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Is Landing An Executive Role Really About “Who You Know”?

I’m sure you hear about people securing jobs through their networks all the time. In fact, if you look back at your own work history, you’ll probably recall that some of the vacancies you filled in the past were brought to your attention by people you knew. As an executive leader, you may also know that when you are trying to fill positions you first look internally and then as close to internally as possible, drawing on referrals of current employees or maybe people you’ve done business with.

But when you are in active job-hunting mode and don’t have the patience to wait for someone to mention a perfect-fit opportunity to you, rather you need to actively uncover such opportunities, it can be difficult to know what steps to take. And it’s easy to bemoan that you must not know the right people since you haven’t heard of anything.  networks

But the first mistake is to think that you are the one who needs to do the knowing – that is, knowing the right people. It’s actually your contacts who need to do the knowing. Specifically, they need to know what your areas of expertise are, what your goal is (to transition to a specific type of role), and the specific organizations or types of organizations you are targeting.

But no one in my personal network would know about the types of jobs I’m targeting.”

They might not. But you never know who your contacts know.

Imagine that your cousin with whom you haven’t spoken in a couple of years comes to find out that you are targeting manufacturing enterprises looking to build supply chains in China, because that’s what you do best. It just so happens that your cousin’s neighbor leads a company that’s trying to break into the Asian market. Bingo, you’ve got an interesting lead.

Or, maybe when catching up with your old college roommate over coffee, you update him on the expertise you’ve been building over the past few years, and you mention that you are in transition and targeting XZY enterprise as an interesting place to work. Well, it just so happens that your old roomie’s sister-in-law works in Marketing at XYZ and may know who you need to talk to. (By the way, you already knew he had contacts in XYZ because you used LinkedIn to identify who your contacts know.) Bingo, another good lead.

But let’s assume that your cousin and your old college roommate never hear from you, and thus they have no idea that you’ve been building impressive business infrastructure in Asia and that you are targeting XZY enterprise because you haven’t touched base in ages. If that’s the case, they would have no reason to connect you with people they know that could represent leads for you. The problem in this case is not that you don’t know the right people, it’s that your people don’t know who you are today and what you’re trying to accomplish.

So stop lamenting that you just don’t know the right people and start thinking about the potential gold mine of your contacts’ contacts (people you don’t know YET). Get to work on rekindling those relationships with people who know and like you, who may have absolutely nothing to do with your line of work, but who may know the right people. Make sure you give them key information about your expertise, goals, and specific companies you might be targeting.

If you do this methodically and systematically (in person, on the phone, by email), at worst it will lead to some dead ends, but you’ll still get to catch up with old friends, colleagues, and family. And if they can’t help you, maybe you can help them in some way by introducing them to someone in your network. At best it will lead to job opportunities, referrals, and an expanded network of interesting people.  

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About the author

Tiffany Hardy's picture

Tiffany Hardy, MA, ACRW, CPRW, is an executive resume writer and LinkedIn strategist with BlueSteps Executive Career Services and Top1Resumes. Hardy, a dual Spanish–American citizen based in the U.S., is dedicated to making a difference in global executive job searches by helping each one of her clients to communicate his or her unique value proposition to potential employers. She crafts high-impact career literature—resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, E-notes, executive bios, and more—approaching each project not only as a twice-certified resume writer but as an international business insider with 10+ years’ experience working closely with top-brass international businesses in Spain, as a former hiring agent, and as a former editor for the European Commission.

Learn more about the BlueSteps team of career advisors and the services they provide to help you improve your career trajectory here.

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