The following is my primer, for not just CFOs, but anyone seeking new employment from a recent college grad to a CXO, on how to network so you can find a meaningful new career seat this year. I have given this advice on networking for job seekers to many over the years, and from their testimonials, I know it works.
Determine Your Criteria
The first step is figuring out the criteria for your next role. If you’re a recent grad that might be a job, period. If you’re a CFO who wants to get into a new industry, well that’s a lot more involved. However, the following guidance is applicable to any change including changing industries, getting your first Board seat, or a position at a faster growth company.
Identify and Get in Front of the Influencers in Your Network
The next step in networking for job seekers: write down the top 20 people in your world that are people of “influence.” These could be investors, lawyers, bankers, CEOs, board members, professors, audit partners, former bosses, or peers/classmates who may be just a step ahead of you. Brainstorm hard on this. Think outside the box. Once you have 20, rank them from most influential to least. Your goal is to have a face-to-face meeting with the top 10 people on your list over the next two or three months, depending on your urgency and work status. (Note, I didn’t include executive search consultants on the list of influencers.)
Come up with a game plan that makes sense for you. If you’re currently employed, maybe one meeting a month is realistic. If you’re actively seeking work, maybe one to two a week will do the trick.
Set Goals for the Meeting
Ok, so you get a 1:1 with Mr. Big or Ms. Big, now what? First off, you’re NOT THERE TO ASK FOR A JOB. You’re there to express appreciation for his time and how he/she has influenced your career to-date, and to tap into their network. Unless you’re particularly close with this person, you should ask for only 15 to 30 minutes, and don’t exceed what’s agreed to.
Your goal is to get introduced to one or two of the people of influence in his network. Obviously, you’ll need to explain why you’re there and that you’re considering a change, but be very brief in explaining who you are and what you bring to the table.
It’s critical that you ask Mr. Big who he knows IN THE SPECIFIC INDUSTRY you’re trying to get into. Consider these two dialogues:
You: “Hey, Mr. Big, I was hoping you could refer me to someone really important in your network.”
Mr. Big: Blank stare.
You: “Hey Mr. Big, I’m laser focused on getting into the software industry for my next move. Who are the two people you know in software that you would feel comfortable introducing me to? Perhaps there is a CEO or an investor in that industry who you know? I’d like to get a 15-minute meeting like this one I’m having with you, with one or two well-placed folks. And a word from you would be of immense help in getting those meetings.”
THE MINUTE YOU GET BACK TO YOUR OFFICE WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE TO MR. BIG. You can do this via email, but if you have good script, a hand-written note is a remarkable thing in today’s digital age and is one of the most overlooked tools in networking for job seekers. Ask him to keep you in mind as he travels the hallowed halls of wherever.
Keep Your Own Scorecard
Networking for job seekers isn’t going to be accomplished in the same way for everyone. OK, so your goal is to get 10 meetings like this, which will lead to 10 or perhaps 15 or 20 more meetings if you are successful. The frequency of meetings is up to you, but stay with the plan. Keep checking your list of influencers. Be persistent without being pushy. Follow up with the original influencer to let them know you met with his referrals. Keep the circle of communication going. Reward yourself in a small way with each meeting. Make it a game to reach the highest placed people you can. Be honest with yourself and your goal, just like any resolution. Know your strengths and be crystal clear to the influencer who you are what you bring to the table. Be mindful of time and of follow-up.
If you do this well you’ll be in a position to hear about opportunities before they are posted, before they go to search, before someone even knows they need you. So happy searching! I welcome your success stories and comments. Contact me at Dave@arnoldpartners.com.