Prioritizing Networking in Your Job Search

Victoria Huang - Booth MBA 2013 presents networking tips in this article.

As an alumna from Chicago Booth’s Asia Executive MBA Program who relocated back to the Bay Area after spending six years in Asia and began seeking a career transition, I did not expect my job search journey to be such a long and difficult one. Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve been in and out of job search mode – sending out more than 500 resumes, preparing for nearly 100 phone interviews, making it to about 50 in-person rounds, and landing just shy of a dozen offers. Hence, I wanted to share my lessons learned from these hard-fought war stories with fellow job seeking warriors.

Use Your Network. This may mean a friend, ex-colleague, or someone you just reached out to on LinkedIn who belongs to the same university alumni network. A referral to a prospective employer (ideally directly to the hiring manager) has been the most effective approach in my job search. A book that has been recommended to me by Booth career services is The 2-Hour Job Search by Alexis Melville, a career counselor from Duke. It talks about the LAMP method: List, Alumni, Motivation, Posting – in that order – to come up with a prioritized list of target employers to focus on. Sometimes, the contact doesn’t even have to be a strong one. While it would be ideal to have a long-time friend that can speak specifically about your accomplishment and act as your champion in the company, just submitting your resume through an acquaintance gives the employer confidence that you’ve taken the time to reach out to an insider and are serious about the application. My own tally of my job applications shows much higher success of landing an interview through the referral channel than blindly dropping a resume through the company’s website. I also found speaking to people in the company a great way to gather information and gain credibility in preparation for the interview itself.

Leveraging LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a must-use tool for today’s job seeker and keeping an up-to-date professional LinkedIn profile is crucial. Some interviewers have pulled up my LinkedIn profile during an interview rather than refer to the detailed resume document that was officially submitted as part of the application. Before each interview, I always check the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile to get a feel of his/her experience and pick up one or two talking points that I can raise during the meeting. This signals that you’ve done your research and helps you build rapport with the interviewer. While reviewing LinkedIn is a must-do in preparation for a scheduled preparation, a lot of LinkedIn’s magic happens before the resume submission. An obvious feature is scanning second-degree connections to a LinkedIn-powered job description. I would often cross check with results from the “Find Alumni” feature to see if there’s anyone in my university network that is currently working or has worked for the company, then reach out to a select few, using “InMail” or “Connect” as appropriate, to request for an informational interview to learn more about the company or in some cases, if it is a close contact, to directly ask to be referred to the particular opening.

Be Proactive.
Sending thank-you emails to interviewers and following up to signal interest were automatic actions for me after a formal meeting. I use this as an opportunity to share anything I wasn’t able to bring up during the interview or to share any thoughtful insights that popped up after the afterwards. I’ve also been open to my network of friends and alumni groups by sharing that I’m actively looking and following up occasionally with updates or questions so I continue to be on people’s radar. A number of interesting opportunities have come up through this channel, and the likelihood of securing an interview is higher, since many new openings get filled even before the formal job descriptions are made public.

Engaging Headhunters. For those that are not actively looking to leave a current position, inquiries from headhunters might be more of a headache than welcomed communication. However, note that headhunters usually have a close pulse of the market and can share information on current trends and new opportunities. For those of us that are in a less enviable position, headhunters are another useful channel in the job search process. However, keep in mind that headhunters look out for and are paid on a retainer and contingency (of placement) by the companies they engage with – their clients. Headhunters don’t work directly for the candidate, so never take the reactive route and just wait for headhunters to update you with potential opportunities. Use headhunters as a supplement to your targeted job search (via networking). Nevertheless, headhunters have multiple corporate clients and can give you a view of the job market. Because they present a shortlist of candidates to the employer, they can act as your advocate during the selection process. Some headhunters are obviously more helpful than others, so I suggest consulting people in your network for referrals to vetted headhunters that won’t waste your time.

Think Long-Term Relationship-Building. Not Transactions. I’ve reached out to a myriad of people who’ve helped me through my job search process, and I’ve constantly struggled with being a “taker” rather than a “giver.” I didn’t feel good about always asking people for favors and not being a good position to extend help in return. Over time, I’ve learned not to approach these encounters as single transactions, i.e., calling up an old friend to “catch up” over coffee for the sole reason of requesting him/her to help me submit a resume, but rather treat the meetings as opportunities to connect, share information, and develop the relationship further. Taking time to understand what the other person is working on may spark ideas on how you can help. Sharing details of yourself beyond your job search can also help build the foundation of a genuine relationship. I’ve had several occasions where initial informational meetings didn’t lead to anything immediately, but the contact reached out several months later to inform me about a new opportunity that was more relevant. I’ve also had situations where I was later called on to provide assistance, such as making an introduction to another connection or sharing industry advice, and I graciously took these opportunities to give back.

Keep Your Spirits Up. I personally have felt demoralized after facing rejection after rejection and even allowed the job search consume me. I’ve learned that keeping a positive attitude was crucial to maintaining motivation and doing well on the interview itself. So much of the job search and landing the offer is about confidence, so it’s important to find your own confidence booster. For me, I kept positive by hitting the gym, showing up to alumni events, and staying connected with friends.

As members of the UChicago community, we have access to a very powerful resource – our alumni network. Over the course of our career and life, there will be times we tap it for help during times of need, but we will also have opportunities to share and give back. I hope that we can stay engaged in the UChicago network and continue to build on those long-term relationships.

  Staff Liaison
Alexandria Schultz, AM'13