I talked with an uber-talented 27-year old the other night. She's been working at the same startup for 3.5 years, helping it grow from 7 employees to over 100. While she started as a utility infielder, helping out with everything that needed doing, she's now become a sophisticated online marketer. She's ready to try something new, and she asked me if I could be helpful. I don't know her well, but I'd be comfortable making reasonably introductions on her behalf. We had the following exchange:
Me: What are you looking for?
Her: Anything, really. I just want it to be a good a fit.
Me: What sized company would be right?
Her: I'm comfortable with both big and small companies. It's more important that I like the people.
Me: Is there a particular industry that interests you?
Her: I want to be passionate about the product, but I'm otherwise industry-agnostic.
Me: So, how can I be helpful to you?
Her: If there are any good startups you'd think would be a good match, I'd love an intro.
Well, this just drives me fucking crazy. I actually really want to help this person. I also have the ability to help her. But I need her to help me engage. She doesn't realize it, but she's making it very hard for me to really provide concrete help (read: introductions). Because she was flexible about everything, I can't really think of a good contact to offer. I like making introductions when it feels like there is a high probability of a match. However, I don't want to waste anybody's time, so I won't help her throw darts at the startup map. Her inability to make any specific preference decisions makes it sound like she hasn't thought through what she really wants. I'm thinking in the back of my head: go figure out what you want, and then come back when I can actually be helpful. But what I tell her is this:
Sounds good. I'll let you know if I hear of anything.
And I won't. She won't pop into my head again. Maybe if someone in the next 2 days randomly asks me if I know anyone in online marketing looking to make a jump. Maybe then. But really, she just lost out on an opportunity to make some real progress in her job search.
And here's the kicker. She was being 100% honest. She's done small and big companies. She's done several different industries. When she says she wants to be passionate about the product and have a great fit with the team, that's all true! She has honed in on what works for her. She thinks that by being flexible, she's expanding her possibilities.
However, the opposite is true. She'll have fewer opportunities come her way because people like me can't figure out how to help her. But there's a trick to solving this problem. It's not super hard to pull off, and I've seen it work fabulously for many people. Here's the trick:
Step 1: Create a Specific Plan A
This little trick is all about positioning. Whenever you talk to someone about job search stuff/career advisory stuff, give them a very specific interest. For instance, tell me that you're interested in joining a seed-stage team focused on mobile payments. Or a post-Series A startup doing social discounts. Or a high-growth startup in advertising optimization. Whatever! Just make it very specific.
If she had said she was interested in mobile payments at the seed-stage level, I would have immediately thought of several people with whom it would be ideal for her to chat. I would send a warm intro saying that she shares a similar passion and ask them if they would be willing to chat with her. These people, regardless of whether they were hiring, would be happy to make further introductions if she impressed them with her passion and intelligence.
And now, she would be making progress. Talking to great people. Meeting founders of startups. This is HOW she'd find that group of people out there that will make a great fit.
Step 2: Create a Specific Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D
Now that you're making progress meeting people related to Plan A, start a new stream of networking around Plan B. Let's say you're also interested in social discount companies. When talking to a new person that could be helpful with introductions or advice, tell them that you want to get into social discounts. Don't make mention of mobile payments.
And presto! You've got a new stream people to meet. New startups, new founders, new opportunities for serendipity to strike.
As long as you're being respectful and not wasting anyone's time, most people won't care that you have other interests. You can even caveat it a bit if you want to let people know that you have other interests outside of your 'focused' plan. But don't caveat too much. One, having multiple interests usually goes without saying and two, the goal here is to present an ability to focus.
If you're one of those talented people that works incredibly hard, has contagious energy, but hasn't quite found the the perfect place yet...ping me on LinkedIn and I'll do anything I can to help.
But one final note. There are some people that seem to network as a full-time obsession. If you're one of those people and you take this advice to an extreme, you'll come off as unauthentic and untrustworthy. As with anything, apply some reason and some respectful tact in how you handle yourself.
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