Hiring managers and experienced job seekers are well aware of a particular career secret, a secret that most new grads and first timers have yet to learn: Sometimes, success doesn’t come from what you know. It comes from who you know.
The working world is highly social, and it’s not at all unusual for weaker candidates to bypass those with stronger credentials on the basis of social contact alone. And when we use the term “social contact,” that’s exactly what we mean. Relationships are great, but even if you don’t have a personal relationship with a hiring manager (or any relationship at all), second- and third-degree social connections can still bring your resume and cover letter into the spotlight. Here are a few ways to put this job search reality to work for you.
1. Start by searching for personal connections first and positions second. Search through everyone you know, including everyone on your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts lists. When you find someone who may be able to help you, reach out to this person by phone or email. Let them know what you’re looking for and ask them for advice. Don’t ask directly for leads or opportunities—just advice.
2. Meanwhile, while you work on finding connections that lead to positions, put some effort into the reverse as well. When you find a post for a position you like, do some research before you apply. Look up the hiring manger on LinkedIn, for example, and determine if the two of you have any contacts or previous employers in common.
3. If you find a common link—like a mutual friend or even a shared alma mater—think about the meaning behind this connection before you begin to write. If you both worked for a specific company known for its unique brand or global mission, mention how this brand or mission informed your career goals, and talk about what you learned and how you internalized that mission during your tenure with that company. If you both went to a small mid-western college known for its wholesome values, its strong business marketing program, or its respect among the larger scientific/academic community, mention this fact and its role in your career history.
4. Even if you don’t find a connection, mention a few of the broader strokes that have informed who you are, what you can do and what you’re looking for. Be insightful and creative. If, for example, your target company prides itself on treating its employees like family, mention that you understand this, having grown up in (rural Texas, Philadelphia, Portland Maine, etc.). If there’s any chance your reader can relate, this will give her a specific experience that she can latch onto and remember.
5. Be careful with personal detail, and try not to lean on shared connections that involve any of the following: your race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or family and marital status. These facts don’t really belong in a job application and they can make some employers fear accusations of hiring bias.
Make New Connections
If you don’t have a specific personal connection with your hiring manager, that’s okay—just stay open to creating one. Keep your letter warm, friendly, and personable as well as professional. Visit LiveCareer for more on how to write and format a letter that leaves a lasting impression.