offers within three weeks.

Get published. Promote yourself as an expert to association newsletters, local newspapers, community Web sites and other publications. Most smaller publications are eager for good content and happy to consider a well-written article or even a short tidbit. Getting published means getting your name out in public (in front of eyes who may be hiring), and a published article is always a good résumé item or notable achievement to mention in an interview. If you’ve designed your own Web site, be sure to link your articles to it.

Reach out and touch someone important. Next time you see a newspaper or magazine article about a successful woman in your industry, write her a note of congratulations and ask if she has any advice to offer a peer in her field. Most women will be flattered that you read about them and happy to share some nuggets of wisdom. Why not ask to interview the most admired woman in your field? Consider writing an article about her for an association newsletter. If your article is published, the featured woman will not only read the article, she’ll share it with her friends and colleagues.

Learn your rights. If your spouse was relocated, check with his or her company to see if spousal support is offered for job placement. Many human resource offices offer career assistance helping a spouse find a job.

Employee Referrals

One great way to avoid not feeling guilty about bugging your friends and family to help you find work is to check into their company’s employee referral program. Find someone inside your ideal company to email the human resource department on your behalf with a strong referral. If a current employee writes to their human resource contact saying, “Here’s someone my neighbor went to college with. I’ve talked to her and she sounds very intelligent. I’d like to forward her résumé,” that contact is much more likely to take a look at an unsolicited résumé than if your resume came in with the ordinary mail.

Why do internal referrals work? Companies want to maintain good relations with current employees. Even if your résumé doesn’t look perfect, the human resource department may touch base with you simply out of courtesy. Then it’s up to you to impress a hiring manager with your strong interpersonal skills. It helps if your recommendation to human resource came from a senior-level employee, but even an assistant’s referral will get positive attention.

Many large companies offer financial incentives for referrals that lead to successful hires. But even if the employee doesn’t end up with money through their firm’s employee referral program, the real motivation is helping a friend or contact get a foot in the door! Remember, networking goes both ways. Your recommender may need your referral too someday soon.