Over the past couple of months as I have been looking for my next career challenge I have been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of amazing conversations, meet a lot of really interesting people, and learn a lot from both the people I am meeting as well as my own experiences going through this.
One of the most important lessons I am drawing on though I learned through my last big career search:
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
I love meeting new people and I love great conversation, but ultimately neither of those things on their own are going to find me the right next opportunity. If I don’t actually use those introductions and conversations to let people know what I’m looking for and how they can help then it is a wasted opportunity in the end.
I have boiled it down to this for myself:
Connectors are those people who are network hubs. They are respected in their industries, are well connected in a specific industry or geography, are relationship builders, and are generally curious people. When I am meeting with connectors I generally use a variation on the following:
You were recommended to me as a leader in the area and as someone that I should speak to. I am currently seeking a new career challenge and my preference is to bring my experience and leadership back home to find a challenge in the Niagara Region. I am a human centered leader with a background in strategy, innovation, and business growth and I would like to find a company that is looking to grow and who is willing to make an investment in that pursuit.
I know you may not be directly aware of any specific opportunities outside of your own organization, but I was wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to a few other leaders in your industry who you know are innovative thinkers, who are passionate about doing business in Niagara, and who’s companies may be in growth mode?
While it might be interesting to just learn about those connectors themselves, how they got to where they are, what their organization does, and what their interests are (all things that are lead ups to the above), without actually asking them for something – giving them a specific call to action – they don’t really know how to help me.
With connectors I am specifically looking for warm introductions to people who I may benefit from meeting (and hopefully who will enjoy meeting me). If I can’t get warm introductions from my request I will also follow with a request for even some names who might be folks that I should reach out to so that I can make my own cold introduction to them.
As I build my network of people I am introduced to I need to identify which are primarily network connectors and which may be specific opportunity leads. In those cases I need to modify my pitch slightly. One of the key things I am finding both at my level of experience and the region that I am focusing my search is that there are very few positions that are “posted” that will meet my expectations as well as provide me the right level of opportunity to make a difference.
Because a lot of the potential opportunities for me aren’t written down, articulated, and put out on a job board I have to be willing to create possibilities in my conversations with people – those conversations may not turn into a real opportunity right away, but the intent is really to plant the seeds of thought which may then grow into a follow up conversation and a real opportunity. In these cases I’ll use some variation of:
Learning about your company, your approach, and your aspirations is really exciting. I can see how you are working to be innovative in the industry and are searching for opportunities to drive growth and expand your market. I have actually had some unique experiences that might be beneficial to you in that space.
I have worked in a number of different industries leading innovation activities which have included product and service development, business model and market evaluation, and I am very comfortable in my ability to align people around those goals. My experience across several industries has given me a really unique perspective and allows me to make non-traditional connections between ideas and challenge traditional industry thought. I’m not sure if you have considered investing in someone in to help you lead that growth challenge, but if it becomes something that you are interested in exploring that opportunity I’d be really interested in talking more.
You have to ask and plant the seed for the opportunities to arise sometimes.
The Authentic Approach
Of course in order to earn the right to ask for something you need to have laid the foundation in the conversation first. That means you need to:
- Be genuinely interested and curious about the person you are talking to, their organization, their family, their interests, and their needs
- Be willing to reciprocate connections from your own network who may be beneficial to the person you are talking to. Not every introduction will work out, but through your interest and curiosity you should be thinking about people you know that might be interesting to the person you are talking to
- Be realistic with the connector or the opportunity – they may not actually know people or opportunities which may align with your needs and you need to be honest about that. Sometimes a conversation just has to be a great conversation if there isn’t a fit with a network or opportunity. But what you learn by being curious might make you a good connector in the future for the person you are talking to
- Be thankful for any introductions you make and/or opportunities you find and be sure to keep the people who provided you those leads up to date on your progress and your follow up activities. People want to know that you have followed up their introduction appropriately (and may also be able to help if you don’t get a response).
At the end of the day it comes down to being willing to ask. It is no different in any other situation in life whether it be a sales role, asking for something in a friendship or relationship, or working toward a promotion in your career. If you don’t say anything and hope people will figure out what you want they most likely won’t… you have to be clear with them and ask.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.