Changing jobs is stressful, and, in this economy, making the decision to transition to a new role at a new company can be daunting. With unemployment hovering between 6-12% (according to the Department of Labor), you definitely don’t want to find yourself trapped, draining your financial resources while you put out resumes and attend directionless interviews.

Chances are, because you’re already quite the professional, you don’t plan to do this. You plan to leverage the hundreds (if not thousands) of contacts you have to find the right position with the right company. And, quite frankly, you should. It’s a smarter way to get in front of the people you want to (and the fact that you’ll be there by referral certainly won’t hurt your value as a potential employee).

But leveraging contacts can be a tricky business, and, if done wrong, can create awkward situations, perceptions of you as tacky or desperate… all bad things. Fortunately, I just went through this (and interviewed several high-level executives on their experiences) so you don’t have to.

 

How to Leverage Contacts When Changing Jobs

  • Unless you absolutely have to, don’t just quit. Aside from the fact that, quite obviously, you can damage potential future contacts, abruptly leaving your former job really reduce the runway you have for warming up potential contacts.
  • Make sure you actually have the contacts you think you have. When leaving a job, you leave behind a lot of assets: an email address (with a huge contact record) and a corporate phone. What may not occur to you until it’s too late is that hundreds of contacts live in these devices that you’ll lose in an instant. Develop a plan to capture the contact information (ContactSaver works great for those with corporate Gmail accounts) so you have it once you’re gone.
  • Warm up your contacts before you start leveraging them. Chances are that you haven’t spoken to everyone in your network recently. If you’re planning on making the transition and you have some sense of where you’d like to go, reach out to the contacts that can help. Send them a re-connection message so that, when the time comes to ask for their help, it’s not out of the blue.
  • Cast a wide net, but do it professionally. When you’re ready to begin exploring your new options, it’s important to do two things: cast a wide net (after all, there’re tons of opportunities you’d likely be interested in but don’t know about) and continue behaving like the true professional you are. What I mean by this is that it’s probably not a good idea to send a mass email to all your contacts saying something to the effect of “I’m broke and will literally do any kind of work you put in front of me.” Instead, though you may be using near-identical messaging, reach out to your contacts one-by-one, politely and professionally. Let them know what you’re after, what your skill set is, and how you’ve helped businesses grow in the past.
  • Always follow up. Even if someone can’t help you (and, believe me, if you leverage 200 contacts, a LOT of people won’t be able to help), you absolutely need to thank them for their efforts. What seems like an easily overlookable thing to you (after all, you’re drowning in a sea of potential interviews, helpful contacts, offers, etc.) can completely destroy a contact relationship for them. A simple “Thanks anyway! I really appreciate you trying” goes a really long way.
  • Be honest with your contacts who come through. If they’ve offered something you’re not interested in, let them know (politely) and thank them anyway. You know as well as anyone that, when pulling favors for someone, you put some element of your own reputation on the line. Don’t mess with other people’s professional reputations.
  • Be vigilant. Finding the right job can take a long Contacts who couldn’t help before may offer better stakes some months into the process. Be sure that you stay in communication with your contacts (while not being overbearing).

Basically, everything your grandmother taught you about being polite (I still can’t not write thank-you notes) holds true here. Be honest, helpful, warm, professional, and responsible, and there’s no reason why your contacts won’t come running to your side.

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