What Are You Afraid Of? Career Change Resilience Grows With Each ‘Ask’.

ACK! GAK! CAK! These are the sound effects made by three characters engaged in a funny-face contest in one of my son’s bedtime books. For many people, these sounds stand in for their reaction to networking. But what if I told you that networking could improve the functioning of your heart?

First, let’s establish a baseline mindset about networking during a job search or career change (aka – asking others for help). Then, I will lay out a step-by-step method you can use to approach people online with greater ease and inspiration.

Yes, asking people for help can elicit feelings of vulnerability (or as some who have never heard of Brené Brown might characterize it – weakness). While it’s useful to embrace the suck, it’s also helpful to talk your fear gremlins off the ledge; show them that not only is it safe to engage in outreach, it’s a mutually beneficial opportunity. I offer the following points and ask that your resistance to networking transmute into anticipation, courage and eloquence.

People want to help other people. Think back to a time you helped someone from a genuine place of caring. How did helping that person make you feel? Consider the whole category of non-profit organizations as evidence that people want to help other people improve their circumstances.  People feel good when they can function as a bridge for what someone else wants to do, be or have.

A genuine connection with others has been scientifically proven to be healthy for you AND for them too. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science, and positive psychology, says in this fantastic TEDx talk that micro-moments of connection are when you “share a genuine positive moment with another human being.” She asserts that micro-moments “create a momentary resonance of good feeling and goodwill that changes you for the better – socially, psychologically, and physically.” Fredrickson states that as you naturally “mirror one another in smiles, gestures and postures, you sync up. The vagus nerve functioning of your heart improves with an increase in these micro-moments of connection.” So that, when you are “really connecting with someone else, your heart is getting a mini tune-up and so is theirs”.

Woweee! What this means is that if you can learn how to initiate and effect micro-moments of connection in your networking, then every instance of interaction has the potential to increase the health and wellbeing for both you and the person with whom you are interacting.

Before we talk specifically how to apply this to your job search, I want to note that the sharing of a genuine positive moment with another person is not exclusive to live interactions. I believe it can also happen asynchronously. I’ll give you an example.

A couple weeks ago, I was reading the alumni journal from my MBA school. I noticed an article featuring an alum who had written a book about being a managing director in a fiercely male-dominated Wall St. bank. I got the book from the library and when I was done reading it, I felt inspired to reach out to the author on LinkedIn. Let’s call her Sophia. I asked Sophia to connect and wrote a short note about how much I enjoyed the book and thanked her for sharing her story. I also noted that we were both alum of the same school. She accepted my connection request and replied to my note, sharing how enthused she is to be working with a Hollywood studio on adapting the book into a screenplay. How cool!!! I felt joy and excitement for her, plus the thrill of having connected with a woman who is a mover and a shaker. I would most definitely characterize this as a micro-moment of positive interaction for both of us.

Back to your job search. When you are reaching out to ask someone to meet you for coffee, or to introduce you to someone they know, or to forward along your resume for a job opp at their company, aim to initiate a micro-moment of connection.

Reach across the divide of nothingness with a lit match. Seek to ignite a match in the other. Read the steps below and give it a try. Rearrange the order as you see fit for each communication:

Before writing your “ask” email, Inmail, FB message, consider the whole person with whom you are connecting.

  • Do this by spending a few minutes researching them. Look at their LinkedIn profile – all of it, including past jobs and companies they worked for, articles they have written, recent activity, people that the two of you have in common, the locations of the jobs they have had. Look at the website for their current company and see if anything catches your attention. Maybe check out their other social media profiles. If the person has a high level of influence, google them and see what you find.

Identify one thing to reference in your outreach. Write 1-2 sentences about this. You could:

  • Congratulate them on a recent promotion or new employer.
  • Compliment them in some way – a genuine way. (i.e. – You read an article they published on LinkedIn and found yourself resonating with it. Quote a sentence from the article and share how you were impacted.)
  • Share a link to a high-quality and interesting article relevant to their work or interests.
  • Notice something about their life or work that sparks your curiosity. Form a genuine question about it. Ground it with context for why it makes you curious.
  • Notice something about their life or work that you two have in common, and call their attention to the commonality. Choose something that has meaning for you. If stating the commonality feels too thin (i.e. – I noticed we have both lived in LA.), then mention how you relate to that commonality, and/or then ask them a question about how they relate to it. (i.e. – “I noticed we have both lived in LA. There are times when I sorely miss the gorgeous weather and lush vegetation! Do you miss it?”)
  • If you already know this person, then recall a humorous, adventurous or notable shared memory. Consider asking for an update about their family, kids, friends, personal hobbies, etc.

