Your Career Q&A: Be Prepared Before You Ask for Help

By Martin Yate Aug 1, 2017
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​How can you put your best foot forward when you ask your colleagues and professional network for help in a job search? Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.    

I've been an HR assistant for an accounting firm for six years. I've received good performance reviews, but there are no advancement opportunities here. 

I've been looking for a new job for more than a year. I've posted my resume on several job boards and applied for jobs online, but I'm not getting much of a response.
 

Friends and family keep telling me "it's not what you know, but who you know." That sounds cynical to me, but I have made some decent connections over the years with people who could probably help me. I just can't seem to find the right way to ask. Is there a right way to ask someone for help finding a job?
 

Good question. Many people experience exactly the problems you describe. These problems are rooted in the historically poor career management training delivered by our schools and universities, which have not kept pace with the changing times. 

You ask, "Is there a right way to ask someone for help finding a job?" Yes, there is, but your situation describes other problems that fortunately can be fixed, making it easier for people to help when you ask. 

Who Gets Hired and Why

Who would you hire: someone who is doing the job successfully now, or someone who'd like the opportunity to try? Managers hire based on an applicant's credentials—"it's obvious she understands and can do the job"—not his or her potential: "Well, she hasn't done the job, but she says she'd be good at it?" 

When people get stuck in a job without a chance for upward mobility, they often decide to move to get that promotion they feel they deserve. However, going after the wrong job—as in applying for jobs where potential is mostly what you have to offer—is one of the two most common problems with stalled job hunts.

The Other Common Problem

You are posting your resume on job boards and applying to job postings but not getting much response. That means your resume isn't working. Resumes without clear focus and that consist of a recitation of the things you have done and think are important don't work on hiring managers. 

For a resume to get you interviews and set the right tone for those meetings, it needs to be focused on a specific target job and show what you bring to the table in relation to the needs of that job. Consider the primary business lessons we all learn and apply them to your resume:

  • The customer is always right.
  • Find out what the customer wants and give it to them.

Focus Is Foremost

Obviously, having a clear focus on a target job is your first task. Most people get hired for jobs similar to the ones they have now, while most promotions happen with a current employer—most, not all. This gives you two choices:

  1. Pursue a job similar to the one you have now but in an environment that will offer opportunity for growth.
  2. Identify the skills, experience and credentials required for that next step up the professional ladder and set about developing them. Get experience by volunteering for appropriate assignments (keep your reasons for doing so to yourself) and pursue any necessary credentials. 

This will help make you a more viable candidate for promotion with your current employer and help you convince new employers that you have more than potential to offer.

Who You Know Is Important

Your friends and family are right; who you know is important. When a new position opens, the very first thing hiring managers ask is, "Who do we know?"

SHRM membership and social media platforms, like LinkedIn, can help you build strong networks that provide vibrant connections with your professional community. It's one of the smarter things you can do to make strategic career moves—now and in the future—that much easier.

LinkedIn has thousands of profession-relevant groups that you can join and then connect with anyone in that group. Look for people who:

  • Hold your job title.
  • Hold job titles one to three levels above yours.
  • Hold job titles of those with whom you interact on a regular basis.
  • Are recruiters and headhunters active in your profession.

What's the Right Way to Ask?

If you follow these steps, you will know which job to go for next and why you are targeting that job. You will know the skills required to take the next step up the professional ladder, and you'll have a plan for your personal professional development. You'll also build professional networks that can help you with this move and others throughout your career.

In short, you'll know where you are going next and why, and what makes you a logical choice for that opportunity. This knowledge and preparation will empower you with the ability to ask the right people the right questions succinctly, making it much easier for them to offer you useful advice or introductions. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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