If you’re looking for a new job, competition is likely to be fierce these days, as in all recessions. That means you will have to be disciplined, and long-time executive-search consultant Claudio Fernandez-Araoz has a technique that may make the difference.
It’s based on landmark research from the 1970s by Mark Granovetter on how people find good jobs. The key finding was that it comes through personal contacts who told the applicant about the position or recommended him or her to someone inside the organization. But interestingly, it’s not the people closest to you who are likeliest to be the most help. Instead it comes from what the researcher called “the strength of weak ties” – contacts who are not too close to you, speak to you infrequently and work in occupations different to your own.
You may have heard that already. But have you acted upon it, systematically?
Mr. Fernandez-Araoz advises you to make a list of 100 – yes, 100 – weak ties. “The probability of any one person leading you to the perfect job will be very low, so you have to tap many to improve your odds. Second and even more important: Because of the ‘weak’ nature of these contacts, it won’t be immediately obvious who can be most helpful. When you work to expand the list, you add quite unexpected people, including some truly great ones,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.
He suggests former bosses, colleagues, professors, consultants, lawyers, auditors, suppliers and clients. In some cases, they will be potential employers, while in others, just sources. It makes sense to look for weak ties in sectors that are likely to be stronger than most in the coming years.
Now rank them all on two factors: the attractiveness of the possibilities they can likely offer – given their company, role and connections – and their likely willingness to help you.
It’s now time to make contact, but not with the person on top of your list. You need to warm up first, so start with the tenth person or so. “You will be nervous, tight, even shy at the beginning, and you will make mistakes. So gain confidence with a few lower-stakes conversations, and then start contacting your most promising targets,” he says.
Move quickly. He suggests you cover the top 30 ideally within a week or two. “Be candid about your reason for calling, the type of role you’re looking for and what you have to offer. People who have had a positive experience working with you will most likely want to help you, but they can’t if they are unaware of or unclear on your need and aspirations,” he writes.
How many should you contact in total? He notes if you contact too few ties, you might not find any opportunities, but if you contact too many, you might waste time and focus on less attractive possibilities. So stop when you have enough leads from those contacts to give you a significant chance of landing a job. You can mathematically calculate the probabilities for each of the job possibilities that arise, and see how close to 100 per cent they come.
Take a similarly disciplined approach to interviews, preparing answers to questions on a topic you probably have not been asked about in the past but is now on many employers’ minds – remote work. On The Ladders, journalist Lindsay Tigar offers these likely questions after probing some experts:
- How comfortable are you with remote work?
- How do you stay motivated to work autonomously?
- Can you please describe your work-from-home approach?
- How have you handled stress associated with COVID-19?
In today’s environment, those are likely questions.
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