 Give the person context for why you are reaching out to them in particular.

  • Explain yourself, and to make a clear connection between the larger goal you are looking to accomplish (i.e. – new job, career change, etc) and why you are reaching out to this person right now. Be concise.
  • What is it you are trying to accomplish? “I am reaching out because I am…”
  • What makes this person uniquely suited to helping you accomplish your goal? “I thought of you because…” or “I know that you….”

Make your ask.

  • “Would you be willing to meet me for coffee in the next week or two?”
  • “Would you be willing to meet me over video for 20 minutes?”
  • “Would you be willing to introduce me to Annie Wonderwoman?”

Offer gratitude for their time and consideration.

  • “Have a great day and thank you for considering my request!”
  • “I appreciate your time and consideration for my ask.”

Let’s recall the example I gave above of me reaching out to Sophia on LinkedIn. I did three things in my initial outreach: congratulated her on her book, complimented her for a great story, and called out a commonality between us – our schooling. These were not elements that I forced. They felt natural because they came from a genuine place. Given the nature of my ask (to connect on LinkedIn), the mention of her book, and our common schooling, I didn’t have to elaborate further to make it clear why I was reaching out to her in particular. Happily, she agreed to my ask – we are now connected on LinkedIn.

Here is another recent example. As a career coach, I often connect my clients with others who can provide valuable information and contacts. I had a client who recently switched careers – he is a newly trained data scientist. After sharing with me the name of a company he would love to work for, I did a search on LinkedIn to see who works for this company. Three pages in, I found the profile for the Chief Scientist. Bingo! My outreach is below. Names have been changed!

Hi Billy Bob,

I’m the career coach for a former professional athlete and coach turned data scientist – Jeremy James. He recently graduated from General Assembly’s fulltime data science immersion – an intense 12-week 500-hour full-time program where he learned SQL, Git, and UNIX, visual and statistical analysis using Python, supervised and unsupervised learning (classification, regression, and clustering), visualization, presentation, and reporting. (This section gives Billy Bob some of the context. Remember, the person I’m reaching out to is a data scientist himself so I’ve leveraged a commonality right away.)

When he was a professional athlete and coach, he used [the software that your company makes]. A career in data science is a perfect mashup of Jeremy’s natural talents with numbers (his undergrad degree was mathematics) and his passion for applying it in the world of performance sports. Jeremy is keen to ultimately work for a company like [your company]. (This gives the rest of the context and makes the case for my ask.)

Would you be willing to have a conversation with him about what you do as Chief Scientist at [company name]? (I make a clear ask.)

Thank you for your consideration Billy Bob. (Closure with gratitude.)

Warmly, Kelly

I didn’t hear back from Billy Bob, so I followed up with another note – a really short one that gave him another contextual angle and reiterated my ask. He replied to that second outreach and said yes!

That brings us to the last point I want to make. Some days, you may feel lost in an ocean of rejection. “No one” seems to be getting back to you, one of your meeting requests has just been declined, and the company you interviewed with last week went with another candidate. Acknowledge the feelings. If need be, allow yourself to wallow for a teensy bit.

Then, come back to center. Remind yourself why you chose to go after this new job or career. What positive emotions and benefits do you expect to receive? Why is this the right next move for you right now? Remind yourself of the talents, skills and experiences you have that are going to make you successful at this job.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~ Albert Einstein

Every no is one no closer to a yes. Good luck and get to it! FYI, this is a follow-up to a mindset and strategy post about how to find the people who willing to give you a chance. In that post, you will understand the true value of coffee chats, a strategy for how to find people to meet for coffee, and a specific goal and implementation plan to get you started. If you want to read about that, go here.


Get more Kelly! Want to chat with the Bright Livelihoods CEO about cultivating career change or job search resilience? Call her for a free 30-minute consultation at718-593-7545 or contact her via email. [ninja_form id=1]

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