The 2-step trick to getting sweet-ass job referrals


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 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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I'm Jason Freedman.  I co-founded FlightCaster.  
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11 responses
The dialogue you presented is funny. You would have learned just as much from it had it gone thus:

Me: What are you looking for?

Her: I want an awesome job.

Me: What sized company would be right?

Her: I want an awesome job.

Me: Is there a particular industry that interests you?

Her: I want an awesome job.

Me: So, how can I be helpful to you?

Her: I want an awesome job.

Some people just expect to show up and be handed something they like, even when they have no idea what it is they like.

How about if you had told her the landscape of the people you know that might suit her skills and let her pick? It's terrible IMO to let go of someone you know is good at something...
If this woman is really "uber-talented", refer her to a company looking for a top-notch person who can handle dynamic job requirements.

But, many companies are run in 100-year-old Taylor mode. Find a standardized person for a little box in the org chart. Such companies are failing. She doesn't want one of those jobs. Nor do I.

Spend more time with companies that have a richer understanding of human abilities (and computer abilities). These are taking over.

I agree with Frank Parker. There are plenty of positions where a person needs to be really flexible. Maybe she didn't mention any specific interests because being flexible and dynamic is what interests her. If you mentioned any positions or companies like that, she probably would have digged a lot deeper to find out more.
COMPLETELY agree with Frank Parker as well and was about log in here and post the same. I'm the same as the girl in the article and the standardized job market drives me CRAZY. But unfortunately that's the way most companies think. They've analyzed and micro'd down their IMMEDIATE requirements to fit standardized "boxes" -- "we need 2 Oracle Forms and Reports people, 3 Java programmers, 2 Oracle DBAs, and a PMP certified PM." Blah!

I mean, I understand that on some level. But what about the person who thrives by thinking in their feet, who can pick up any problem and solve it using ALL of those skill sets and even some you've never even considered before? I've done this. Coding? No problem? Databases? No problem. Operating systems and hardware? No problem. Networking? No problem. Understanding and managing people? Actually my speciaty. Cam translate any technical issue into laymans terms, organize and segment a problem into manageable pieces on the fly... Who wouldn't want someone like that, ESPECIALLY as quickly as technology changes???!!

I mean in a way, you're "right." Unfortunately campanies don't think that way. They are lazy. They want everything defined and want you to define yourself. But the truly dynamic, flexible and uber-talented need to stop being blamed. Instead, the standard corporate approach hiring and role definition needs to be blamed.

You wanna know what she's really saying??! She's saying "I'm BORED STIFF by the standard, ALREADY-DEFINED-FOR-ME, starchy 'roles' companies have for me. DO YOU KNOW OF ANYTHING TRULY CHALLENGING AND EXCITING??!!" *THAT'S* what she's saying. And I get that. I can truly relate to that.

If you still have her number, give her a call and tell her I said she needs to go into consulting. :-)

Working on a product to help people like you refer candidates and jobs. Would be awesome to have you on board Jason

Check out:

I would be curious to find out how long she had been job searching at the point you talked to her. Sounds like a conversation you might have with someone who had just made the decision to start looking. Perhaps she was en route to launching a serious and aggressive job search but was still in an information gathering stage to define the end goal. If she is indeed a go-getter--hard to say, with 3.5 years under her belt, she might just be a glutton for punishment--she probably felt uncomfortable committing to a direction until she had fully done her homework.

That said, go-getters don't tend to be wishy washy so I'd also agree with Dennis about overall motive... seems to me that she enjoys the challenge of constantly having to be flexible and dynamic in her work.

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I completely agree that folks need to be specific when seeking assistance in life, not just the job search. Don't expect those willing to assist, to also help in the diagnosis process -- that's for you and your closest advisers. People like to help other people, even strangers when its not an imposition.

My two-cents on networking in general... You never know how the person you meet may be able to help you and vice versa. So improve how you get to know people instead of just asking the easy "what do you do" and "who do you do it for" questions.

If this lady asked more questions about your interests, opportunities and challenges you or your industry faces, she might have heard something she wanted to learn more about, and hence introductions.

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