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How do you ask People in your Network for help with a job?

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by monicadear

You must ask a specific person for specific help, in as specific a manner as possible. Examples of how to be specific:

"You in the green shirt, call 911 and let them know there's a woman with an accident at 5th and Main"

"Jason, please help me by donating $15 to my marathon fundraiser: I'm supporting Alicia, who is living with HIV. Your donation is tax-deductible."

"Anyone on this alumni board, I'm looking for a connection to Jane Smith in the Human Resources department at REI's corporate offices in Kent Washington"

"I need a housesitter from January 15 - April 21 for our 3 bedroom, 2 bath in Toronto, Canada --- here is a photo album and description of the property. Security deposit of $___ and $____/utilities per month, e-mail ______ for details."

There have been psychological studies done on what's called the "bystander effect" (or in some cases, the Genovese syndrome), and these relate to the "diffusion of responsibility" related to the number of people who are perceived to be present.

So, to get results, you must ask for a specific request.

For example, when you sending a mass e-mail to a bunch of people on your list, the research dictates that you will receive less of a response than if you tailor a message directly to an individual and call them. If you ask someone directly, be as specific as possible in what you request.

This relates to your job search in the following ways:

1) Specify who you are looking for.

It is an easier "memory hook" if you ask about a specific position in a specific company. It is much more difficult for someone to help you if you ask for "anyone with connections in finance."

It is much easier for someone to help you if you ask for "Juan Garcia in the accounting department at Procter Gamble Cincinnati". Then if someone knows him, or knows him as a friend-of-a-friend, they can make the introduction.

2) Specify what you offer.

If you say "I do web development", that will get you a generic response. However, if you specify what type you do: "My company does full-service web design and development for highly complex, functional, and effective websites for non-profits, progressive organizations, green companies, and minority women in business" -- you'll get a specific response.

3) Maintain your network over time.

No one likes it when you just ask flat-out for help, without offering something in return. In an ideal situation, you continually reach out and "ping" your network with articles, stories, messages, and general keep-in-touch connections. Then, when it's time for you to change jobs or when you need someone's assistance, it's an easy "ask" because you have an already-established connection.

4) Don't take it personally.

Do not beat around the bush. Either someone is able to help you, or they are not able to help you. It's no reflection on you as a person or your unique abilities if someone cannot help you: they just cannot help you. Your task, especially during the job search, is to find the specific people who can help you.

5) Be concise.

People's time is their most valuable and precious research. Make the ask and phrase it in a way that makes it easier to respond. "Pitch" yourself using a 30-second (or better yet, a 7-second) marketing message. If you can boil down what you are good at in 30 words or less, you succinctly describe what you offer.

6) Say "thank you".

Always follow up with a note, card, or thank-you message. If someone helps you, find a way to support them, too. We all look out for each other.

7) Cast a wider "net".

Statistically, you get a better response from your so-called "connector links" -- these are people who do not move in the same circles as you do and who connect with a wider variety of people that you may not know.

The people in your inner circle already talk to each other and you have too much overlap with mutual friends. Plan to go outside your circle to talk with others to find more varied connections and opportunities.


In general, you will always want to be meeting and networking with new people so you have a better understanding of who does what.


For more information on connecting through tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I've created a 136-page resource on "Social Networking for Women in Business" . You may find me online at @monicadear

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