When most people think about “networking,” they envision an after work happy hour, an industry event, or perhaps an informational interview.
These are all recommended tools for building your professional network and finding interesting work opportunities. But there’s another, more nuanced, form of networking that can help you land a job: guerrilla networking.
Guerrilla networking is targeting specific people within an organization, in order to improve your chances of landing a job. We call it guerrilla networking because you are sneaking your way into the organization, using skill, tact, diplomacy, some sleuth work, and a lot of guts!
If traditional networking is about casting a wide net, guerrilla networking is about laser focus on the people who are most likely to influence a specific hiring process. And while traditional networking is primarily about information gathering, guerrilla networking is about making more concrete asks.
Who are the targets for guerrilla networking? For the most part, we’re talking about three groups:
- Employees at an organization that is hiring
- The hiring manager at an organization with a job opening
- Influencers in an organization where you want to work
Networking inside an organization that is hiring can be awkward. You need to talk with the the right people, but you don’t want to come across as pushy. And yes, you know your ask (You want a job!) but you may have to be indirect in how you approach decision makers.
So you need to have a strategy for connecting with these insiders. You need to know how to guerrilla network!
Here are three scenarios where guerrilla networking can help you land a job.
Scenario #1: You know someone on the inside
In this scenario, you know an employee at the hiring organization but he or she is not the hiring manager.
This is probably the most common situation you’ll encounter. If you’ve been networking in your field, you’re likely to have at least some connection within an organization. Leverage this relationship to maximize your chance for a job.
Your connection to that employee doesn’t need to be a strong one. (If the contact was your best friend, you wouldn’t be guerrilla networking, would you?) Even a relatively weak connection–someone you’ve met at a networking event, or friend’s ex-coworker–can make a huge difference.
Why? Because when hiring, companies put a lot of stock into input of existing employees. This is why you see many application forms ask if you were referred to the job by a current employee.
So don’t worry about reaching out to these contacts in the company. Most professionals are used to this kind of thing. And, again, companies encourage employees to recommend candidates.
Now, it might not be appropriate to ask your contact to advocate on your behalf with the hiring manager, especially if they are a weak connection. However, there’s plenty of other ways you can take advantage of your inside resource.
Consider asking questions like:
- “Do you know who the hiring manager for this role is? Can you give me their email? I’d like to write them about my interest in the position.”
- “Do you have any insight on how the manager will decide who to interview?”
- “What is the driving ‘problem’ behind this hire? What is the big challenge the hiring manager needs to solve here?”
By asking these questions, you’ll learn how the hiring process works and get insights on the hiring manager’s internal thinking. This gives you a big advantage in crafting an application that meets the hiring manager’s most pressing needs.
Scenario #2: You know the hiring manager (or at least their email address)
In this situation, you don’t know anyone in at the hiring organization, but you do have the name and contact information of the hiring manager. What should you do?
Here’s the short answer: contact the hiring manager directly. But do it the right way!
If you can get around the formal hiring process, then do it! Going directly to the hiring manager means you avoid having to deal with online forms, applicant tracking systems, and other potential roadblocks that prevent your application from ever being seen by human eyes. And you get to give your very best elevator pitch directly to the person who decides who will be getting a formal interview.
Of course, you have to be delicate with this. You don’t want to be overbearing, demanding, or, worst of all, a nag. But a short, introductory email, structured around the manager’s needs, can make all the difference in the world.
For this to work, you need to do two things.
First, do you research on the organization and the specific challenges they are facing. Try to focus your research on the specific department that is hiring. Get to know why they are making a new hire.
Second, you need to have a very powerful elevator pitch that shows how your skills can help solve the organization’s challenges. Clearly articulate both the problem and a solution, and you are sure to get the hiring manager’s attention.
For example, you might write something like this:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I recently discovered that you are searching for a new supply chain manager at Company X. From my research on Company X, I can see why you might need help in this area. Your new partnership with Z-Corp has undoubtedly increased production and put stress on your supply chain. This must be an exciting, but stressful time at your firm.
I’ve got 10 years experience managing complicated logistics of global supply chains. I’d love to meet and discuss the challenges you’re currently facing and how my skills could ease this burden. I see the prospects for a prosperous partnership here.
(Remember to attach a copy of your resume to this email!)
Many job announcements specifically state “no phone calls or emails.” Even in these cases, I would still reach out to the hiring manager. You need to be more careful as it’s definitely a riskier move. But a calculated risk can yield huge rewards.
As Nick Corcodilos of Ask The Headhunter says: “I’ve never encountered a manager who would hang up on a good job candidate who called to discuss a job in a knowledgeable and respectful way.”
“Knowledgeable and respectful” are the operative words here. You need to approach the hiring manager in a professional and informed way that is empathetic to their needs.
Scenario #3: You don’t even know if they’re hiring
We’re now at the “guerrilliest” level of all guerrilla networking. In this scenario, you’ve targeted an organization where you’d love to work but you don’t know anyone in the organization. And you don’t even know if they are hiring.
The goal in this scenario is to find the right person in the organization and convince them that you can solve a specific challenge–regardless of whether they currently have a job to offer.
Sounds tough, right? It is! You’re making a hard ask; an unsolicited pitch to get hired. It’s a risky play but, according to Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, it can pay off.
To do this right, you need to find the name and contact information of the decision maker at the company. You’re looking for someone who is in charge of the department that most aligns with your professional skill set.
Then you do a lot of research. Figure out everything that the company is doing and how it might affect the person you’ve identified in the organization. Discover the pain points the person might be encountering in their department.
You can’t just guess on this. It has to be based on solid research and some sleuthing.
When you’ve got sufficient information, you write your contact a pain letter. This is similar to the letter shared above but is generally longer and more detailed. (Liz also recommends sending a hard copy via post.) In the pain letter, you frame the central challenge facing the organization, and position yourself as the solution to that problem.
Again, this is a risky strategy. Companies don’t often create jobs openings based on a letter they get from an unknown person. However, this has worked for many people. It might create an opportunity for consulting work, which is often easier for a manager to green light than a full-time hire.
And even if the person you contact can’t offer you employment, you may be able to leverage that relationship for another opportunity in the future.
Don’t wait to be picked… guerrilla network instead!
Looking for a job is tough work and the best strategy is an active strategy.
Don’t be passive in your job search. Following the formal application rules and then hoping someone calls you is is not a recipe for success. Instead, take an active approach. Leverage your contacts and make yourself known to the hiring manager.
Don’t be afraid to guerrilla network within organizations. This is a way to maximize your chances of getting an interview and a job offer. Just remember to do it respectfully and to do your homework before you reach out.