Networking For Jobless Romantics
the do’s + don’ts for finding your professional match online
So you’re looking for love...love for your job that is. Preferably a love that lasts. Much like dating though, you might be frustrated, turned off, or experiencing rejection—getting misled, ghosted, caught up in games, or having potential love interests (aka employers) swiping left on you without really getting to know you.
In both scenarios, it can be physically draining and emotionally straining to find matches. Similar to creating and updating multiple dating app profiles, swiping right and left and messaging back and forth with people you are interested in, getting set up by friends, dressing up for dates, and putting yourself out there, modern day job searches consist of all or any combination of the following: countless resume revisions; hours spent perfecting accounts and scrolling through job listings on sites like Indeed, Ziprecruiter, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor; even more effort put into tailoring cover letters and other materials for specific positions; working with recruiters that don’t always seem to understand exactly what you’re looking for; and applying for numerous positions you know you’d be “perfect” for, and possibly even interviewing, only to never hear from the company ever again despite the fact that you thought they were as into you as you were into them.
We’ve all been there and know that navigating all of these things is basically necessary if you expect to get hired anywhere. Obviously, the perfect job won’t just bump into you on the street, strike up a flirty conversation with you, and then whisk you off your feet into the sunset. This is not a romantic comedy, so you have to put yourself out there, hope for the best, and know how to manage rejection.
Still, your efforts might not lead to any results if you aren’t also networking—specifically through cold emailing or online messaging. And while you may think that your best match would be the hiring manager or an HR recruiter from the company you desire employment from, you should actually be seeking out other, better professional suitors.
According to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends Report, a good majority of businesses say their highest quality hires come from employee referrals. Of course, most job seekers don’t already know an employee at the company they want to work for so there is the additional necessary step of networking to find someone who can—and might be willing to—recommend you for employment or even become a long-term mentor. Obviously, those connections usually don’t ‘just happen,’ and nowadays, they will likely originate (or take place entirely) online rather than in person.
This kind of networking usually requires you to make the first move via cold contact or through a virtual introduction by a shared connection, and much like building romantic relationships, ”professional dating” involves a lot of wooing, personal vulnerability, humbleness, and TLC in order to actually go somewhere.
It also takes some practice, and while there is no perfect step-by-step strategy to go from being a jobless romantic—or someone who is unhappily employed or otherwise growing apart from their employer—to being in a committed relationship with benefits (we’re talking 401K and dental), there are definitely universal do’s and don’ts for meeting your future referrer or mentor, particularly for young professionals:
don't: just jump right in
Just as you’d optimize your dating app profile(s)—on the go-to’s like Bumble and Tinder, and maybe even Match.com—with your most flattering selfies and wittiest bios, you shouldn’t skip taking inventory of your professional presence online. You wouldn’t want to start matching with people without your latest experiences and accomplishments on display! So, before you seek out people to message, review how you’re presenting yourself, especially on the heavy-hitters like LinkedIn and Indeed:
make sure your photo is professional
update your headline and/or summary to tell new connections what you’re all about
refresh your academic and work experiences (remove anything irrelevant or outdated, copyedit your bullet points so that they are succinct and also informative, and check that everything is accurate)
check that your resume and portfolio links are up to date
Additionally, because not all correspondence needs to take place on these sites, it is also smart to update your email signature (and create a professional email account if you’re still using one that you made in middle school!), as well as do a quick audit of your other social media content because nothing is off-limits in this day and age.
do: take time to find your ideal match/matchmaker and determine compatibility
This part isn’t all that difficult. With the ease of modern technology—and a lot of “swiping” and creeping (read: diligent research)—you can narrow down potential matches and introduce yourself to others in your industry without ever having to leave the comfort of your bed.
Although you can of course stick with the traditional route and make connections IRL at networking events (or, even have a cinematic “meet cute” in a bar or coffee shop), it’s much easier and efficient to determine who is worth your time sooner rather than later; this research prior to making contact or meeting is just as important for making sure you are worth their time too.
If you have a particular organization in mind that you’d like to work for, review their “about” and “our team” pages to get an overview of the corporate culture as well as the hierarchical structure. Also study up on their Glassdoor reviews, Google search results, and even social media, which can be useful when making conversations. Then, visit their company page on LinkedIn and click on “See All Employees.” This will provide you with your cold-contact hit list, ordered by your amount of shared or similar connections.
Work your way through the list and see whose profiles peak your interest; look for things that you’d like to learn the story behind and that would help you start the conversation if you were to reach out, like if their educational background is especially unique for your industry or their promotions at their company seem faster than most. Consider other factors, like proximity (a.k.a. those you can ask out to coffee), seniority level (a.k.a. who can teach you the most or have the most time for you), career progression and variance of experiences, and similar interests, as well. And if you determine that you probably won’t gain anything from contacting a particular individual—then don’t! There are no commitments at this stage.
don't: swipe right on everyone
You definitely do not need to contact every single person you research. Have some standards and don’t idealize people or even companies because of their prestige or accomplishments. Even if someone works at your dream company, they might not have anything to offer you in terms of time, advice, or commitment. Though you’re not seeking your “one true professional soulmate,” it’s probably best—for everyone involved—to try to avoid “one night stands” (those who will meet/talk with you once and either you or they never reach out to the other again after your first discussion) or anyone off-the-market (those who may already be mentoring other people or have too much on their plate to dedicate any time to you). Furthermore, if you do reach out to someone and they are completely unresponsive, don’t follow up too many times; it’s not meant to be, so just move on.
do: craft unique, personalized messages
Tinder pick-up lines and early-stage relationship texting are pretty much an art-form and are usually crucial to catching and keeping someone’s interest. You are set on making yourself appealing in addition to finding things you have in common, and sometimes every word or emoji feels like the most important choice you’ll ever make.
