Although many job seekers have heeded the unanimous advice of the experts, and dutifully gone about “networking” to turn up useful referrals and job leads, there are still those who don’t seem to get very far with these efforts — and who end up networking furiously with little to show for it!

When we encounter this scenario, we do our best to try to diagnose what the problem might be with the individual’s networking strategy.  Are they being clear enough with their elevator pitch?  Are they connecting with the right kinds of people?  Are they demonstrating the willingness to give back and reciprocate?  Are they asking for too much from people, too soon?  At the end of the day, all of these factors can be possibilities, but we’d still maintain that the most common networking mistake of all is to approach people without being able to clearly express the kind of help you need from them.  Not a good idea!  Not only are your career troubles a burden most people don’t want in the first place, but since they likely only have limited knowledge of your career situation, the odds of them spontaneously coming up with some great help or ideas for you is extremely low without your express guidance.

Along these lines, there’s one networking technique that is so incredibly powerful we believe most job hunters shouldn’t even begin their efforts until they’ve completed it.  If you want to dramatically increase the odds of getting help from those around you, make sure to carry around a list with you at all times that outlines at least 10-15 specific target companies that you’re interested in pursuing based on your research and their potential fit with your skills, interests, and qualifications.  Then, when you meet with people, simply hand them a copy of this list at the appropriate time and ask them to comment on what they’ve heard about any of these organizations — or whether they might know somebody who could help you get a foot in the door with any of them.

Time and time again, our clients report that this approach generates a much higher frequency of referral activity than they were getting before they tried it.  One senior executive we’re working with at the moment sent us this quote, in fact, about his success with this technique: “My targets list that I built and printed out from your spreadsheet is MAGIC!!!  I’ve put it in front of several people now and they each started writing on it immediately with helpful information — contacts, revenue numbers, good/bad comments, etc.  I put it in front of one recruiter the other day, in fact, and he couldn’t help himself — he wrote all over it!”

So again, if you’re actively in the market for a new opportunity, don’t rely on your contacts to bail you out on the fly and figure out how they can assist you.  Accept responsibility for this step of the process, yourself, and arrive armed with the materials necessary to make it happen!