You've probably grown tired of hearing about the importance that connections play in finding a new job. It can be frustrating advice if you don't have a robust network that delivers the leads that interest you. That's why I recommend focusing your job-search efforts first, then building your network around your targeted job-search strategy. Here's my simple four-step process for connecting with hiring managers and finding a new job.
1. Focus your job search on companies that need your expertise.
If you're not bound by a noncompete agreement, choose businesses that are competitors to previous employers, where your credentials logically transfer in hiring managers' minds and where your knowledge is viewed as an asset. Organizations that are familiar with your previous employer may be more likely to view your past affiliation as an asset and more likely to envision how you will enhance their company's performance. You might also want to consider organizations at a tier below your most recent employer, as they will likely express interest in a candidate from a bigger firm.
2. Develop customized written and verbal communications.
To grab prospective employers' attention, all of your communications with them—your résumé, bio, cover letters and elevator pitches—should emphasize how your skills and experience can help them address their specific business goals and challenges. Simply listing your past employers, your previous titles, the length of time you held each position and your responsibilities will not pique their interest enough to seek out a conversation with you.
If you have the opportunity to speak with an employee at a company where you would like to work, you need to clearly demonstrate that you know something about the company's business and that you possess the skills the employer needs to achieve its goals. To that end, you need to do some research on each employer to get a sense of what their issues are, and you need to incorporate those themes into all your communications. For example, consider the challenges you've faced, the responsibilities you've held and your achievements in each job you've held, and think about how you could apply what you've done in the past to an employer you're targeting. Present those achievements that are relevant to each employer in your written and verbal communications using the "challenge-action-result" format—that is, specify what the challenge was, the action you took to address it and the consequences of your actions.
The job search is not about you and your goals; it is all about the employer's needs and objectives. Make it easy for them to realize that you can help them by illustrating your abilities. You might also wish to volunteer to attend a meeting, to draft a job description or prepare a presentation beyond what is required or what your résumé shows.
3. Expand your network purposefully.