How Not to Ask for Help With Your Job Hunt

Miriam Salpeter

You've heard it over and over--networking is key to helping you find a job. You may not know that asking everyone you see to help you land an opportunity could be one of your worst job-hunting mistakes.

Why? Most people have no idea how to help you. Of course, they want to assist, but without your specific guidance, they don't always know how to proceed.

Here are a few ways you should not ask for help, plus some better suggestions of what to do:

1. Via an email blast. Do not send an email to 100 of your closest friends explaining you've just been laid off and are open to considering jobs in the following 15 or 20 industries. Why not? Two reasons:

--When you send mass emails, many will disregard your inquiry as impersonal and not give it the attention needed to solicit replies.

--When you fail to specify and name the organizations, locations, and types of people you are targeting in your job search, you put the onus on the reader to figure out exactly whom you might like to meet. People are busy; they need guidance to help them focus and help you.

Do this instead: Create a short list of places where you'd like to work and the types of organizations that interest you. Send individual emails to people who might be willing to assist. Include a personal note in each one, and gear each email to inspire a reply. For example, "I know you are so well connected at X company, I hope you will be able to suggest a senior-level manager in the Y area who might be willing to meet me to have a casual conversation."

2. "Hello, nice to meet you, I am looking for a job." You know people who attend networking events with a metaphorical flashing letter J for "job seeker" on their chests. Unless the new contact knows of a job opportunity for you, it's likely he or she will nod and smile politely until it is time to move on to meet someone else. The "hello, I need help" networker rarely engages someone enough to move him or her to act.

Do this instead: When you meet a new contact, tell that person about your expertise and do not ask for help. Treat each new interaction as an opportunity to provide resources to the people you meet without asking for anything in return. Make an effort to turn casual meetings with possibly well-connected people into opportunities for more formal informational meetings. Ask if the person would be willing to meet for coffee, and follow up soon after to try to schedule an appointment.

If you steer your initial conversation to help you learn about the person's hobbies or interests, it's even easier to follow-up. Send an email with a link to an article you think might interest your new contact, or send along a resource of interest when you ask for the follow-up meeting. Once you know each other a bit better, it's appropriate to ask for a referral or contact to help with your job hunt.

3. "Would you pass my resume along?" How often have job seekers handed a paper resume to a friend or contact? Even the most well-meaning friend may forget to pass along your resume, or, even worse, he may not know his company has no way to review or evaluate resumes not submitted via their online system.

Do this instead: If possible, find out how the company prefers to handle referrals. Many organizations prioritize applications via their current employees; others even give a "finders fee" or other bonus if they hire someone an employee recommends. Sometimes, you can learn about these incentives via a little sleuthing on the company website.

You can say, "I've learned your organization has an online tool to allow employees to refer candidates. They even pay you money if one of your suggested applicants gets the job. I know it would help both of us to follow their instructions, do you mind if I send you what I know about the policy, along with an electronic version of my resume?"

Don't leave anything to chance. Make sure to follow up to be sure you get the referral you need, and ask for an introduction to the hiring manager, so you can follow up yourself.

And don't forget: No matter whether or not you are currently employed, you have professional credentials and expertise to share. Focus on what you offer before asking others for help. Make sure you are as targeted and informed as possible to help you succeed with job-search networking.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.