How to Guarantee the Phones Keep Ringing

I lost my job in 2001.  It would be untrue to say I didn’t see it coming.  I did.  In fact, I volunteered for the unemployment line.  The new venture the CEO went on the road to promote didn’t take and, following the dot-come crash, the technology company I worked for didn’t need both a CEO and a COO to run it.  The minute the new product failed, I became redundant.

Although I was without new employment, I volunteered to leave because the prospect of remaining unemployed for any length of time never occurred to me.  That was something that other people had to endure, not me.  But there I was, on the street, just a month or so before 9/11, excited to begin looking for my next great adventure.

What I found was that looking for a job was neither fun nor exciting.  It was drudgery flavored with equal measures of panic and emotional distress.

As a lawyer, I became used to having my calls returned.  Whether people were happy to hear from me or not, my calls generally had weight and they were answered.  As a job-seeker, I had no weight.  People called back out of obligation, perhaps, but not because returning the call was in their best interest.  The experience was humbling.

Waiting in the lobby for one particular interview to begin, I was told by the receptionist that looking for a job was something she thought everyone should have to do…but just once.  I didn’t get that job (whatever it was) but I did take the lesson with me.  She was right.  Here’s why.

By looking for a job, I learned how to build my network.  I learned that there is one and only one thing people like being asked for, and that’s advice.  People don’t like being asked for a job, for that next contractual award, or for their business.  They don’t like feeling as if they’re being sold.  But they do like being asked for and then giving advice.

I learned to tell people that I was not looking for a job or to sell them anything.  What I wanted was their advice on how to build my network.  In other words, if they were in my shoes, who would they talk to — not for a job, but for insights into the job market?

As soon as I began employing this technique, my network doubled, then tripled.  More than that, I got job offers.  I wasn’t asking, but when the people I was talking to had a job, they brought it up, not me.  They gave me names of other people to speak with, knowing they were not sic’ing someone on them who was just going to beg for work.

Having run this firm for eleven years now, I find the technique works as well as it did the day I first employed it.  If people think I’m going to call their contacts with some variant of “so-and-so suggested I might tell you about my law firm,” they’d never come across with even one name.  If, however, they know that I’m going to ask for their insights as to what I, as a business lawyer, might do to better appeal to owners of small to mid-sized businesses, the Rolodex® opens up.

Build your network, and the phones ring.  Keep building your network, and the phones keep ringing.


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