Job seekers are continuously advised to tap their network for opportunities. It’s all about who you know, after all. The trouble is, when you’ve been job searching for a while, you may begin to worry that your network is exhausted. You’ve tapped them so much, there’s nothing left to give. Sure, some people have had little to offer; but others have met you for coffee, made introductions, and “put in a good word” many times over again. At this point, you fear your network has well and truly run dry.
So, what does that mean for your job search? Do you have to wait a certain period of time before approaching these people again? Or is it possible to reinvigorate a network that has been depleted? Here are the important things to consider when you fear your network is exhausted.
1. Ask Yourself, “Are You SURE Your Network is Exhausted?”
Often, when you’re stuck in the mire of job searching, it can be easy to lose perspective. Maybe it feels like you’ve asked so much of your network, but that might not be the reality. In my experience, most people tend to think their network is exhausted far before that point is really reached. Making a request or two in the past is not enough to consider a contact exhausted—especially if it’s a strong contact with whom you have built a solid relationship.
Consider tracking your networking activities and communication in a spreadsheet to get an accurate view of how often you’re contacting someone and/or making requests of them. This will also help you stay on track with follow-up—another essential component in the process.
When it comes to leveraging your network, it’s perfectly acceptable (even necessary) to be pleasantly persistent. People are busy; they want to help but they get distracted. You need to do your part to light the fire beneath them—and that usually means more frequent contact than you would think.
Also read: 4 Ways to Provide Value to Your Contacts While Networking | Networking for Success Series
2. Reconsider Your Strategy
Before you say your network is exhausted, consider whether or not you have truly leveraged them to their fullest extent. Have you asked them for the specific help you need, such as an introduction to a specific person or organization? Or have you only asked for general help, such as, “Let me know if you hear of something…”
The latter is a very difficult request; it puts the onus on the other person to figure out what you need. The former makes it easy on your contact.
If you’ve only made generic requests, you can rest assured that your network still has untapped opportunity. Most people don’t think much of those non-specific “let me know if…” kinds of requests. They go in one ear and out the other. Therefore, you can feel comfortable reaching out directly to these same people with some specific asks. It will be much easier for them to help you and they will likely view it as your first real request of them.
(Along those same lines, you may even want to draft introductory emails for your contacts to make your requests even easier on them!)
3. Leverage the Untapped Corners of Your Network
Okay, so perhaps you truly have made many, specific requests of your prime contacts, and it’s clearly time to ease up on them. No problem. Your network probably has some dusty corners you’ve been ignoring. Take a peek in there and you may find all kinds of untapped opportunity.
All too often, job seekers focus on a small subset of their network—the people they think are the most well-connected or most willing to help or simply the ones who are easiest to approach. But, in reality, most people have a much larger network.
Sit down and do a braindump to capture the names of people in your extended network. Go beyond the regulars and consider all aspects of life. Sure, you’ve already tapped your college alumni network, but what other groups are you an alumnus of? Perhaps it’s time to reconnect with the people in your old sports league, community group, or volunteer program. You’ve already connected with your former colleagues, but what about former clients, vendors and even competitors? Branch out a little bit and you may realize your network is much wider than you originally thought.
Also read: How to Interrupt the Endless Networking Cycle and Get Results | Networking for Success Series
4. Creatively Expand Your Network
Lastly, realize that your network is constantly growing. Anyone you meet—in any context—can become a great business contact in the future. Don’t limit your thinking to the professional world. Whether you’re at a friend’s wedding, at the hairdresser, or watching your kid’s basketball game, you may find yourself sitting next to someone who can be helpful to your job search.
Always be prepared to share a little about your professional background and what kind of work you’re looking for. Remember: The more specific you can be, the more likely people are to help. Let them know what roles and organizations you’re targeting and don’t be afraid to make a direct request, even of a fairly new contact. Bump into the right person and you may get the essential “in” you’ve been looking for.
Now, with this all of this in mind, do you really think your network is exhausted? Or do you just need to shake things up a bit? You decide.