How to Increase Your Network:   Hot Tips for New Contacts

There's a right way and a wrong way, an embarrassing way and a productive way. And one good reason to get it right: 90% of all available jobs are not advertised and are available only via a network. Should you increase the size of your network in order to improve your chances of getting the job you want? Do bears go poopy in the woods? 

How to Approach Your New Contacts
Type of Contact Tips on Approaching
People inside your target
companies who are at your level

Speaking with people who might be future coworkers can be more effective than asking to speak to the CEO (if you’re not going to report directly to the CEO). A conversation with the top sales rep for the company, an engineer who headed up a recent project, a project manager who knows people in different departments, etc. can reveal insider information. And, at some point, the hiring manager may ask this person what he or she thinks of you. Meeting with them before you meet with the hiring manager can serve you well.

Personally email or call with a warm referral, such as, John, this is Susan. Jane Reddy suggested I connect with you. Is this a good time? If not, ask when would be a good time to speak … if it is a good time, continue with: I wonder if you could help me with some information. Jane mentioned you’re in the production department at XYZ Co. I am a customer service rep and have some good skills, and am looking for opportunities in a company like yours. Jane thought you might be able to offer a good perspective on what it’s really like to work at XYZ.

After listening and establishing rapport, ask more questions: What would you say is the strength of the department? Save this next question for later, as some people won’t readily admit to problems. Where could they use the greatest help? Then test the waters Who would you suggest I contact over in Customer Service? Joe Ramirez, you say? Great. What’s the best way to approach him? Remember to wrap up with… You’ve been a great help. Is there something I might be able to do for you?
People inside target companies who are in leadership or a position to hire

You can try this script that shows chutzpah (a little too nervy for my taste, but it can be pulled off by some): This is John Doe. Garrett Bench at the Quarterback Club told me to call and, by the way, said he’d give you 5-1 odds on the upcoming Bronco’s game. Do you have time for a quick call? Here’s the reason I’m calling: I’m a sales executive who’s looking for a bigger challenge. I’ve got a 12-year record of beating quota by as much as 45%—even in down markets I came in with double-digit numbers over forecast. If my skill set were clearly able to add revenue to your company, would you be open to an exploratory conversation?

If you don’t have awesome statistics to number-drop, this script might work: This is Jane Doe. Garrett Bench at the Heart Association told me to give you a call. Have I caught you at a good time? … I’m an administrative professional with excellent technology skills and have seven years’ experience providing admin support to marketing managers. Garrett mentioned the new marketing project you’re working on and it happens that that’s just the type of work I’m looking to do more of. He also said you might be a bit short-handed in the admin department. If my skill set were clearly able to make your operation run more smoothly, would you be open to an exploratory conversation?
Sales people within target companies Sales people are typically gregarious and happy to talk. Start off with something like this: I’m really impressed with what I know of your products, and I’d love to be associated with a team that helps bring them to market. Who would be the person to talk to about the manufacturing [insert your profession here] end of things.
Association contacts for your industry Speak to the association president, a regional representative, membership chairperson, or program chairperson. Meet these people face-to-face at events and conferences. Call or email if an event is not accessible. Mention, I’m looking for a position in distribution center operations and have a strong background with companies on the East Coast, where I’ve recently relocated from. I’ve certainly acclimated rapidly to your mild winters, and now I’m acquainting myself with some of the local manufacturing companies. Could you recommend any resources, upcoming events, or people in the area that I might contact who could share useful information?
Vendors or suppliers of your target companies Call and ask, Could I have the name of the individual who handles the XYZ account? Once you have the name, you can either speak directly to them or email with this type of message: I understand you work with the XYZ account and wondered if you could help me. I’m especially interested in their purchasing operations because of the innovative Web sourcing they’re doing. Who would be the appropriate person to speak with about that? After learning a bit more about the issue, you may want to ask to meet face-to-face with the person. Ultimately, ask, Who would you recommend I contact at XYZ to learn more? Ask permission to reference this person: May I say that I spoke with you?
Competitors of your target companies Although you might not gain access to names within your target company via its competitors, you can pick up interesting information that will likely be of interest to your target company. Start by speaking with someone who can help you better understand the product or service, such as someone in sales or customer service.
Clients or customers of your target companies

Ask about their experience with the company’s products or services, such as what they liked or disliked about their purchasing experience, quality, delivery, warranties, ease of use, what improvements they’d suggest, etc. Become a customer yourself, purchasing the product or service (if affordable) and analyzing it for strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

A trusted relationship with a client can be worth its weight in gold, as target companies will value and respect this relationship.
Retailers or distributors of your target companies (if applicable) Visit stores, talk to personnel, ask why they like the product, ask their ideas for how the product could sell better, how the product could be serviced better, and what new trends or opportunities they see.