Last month, as many of you may recall, I ran a short article suggesting that many people were violating a “cardinal networking rule” by not following up with people consistently to check in and let them know the status of the leads, help, and referrals that they’d been offered.  Needless to say, this article apparently touched many a guilty conscience, since I got DOZENS of e-mails afterwards from clients who felt that I had written this article with them specifically in mind, chastising them for not following-up recently, which was kind of amusing — but honestly not my intent! :)

At any rate, as a “sequel” of sorts to this first networking observation, I wanted to point out another rule of thumb that I see constantly violated by job seekers — which involves asking people for contacts, or target company ideas, without giving them any useful clues as to the kinds of referrals that would actually be appropriate, relevant, or useful.  Not only does this hurt your own candidacy and “personal brand” by suggesting that you’re unfocused, and don’t know what you want, but it also may lead people to suspect that you’re somewhat lazy, since it suggests that you haven’t done any homework or deep thinking, yourself, to figure out what kinds of contacts/companies would be most relevant to your goals.

So if you’re actively in job transition, and haven’t had a lot of luck with the networking process, I’d suggest you retool your elevator pitch to include specific details about the exact types of companies that interest you and the types of individuals who might best add value to your search efforts.  In actual practice, this might sound something like:

— “I recently saw the movie An Inconvenient Truth and it’s really motivated me to try to align myself with companies that are energy-conscious and trying to develop more sustainable business practices.  I’d therefore love to talk with anybody you know who works in the green/sustainability field — as well as any companies in town you know of that might be working on sustainability and waste reduction initiatives.”

— “My primary goal would be to work in the Training or Organizational Development department of a large company, such as Nordstroms, Microsoft, or Starbucks, so I’m currently trying to connect with anybody in the area who works in an OD, Executive Coaching, or Training capacity — since these folks could probably tell me which local companies have established these kinds of internal departments.”

— “I love the thrill of the startup environment, so right now I’m seeking to locate and chat with any senior executives who are involved in a startup venture of some kind, as well as any service providers such as venture capitalists, private equity advisors, attorneys, or accountants who might support this sector closely and know what’s going on around town in terms of new companies getting funded/launched.”

It doesn’t matter how you phrase your request, exactly, but being able to offer these kinds of specific details will always generate more referrals and opportunities than simply throwing out a cattle-call for “contacts” or “leads” in general.  You can obviously change your focus over time, too, as your search unfolds and you get clearer about your career goals.  The bottom line, however, is that you’ve got to live by the immortal words offered up in the movie Jerry McGuire: “Help…me…to help…you!”