Cold emailing and messaging should be approached in a similar way. Don’t just send the same generic template to everyone; instead, refer to some successful practices and customize each message based on how you came across them, what you’re interested in learning about, and those things that we mentioned before that peaked your interest in them and/or the organization they work for in the first place.
Obviously, your initial contact is not really the time to blatantly say “I’d like a referral.”. That’s like asking your date if they want to skip to sex right after you put in your drink order at the bar. Ask to talk on the phone or in person, get to know them some more, determine their openness to help, and let it come up more organically.
First impressions are everything, so present yourself and your professional abilities in the best light possible. You also better double and triple check for spelling and grammar. And if they respond, be timely and courteous in your responses back. This will show them that you are, in fact, interested in pursuing a networking relationship with them.
don't: get disappointed when someone “out of your league” ignores you
There are many reasons why someone might ignore your cold contact, ranging from merely being too busy to reply to your message or to even see it in the first place to not seeing the value in connecting with you. Regardless of their lack of response, whether intentional or not, it is still good to put yourself out there and not dwell too much on the reasons. When it comes down to it, the reasons are mostly not your fault but rather ones of timing, location, or differences of interest or priorities. Just be glad that they ignored you from the beginning instead of having things get "serious" only for them to get "cold feet."
do: present yourself truthfully and professionally
Nobody likes a catfish. It’s important to be honest and not embellish your skills or experience. The person needs to know “the real you” in order to effectively help you. No matter how far your contacts might be in their own careers, they were once in your same position. Chances are, they’ll be able to reflect on their past to give you advice that directly applies to your current situation and concerns.
Still, this is a professional relationship and so you should still treat it as such. Be yourself, but convey yourself in a way that is hireable. You can still be upfront about your “baggage” or anything you think may be hurting you in your job search, especially if you explain how you are working to improve; they can suggest ways to improve or lead you to other people or resources that can help.
don't: wait for them to ask you out
So you’ve been “talking” for a while now and you really like them and think they could be really helpful in your job hunt. You think that they might like you too and could be interested in making a referral either now or sometime down the line, however, they haven’t made any moves yet. What do you do?
While it’s important not to be impatient, it’s probable that the professional contact you’re courting is waiting for you to make the next moves. After all, you are the one who contacted them in the first place.
If they are located in your same area and you haven’t had in-person face time with them yet, initiate a coffee or lunch meeting. Try something along the lines of: “I really appreciate all your advice so far and I’d like to pick your brain a bit more. Would you be available sometime to grab coffee? If so, let me know your availability for the next couple weeks. I can usually do [time] on [days].” Asking someone for a favor after they’ve interacted with you face-to-face and when a personal bond has been made is always more polite than asking via email or phone.
Nevertheless, if they don’t live nearby or are not able to meet up and you’ve been in contact for a while, set up another call (or send an email if they are unavailable) and ask if they would be able to provide you with tips or other contacts for applying for a specific position, have contacts to introduce you to locally, or if they might even be interested in sending your resume to the hiring manager. If you want to ask the latter, you’ll probably have a better chance if you have a specific job listing you can share with them. For example:
“Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me. All the advice you’ve provided me so far based on your own experiences has been so helpful and interesting and I hope that I’ve given you enough information on myself and a good idea of what my career goals are.
I came across this opening for a [position title] at your organization. I was wondering if you know the right people to send my resume to, either for me to contact directly or, if you’re willing, for you to formally put in a referral for me. It would be so appreciated.”
don't: forget to prepare for all phone calls and in-person meetings
Have talking points, questions, and background notes (i.e. their name, schooling, previous experiences, etc.) ready before speaking or meeting with someone new will not only make you well equipped, but will also show them that you’re super on top of your shit and taking their time seriously. It will definitely not go unnoticed, even if it’s just a phone call. You may not end up actually asking all of the questions you write down or discussing what you initially expected to, but it’s better to be over prepared than under prepared. Be mindful that all networking conversations are different—sometimes the more-seasoned professional will take charge of the conversation, but sometimes they may expect you to. If you’re lucky, conversation will just naturally flow and you both can take turn asking and answering questions.
do: be kind, patient, and gracious throughout the entire process
It’s likely that many people you reach out to will be busy, especially the higher up the ladder you go. Just be mindful of this and don’t be too needy or disappointed. Check in regularly and politely, and while it’s okay to “double-text” if a reasonable amount (more than two to three weeks) has passed since last hearing from them, you definitely do not want to be triple- or quadruple messaging without a response. At the end of the day, they are doing you a favor and it’s better to not push them away.
If you end up never hearing from someone again, try not to overthink the reasons why. Yeah, there is a chance they didn’t like you, but it’s more likely they just forgot or got too busy. If you never met face to face, it’s probably best to just let it go. If you did meet and there didn’t seem to be a real spark, you probably don’t need to try too hard to get their attention again either. However, if you’ve met before you can try reaching out again after a couple months to check in, see how things are going with them, and try to reignite the spark. They may respond, and they may not. Just accept the relationship (however short) for what it was, focus on the good you did get out of it, and keep on seeking out other people to network with.
don't: get hung up on finding “the one”
We all know that finding love on the first try is very, very rare. So don’t expect to find your perfect professional match on the first try; it’ll likely take more than a few. Just believe in your worth, have an open mind, and keep at it! Continue scrolling through job sites and applying in addition to your networking efforts. You never know who may come along and help you land your next job.