How to find your next job: Talk to the people you already know

Jan 28, 2020 /

Networking can feel daunting because it means talking to strangers, but there’s another way to do it: Just have different conversations with the people you’re already speaking to, says career coach Dawn Graham.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

In 2002, Dawn Graham was working for a successful global company and preparing to move across the US to take on an exciting new role. Then, suddenly at 5PM one Tuesday, she received a voicemail from HR — she had been let go.

She began frantically searching online job boards and applying for any position that seemed remotely related to her experience. One night, mortified, miserable and not hearing back from anyone, she bumped into a neighbor in the elevator and shared her situation. After mentioning some of the companies she was applying to, she learned that his colleague was married to a director at one of her top choices. He offered to pass along her resume.

“Within two weeks, I had an interview,” says Graham, now a career coach, radio host and career director for the MBA Program for Executives at The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania, in a TEDxJHUDC Talk. “Months of building an intimate relationship with my computer … got me nothing. One brief conversation with a human landed me an opportunity.”

There’s one belief that anyone looking for a new job needs to get over, according to Graham: “We think that if we’re competent and qualified we shouldn’t need help finding a new job.” This is largely due to two reasons — our dread of networking and our misplaced faith in the effectiveness of job sites. “Regardless of the overwhelming evidence for networking, we’re still seduced into a linear click-apply-send process because approaching people we don’t know makes us feel vulnerable,” says Graham.

But we can’t keep ignoring this fact: Networking is necessary and effective. “Hiring managers want to make good decisions, and they want to do it efficiently,” says Graham. “They hate hiring as much as candidates hate the job search.” They want job candidates whom they know they can trust, and that’s why they prefer ones who come through personal referrals — people who’ve basically been pre-screened for them. As a result, referrals have a 50 percent chance of getting an interview, while non-referrals have only a 3 percent chance, according to Graham. Another eye-opening stat: Up to 80 percent of jobs are never posted because they’ve already been filled — by referrals or internal candidates.

Networking doesn’t just mean talking to strangers. In fact, Graham has a much easier suggestion: “The simplest thing we can do is initiate career conversations with people we already know.” All you need to do is change what you talk to them about.

Think about it: Can the people you routinely interact with — your siblings, neighbors, yoga buddies, classmates, your hairdresser, book club, or the regulars at the dog park — accurately describe your expertise in one to two sentences? Can you explain theirs?” asks Graham. “I bet most people in your life have no idea what your career goals are, much less what you do every day at work. I’m not talking about surface details like you work at a startup, are a lawyer, or do something in marketing, but your aspirations and particular expertise. ”

How to start these conversations: “Be curious about their goals first,” advises Graham. She explains, “Helping others is a great way to build relationships, and when you ask, ‘Hey, what’s one goal you have for this year?,’ most people will reciprocate and dig into your goals as well. These conversations can lead to brainstorming, introductions you might make, relevant news you recently heard, or a job you can be interested in, maybe today or maybe six months from now.”

Just remember, says Graham: “Everyone you know has a network just waiting to be discovered.”

Watch her TEDxJHUDC talk here: