Find Your Dream Job, Episode 166:
How to Build Your Network So Opportunity Comes Calling, with Laura Gassner Otting
Airdate: November 21, 2018
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the publisher of Mac’s List. It’s an online community that connects talented professionals with meaningful work.
I believe everyone can find a job they love. But to do that, you need to learn the skills to build a successful career. From professional networking to personal branding, you’ve got to get good at job hunting.
This show helps you do this. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I talk to a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I interview Laura Gassner Otting about to build your network so opportunity comes calling.
Laura Gassner Otting is an expert in leadership, executive recruitment, and career change.
Laura works with a lot of leaders. And she says many of her clients never apply for a job. Instead, they get calls from recruiters. Or employers approach them about unadvertised openings.
According to Laura, this doesn’t happen by accident. The people who get these opportunities network differently than most of us. And in our interview today, Laura shares how you can connect with others to create your own opportunities.
First, says Laura, you need to define success. Too many people think you always need to get a big job with an important title. Depending on your goals, you might be better served by an entry-level position in a big office.
Laura also emphasizes that the best networkers understand the difference between champions and mentors.
And she stresses that you need to know that networking is a two-way street. Follow these and other principles, says Laura, and you too may start getting calls about the jobs that never get posted.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Laura Gassner Otting about how to build your network so opportunity comes calling.
Laura Gassner Otting is a professional keynote speaker. She inspires audiences to push past doubt and indecision. She’s is also an expert in leadership, executive recruitment, and career change.
Laura previously served in Bill Clinton’s White House, worked for a nonprofit search firm, and helped grow the startup ExecSearches.com. And she’s the author of the book, Mission-Driven: Moving from Profit to Purpose.
She joins us today from Newton, Massachusetts.
Laura, thanks for being on the show.
Laura Gassner Otting:
Hey, I’m glad to be here.
It’s a pleasure to have you. Our topic this week is how you can network so that listeners can have opportunities come to them. I think, I certainly hoped this would happen when I was looking for work earlier in my career and I think a lot of job seekers would love to get a call from a recruiter or an employer offering a job.
First of all, Laura, does that really happen?
Laura Gassner Otting:
It absolutely does happen. One of the things I would tell people about executive search is that there are two important parts of it. The first is executive. We were doing work on an executive level but second is search. We actually went out and looked for candidates.
The reason that organizations would look to hire us and pay us, typically one-third of the first year’s cash compensation is the model, is because we went out and we found candidates that either they could not find on their own or convince on their own.
The reason they wanted those candidates is because those candidates were successful in what they were doing. They were happy in what they were doing and because of that, they weren’t looking at the want adds.
We had to actually go out and search for those candidates.
I imagine you got calls like this, I certainly do at Mac’s List where people will call me or contact me rather, and say, “I need to get my resume in front of a headhunter.”
Is that something you recommend? Would you… how would you when you were in a job search reply to calls like that?
Laura Gassner Otting:
I would tell people that I was only really as good as the search they had in-house at any given moment. If you were an incredible accountant or an incredible lawyer or an incredible program person and all they had was a fundraising job available, you were great but you weren’t great for me.
There weren’t wrong candidates; they were wrong candidates at wrong times at wrong moments in organizations. If I didn’t have a search for you, I loved you but I had no use for you. Then, three months later, when I had that search for the accountant or the lawyer or the marketer or the program person, I might not remember you were there.
It’s a good idea to reach out to search firms because you never know if they’ve got searches. You never know if they’ve got a search they just haven’t announced on their website yet but you also can then start to get to know them.
The way that I recommend people do it is look at the searches that are on the website of the search firm and then call them up if there’s something that’s right for you. Absolutely, call them up and plead your case. Nobody ever got dropped out of a search because they were the right candidate but they maybe were a little pushy.
If there isn’t something that’s right for you, you can still call them up and say, “Hey, I saw this search you have on your site. It’s not quite right for me but I know some people who might be in the right network or for whom it might be right and would you mind if I pass this information along to them?” They’ll be like, “Wow, manna from heaven, thanks so much. We would love to get help getting this out, because that’s how we make our money.”
Once you’ve done them a favor, you can turn around and say, “And hey, by the way, the reason I was looking on your website in the first place is because I’m beginning to contemplate my next move. Would you mind if I sent you my resume I’d love to have a conversation?”
They’re of course going to say yes at that point. Then, they get to know you, then you have a conversation, and then it becomes your job to follow up once a month or every quarter or whenever it is. Just so that you continue to be a resource for them. Then, when the search comes along, you’re much more top of mind.
From the outside of any job seekers, and professionals in general, executive search is a giant black box. Often people don’t even know how to find companies like this. Do you have some basic tips about, not only how to connect with these firms as you just described, but let’s step back even further…how do you find these companies?
Laura Gassner Otting:
It is a black box and I’m going to apologize on behalf of the entire executive search world. It’s often a black hole. Candidates don’t always get treated very well by search firms. The firm that I founded, Non-profit Professionals Advisory Group, stood apart, I thought, because we had a little bit of a different business model, where we didn’t charge the typical one-third. We had to sort of unbundle the work and then we created these aspoke offerings to clients based on how difficult their search was.
It incentivized us both to do well by the client but also to do well by the candidate. We were actually proud that we got business from candidates that didn’t make it through our searches but then got placed in other places and then called us up to do searches for them.
For the most part, candidates don’t get treated very well by search firms. I want to start by saying, it’s good and it’s important to reach out to search firms but if they don’t treat you well, don’t take that as a judgement. Don’t take that as evaluation. They’re just not incentivized to be worrying about you all the time. It’s just sometimes that results in bad behavior.
In order to find them I think, obviously, there’s the internet. You can look up executive search. There are associations that have executive search but I think there are, in all of the states, there are local societies for human resources management where they may have membership. If you’re interested in, say, the nonprofit sector there are nonprofit associations in each one.
Often these search firms will advertise in them.
What I would say is, you can generally google for executive search firms and then insert your area of industry here. Or go find industry rags that cater to the industry for which you want to work. Then look in the back and you’ll start seeing either advertisements for the search firm or you’ll see advertisements for jobs that then linked to, “You can apply at XYZ search firm.”
That’s how you get a sense of who’s doing the work in that area.
There’s two different kind of search firms also. There’s retained executive search and then there’s the search that’s done just on a commission basis. It’s important to understand, if they’re doing a search that’s retained search, they’re hired by the organization to find them a pool of highly qualified people. Or if it’s commissioned based work where they’re just throwing candidates at the wall to see what sticks.
The search firms are one way you can get those calls coming to you about opportunities. That’s only part of how that happens. Can you tell us other ways that you’ve seen in your work, Laura, with leaders and not only in… but in your consulting practice, that people get these kinds of opportunities?
What do people do besides contact executive search firms?
Laura Gassner Otting:
It’s true that search firms are only part of it and they are such a small part of it. Most of the searches, and we’ve all heard statistics about how the vast majority of jobs that are filled are never advertised and I believe that to be true. Then there are also the jobs that get filled that didn’t even exist before someone saw the solution to the problem. You meet a person and think, “Oh, they’d be really good for doing this for me that I didn’t quite realize I needed done until I met them.”
The way that jobs are filled is by networking, is by getting to know people, is by getting yourself in the deal flow. We think that networking means I have to walk around and amass this gigantic Rolodex of people but really what networking is, it’s a permeating a certain subset of people. It’s creating critical mass within an industry or a skill set where you want to be known.
It’s making sure that you get known as either a thought leader or a connector or someone who brings some sort of innovative thinking or some sort of value to that world. That happens by getting yourself in the room.
Getting yourself in the room is the most important thing you can do because when you’re in the room you get to hear about new opportunities, you get to meet new people. You get to increase your network, you get to build your skill set, you get to expand your lexicon and your knowledge of the trends that are happening in that industry at the time.
If you’re not in the room, you don’t hear about the opportunity. You don’t even know to go for it.
I want to pause here because I want to talk about where that room exists and how you can get into it and what difference it can make in your career.
We’re going to take a break and when we come back we’re going to continue our conversation with Laura Gassner Otting. We’re talking this week about how to get opportunities to come to you.
A few years ago, I got an email from a colleague who works for a member of Congress.
My friend asked if I would give an informational interview to a summer intern, a college student. Of course, I said yes.
After answering that email, I Googled the intern. I wanted to get ready for our meeting. And then I wondered if I’d made a mistake.
Here’s what I popped up in my search: a profile photo on the intern’s Google+ page. And it showed him wearing a t-shirt and smoking a cigarette.
After seeing that image, it was hard for me to take this person seriously. And I expect other employers who saw that photo had the same reaction.
Now, I’m not alone in checking people out online before a meeting. One recent survey found that 98% of recruiters say they use LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to find candidates.
What you say about yourself on these and other online channels shapes how employers and others see you.
And if you’re not on these platforms, you’re invisible to hiring managers.
You always need to put your best foot forward online. And especially when job hunting.
That’s why I built my free online course, How to Wow and Woo Employers Online. In three lessons, I show you how to make the most of social media in a job search.
Get your free copy today. Go to macslist.org/wow.
To have the most success in job hunting, you not only need to worry about embarrassing photos, you’ve also got to use LinkedIn and other platforms to share your professional expertise.
Our course shows you how to do this. Go to macslist.org/wow.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Laura Gassner Otting. She’s an expert on leadership, executive recruitment, and career change. Laura is joining us today from Newton, Massachusetts.
Laura, before the break, we talked about executive search firms, which I think is the traditional way the people think opportunity comes to them. They get their resume in front of a headhunter or a recruiter and then one day, the phone rings and there’s the dream job.
As you were saying, that’s really only a small part of how that world works. We were talking about the value of networking and being in the room where deals are made.
Tell us more about that.
Laura Gassner Otting:
When I got my very first job, well, my very first job was changing bedpans in a hospital when I was seventeen, but when I got my very first, real grown-up job, it happened to be in the White House. That’s quite a career twist, right?
The way that I got that job was to make sure that when I was volunteering on the campaign, I got to meet as many people as I possibly could. Not because I thought they would do something for me but because I just wanted to be surrounded by great people who were excited about the same things I was excited about, who had the same interests I had in terms of how we wanted to change the world.
Some of those people ended up in interesting places. One of them ended up being the guy who ran all the volunteer operations for the Clinton administration. He called me up on day one and said, “I’ve got a potential opportunity to volunteer at national service.” I said, “Fantastic. That’s great. That’s why I dropped out of law school to join the campaign to do this.”
I went in for six weeks and I did data entry and made all the idealism I could eat. I was a volunteer. While I was there, I was in the room. I was able to get assigned projects. Research projects or other projects that I could work on that had me interacting with people who were making decisions about whether or not I might get employed.
As I was walking out one day, there was a sign on the wall about giving blood. I happened to notice that the head of the office was giving blood at ten am. Now, there are four spots to give blood, there were three people already signed up. There was one empty spot and I said, “Well if I’m ever going to do this, I’m going to do it now.”
I have a minor medical condition that’s not very exciting. It means I sometimes pass out when I give blood. I decided that I was going to make this happen and I was going to have him on a bed next to me giving blood. Basically, we had a trapped audience.
The two of us sat on these gurneys right beside each other and for fifteen minutes, he asked me who I was, and what I was doing, and what I was interested in. Because I was willing to be in “the room where it happened”, to quote the Hamilton musical, and because I was literally willing to give blood for the job, because I was interested in this so much that I was willing to eat Ramen soup for 6 weeks while I tried to figure out how I could make money.
I was 21 years old at the time and these are the sacrifices you’re willing to endure. Because I was able to do that, because I was able to see this opportunity, because I was able to put myself in a place where, strategically, I would have the ear of the person who made the decisions I got offered, actually, a paid job.
Of course, my career bloomed from there. If I didn’t meet the people, if I wasn’t in the room, if I didn’t look at the opportunity, if I didn’t jump at the chance, I never would have gotten there. That’s all because of the power of networking.
There are a lot of things I like about that story. One stands out, that is, you didn’t start out with an impressive job, did you? It was a volunteer position.
Laura Gassner Otting:
Are you talking about with the bedpans or with the data entry?
Well, you know, my first job was carrying newspapers and then I washed dishes at a restaurant for a while. I think that all of those experiences can help us in the workplace.
In your place, you had a much higher goal but you started out at a very modest position.
Laura Gassner Otting:
We’re often taught that we should strive for the most impressive title we can have and I think that’s wrong. I think it’s really important to put yourself in the most impressive place you can put yourself. Not because I think you’re going to make the most money there, you’re not going to have the most fame for it, but because you will learn the most from it.
I took a tiny, tiny position and I got the lowest possible salary but I was working as the, what is called a confidential assistant to the head of National Service. That basically meant I did a lot of scheduling of his trips and speech writing and proofreading and I was the person who briefed him before he went anywhere. I was the leg, I was the right-hand person.
It was not an impressive job, but I sat next to the CEO, and because I sat next to the CEO I got to meet everyone he met. I got to see how he operated. I got to learn how he got to where he was. I got to see a model of leadership that was different than the model of leadership I had thought was the only model that existed. My education… I grew 10 x while I was there.
I wasn’t the head of a division that was part of a department that was part of a unit that was part of whatever in a regional office. I was at the top even though I was in this tiny job. It’s not about making sure you put yourself in the most important position. It’s making sure you set yourself up for trajectory on a career by giving yourself what you need along the way, in terms of knowledge and network.
What would you tell the listeners, Laura, who say, “Well, that makes sense, but I’m not 21? I’m mid-career or senior…I’m further along in my career, perhaps fifteen or twenty years. I don’t want to eat Ramen, I have big bills to pay.” How can they take the principles that you’re describing and apply them to their own careers?
Laura Gassner Otting:
It’s a two-part answer. The first is do they want to stay doing what they’re doing? And the second is do they want to completely reinvent themselves and start something different?
Depending on which of those questions they ask, I would answer differently. I think the first is if they want to continue doing what they’re doing, they should think about whether they’re in the right place to do it. Whether they’re working with the right people, whether there’s support that’s coming to them, and whether there are opportunities that will come to them for them to grow in that world.
If they don’t have those things, it’s important to think about how to get them. Do they have control over the contribution they want their work to make in their lives at this moment? Are they making the kind of money they make? Are they making the sort of change in the world or the company or the community that they want to make? Do they feel fulfilled? Are they getting the best out of themselves every single day? If they’re not, then that’s the moment when you have to decide to make that change.
I would say to make that change is to probably invest deeper in the career that they have by joining associations, by starting to go to more networking events, by really starting to get more out of their cubicle or their office. Starting to face external instead of just continuing to push deeper where they are.
If they’re looking to do something completely different, then it’s a matter of, not just what they’re running away from, what they don’t like now, but what’s exciting them that they want to do in the future? Maybe that’s a cause they want to serve. Maybe it’s using a different type of skill set, maybe it’s taking that side hustle and making it into their full-time job.
Again, I think the way to do that is to start getting more active and to get to know people outside of what you’re doing. We all know what we know but we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s kind of like a Yogi Berra statement. It’s kind of obvious.
Until you start talking to people and seeing the way that they’re doing their work, the model of how they’re allowing that work to contribute to the life that they want to have, it’s pretty hard to understand what you’re missing. The void is pretty obvious but how do you fix that void? That’s always a little bit more confusing.
The only way that we can get there is to see models of other people.
There are studies that show that one-third of Americans over the age of 50, so 34 million people, want to do something in their last big gig that is more meaningful, that feels good, that is giving back in some way. That’s a huge percentage of the population that’s thinking about reinvention.
At the Gen X age where I am you’ve got kids that are getting older. You’ve got parents that are getting older. We’re trying really hard to figure out, does this work give me what I want to do? I’ve got to go do it every day, I’ve got bills to pay, am I making enough? I’ve got big concerns coming about finances but I also have this time that I need flexibility.
Then the Millennials are more and more looking for work that matters, that has purpose, that gives them engagement. At every generation, everyone’s thinking about this question of reinvention all the time.
If you’re somebody who’s thinking about reinvention, what I would say is, don’t be afraid of it. I would say embrace it. Start talking to people about it because you’re definitely not going to be alone.
The common thread running through both instances is the people that you surround yourself with and as you reach out to folks, doing it in a thoughtful, strategic way.
Let’s bring it back to our topic which is, and you touched on this in the first half of our interview, Laura, how do you work with people and build relationships so that those opportunities do come to you? And you’re not just waiting for a headhunter to send you a text or make an old-fashioned phone call.
Laura Gassner Otting:
People always tell me that they hate networking, they hate giving their elevator speech or elevator pitch, and they hate asking people for other things. I think that networking has kind of gotten a bad rap.
We tend to think that networking is going to a cocktail party, schmoozing, trading business cards, and talking in someone’s ear about what you do. It’s really not. Networking should be thought of as the building of a network. That network could be a group of people that you interact with now, it could be a group of people you interact with later. These are people that grow over time.
I’m on the board of a nonprofit organization that has Fellows that run through it. I remember on of the young Fellows when he was in college said, “I hate networking. It just feels so one-sided.” Now, I do, as you mentioned, a lot of leadership development and keynote speaking.
A couple of months ago, I called him up and said, “Hey, you know I’m really interested in going and starting to speak at college campuses.” It turned out that this kid now is not a kid any longer and now works in college campuses in Freshman Advising and actually helps them figure out how to book speakers.
When he thought that he was asking me for mentoring and for networking and for job advice and for interview practice all those years ago, he felt like it was one way. It turns out networking is actually a long-term relationship.
The best advice that I can give people about networking is not to treat it as a transactional, one-time affair, but really to treat it as a building of a network. The building of a relationship over time. Think about, not just, I’ve now asked you for all these things and then in the phone call saying, “Now what can I do for you?”
