All appearances to the contrary, the process of finding an exceptional new job really hasn’t changed that dramatically over the past 100 years.  The most consistent route to success is to cultivate relationships with a wide network of people and then approach these contacts for help, at the appropriate time, in finding a new opportunity.  More than half of all positions are filled in this manner, outpacing the effectiveness of employment ads, recruiters, job fairs, and all other channels combined.

Despite this consistent reality, however, there’s no question that networking today is a slightly more difficult process than it has been in the past.  For starters, many influential professionals are extremely busy and simply don’t have as much time available to socialize.  In addition, we believe that the constant demands of e-mail and voice mail have lowered the networking tolerance of most people, making them less likely to respond to casual or disorganized requests for assistance.

We’d therefore offer a few quick reminders in how to properly approach and ask for favors from your network.  By following these pointers, you’ll ensure that you make a professional impression and will maximize the odds that people will be willing to help you out, not just now, but down the road!

— Take the pressure off right up front; make it clear that you’re neither asking for nor expecting job leads
— Show respect for the person’s time and acknowledge that they’re busy
— Be specific about how much time you need from them and honor this commitment religiously
— Do your homework in advance; don’t waste people’s time asking for info you could get elsewhere
— Have a clear agenda for your call, or meeting, and be prepared to drive the conversation forward
— Promise to return the favor in any way possible down the road
— Send a polite thank-you note or follow-up communication no later than 24 hours after the meeting

By following these simple techniques, you’ll find that the people in your network become much more receptive to your phone calls and will be far more likely to do you a favor — including, perhaps, sharing a personal referral that could lead directly to your next employment opportunity.