I hate getting that question. I have no idea. I haven’t thought about that. I’m here for you right now. Really think about it as having that person being present in your mind so that if you see an article you think they might like or if you come across a news story that you think might inform what they’re doing, letting them know about it.
Talking to them. Don’t just put a tickler file that you should call them every three months but really actively thinking about who are the people in your world who are impacting you the most? How can you continue to give value to them? So that when you do call them, or when they call you, it doesn’t feel transactional, it feels like a friendship.
Make it authentic. Think about the other person’s needs and invest in it, in the relationship.
Laura, I can hear listeners saying, “Okay, but how is that going to bring opportunities to me? Because I’m thinking about next year or three years or five years from now and I want to do this in a thoughtful way so that my career benefits and my job search is perhaps less painful and shorter.”
Laura Gassner Otting:
I think that it depends. I think it’s hard to plan it. I think it hard to say, “I’m going to do these things now and six months or a year or three years it’s going to be perfect.” I think you never know where those relationships are going to and up.
As you mentioned, twenty-five years ago I was a young peon in the White House. A lot of the other young peons ended up working in really impressive places. In my executive search work, I was able to call some of the CEOs of all these impressive companies and nonprofits and say, “Hey Pal, who do you know who’s right for this? Or might you be interested?”
My staff was in always marveling. Like, “How are you even able to get them on the phone?” I was like, “Haha, because I’ve got stories from way back when that we don’t tell in public.”
You never know where these relationships are going to go but if the networking is happening right now with the very specific, “I want to get a new job in six months, in a year, in three years,” I would say, you’ve got to be really strategic. Put together a spreadsheet. Where do you want to get to? What does success look like? What does that job look like?
Figure out if you want to work at a specific company, who do you know who works at that company? Who do you know who might know somebody who might work at that company? Who do you know who might know somebody who might know somebody who might… keep working your way back.
Whether it’s through a job with the person you want to reach might have had two or three jobs ago. You can see that online on Linkedin. Whether it’s someone who might have gone to the same school. You can also see that, go to Facebook, go to Instagram, go to all the social media and figure out who’s connected to who. See if you can get conversations with people.
As you get to know them and you get the social proof, right? It’s kind of like when you put a… when you’re publishing a book and you look for blurbs. Why do we want blurbs on a book? Because those books give us this, what’s called “social proof.”
Someone thought it was good, so maybe I’ll think it’s good too. If I got a call from somebody and they said, “Hey, you know, you really ought to talk to Mac, he’s interested in XYZ.” If that person is somebody I trust, then I’m going to talk to you. If you’re coming to me totally cold, maybe I’ll talk to you, maybe I won’t. It just depends on what day you catch me.
It’s really getting really specific about where you want to land and then making sure that everything you do that’s outside of your job or outside of your family or your faith or your community or whatever it is that takes up most of your time is directed specifically at, “I want to make sure that I can eventually get a sitting in front of this person.”
Good. Well, I love the practicality of that advice. Now, Laura, tell me, what’s next for you?
Laura Gassner Otting:
I have a new book coming out in a few months. It’s called, “Limitless. How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.” It’s based on this idea that we’ve always thought success is a very specific thing. Usually defined by other people: friends, parents, mentors, teachers, and then we’ve leaned into that.
We’ve filled all of checkboxes and we’ve turned around and said, “Well, why do I feel so empty?”
The book is based on the idea that in order to be limitless, we have to find our consonance. Getting to consonance means having the right recipe of calling, connection, contribution, and control in our careers so that we can feel like we’re in alignment and in our flow.
Laura, thanks for being on the show today.
Laura Gassner Otting:
Thank you. It was a pleasure.
One of the tips that Laura shared that really stood out for me was her advice about getting clear about where you want to go in your job search. We were talking about how to make opportunities come to us and I thought it was so practical the way she described putting together a spreadsheet with the names and contact information of people at a company where you hope to get a job.
Thinking about how you can build authentic relationships based not on taking but on giving to others. That’s an idea that requires you to be clear about your goals and where you want to go but once you know that, then she really offered a roadmap for how to act on it.
I think, as you think about Laura’s advice and get clear about your own goals and you’re thinking about those next steps, you need to make sure that your online profile matches what you want to do and where you want to go.
That’s why we’ve put together our free video course, How to Wow and Woo Employers Online. It shows you how to put your best foot forward online but in a strategic way. Don’t let an out of date LinkedIn profile or other social media account hurt you professionally.
Go to macslist.org/wow.
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday when our guest will be Donna Svei of Avid Careerist.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!