Ask Victoria: How Do I Network When Everyone Knows Everyone in My Town?

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Dear Victoria,

I live in a small city where everyone knows each other. How do I utilize my contacts in finding a new job (networking, providing references) without it going back to my current boss? Should I first quit my current job to avoid any issues? Or should I talk to only select people and hope it does not go back to my current boss?

Thanks, Milda

Dear Milda,

Thank you so much for writing in! This is a great question about a situation that I’m sure many of our other readers encounter. What do you do when you want to network your way to a new job, but you’re concerned that your circle is so small that word about your plan could get around? I have some thoughts about this!

You ask whether you should quit your current job first. Of course, this is a very personal decision that relies on a careful assessment of your personal circumstances. However, I do typically recommend to avoid quitting a job unless you have more than sufficient funds to cover your expenses while you are out of work. Naturally, if you are suffering through dire circumstances- toxic environments, demolished morale, etc- by all means, do what you have to do. Typically, however, your job search will cause you less stress if you don’t also have to worry about bill payments.

Also, in many cases, already having a job will look more favorable to those considering you as a new hire for their organization- so that’s one more reason not to leave. Many hiring managers will understand that you want to keep your job search confidential until you are further along in the hiring process; if you request that they not contact your current employer as a reference until that time, most will typically oblige. Be confident that you can conduct a confidential job search even in a small town.

When it comes to networking among your circle, take the same approach. Request confidentiality. Also, you can initially approach your contacts with exploratory questions. Keep it casual with questions that are conversational and don’t necessarily scream “I’m looking for a job right now! Can you help me?!” See how these examples work for you:

  • How did you get into your line of work?
  • What was most challenging about your recent career change?
  • What are you currently working on at your organization? How has your job evolved since you’ve been there?
  • What skills do you use most at your job? What skills are most prized at your organization and why?

Before you start asking for help in your actual job search, aim for informational interviews. The sample questions above will lend themselves well to your conversations.

Informational interviews are exploratory in nature, will help you get some ideas flowing for conducting your job search… and can even help you gauge how trustworthy your contacts might be with confidential information. If you get a sense during your conversation that your contact is probing to find out whether you are job searching (and won’t keep this information secret), you can steer your conversation in a different direction. This contact might not be the best ally in your desire to transition careers.

How to go about selecting who to ask for informational interviews? Approach people who work at the types of jobs you are interested in, would consider doing next, or simply want to know more about. You don’t necessarily have to disclose why you are asking these questions, but if you want to address it (or at least be prepared should you be asked), try something along these lines:

Lately I’ve been thinking about my professional development and what I can do in the new year to shine in my career. I’ve been finding it helpful to talk to other people about their careers. Since I’ve always found what you do at (insert organization name here), I’d love to schedule a quick chat to talk about ___________. Thank you so much- I look forward to connecting!

Finally, you might want to assess whether your current manager could actually be open to the idea of you leaving. Some managers want to support their employees’ growth, even if that means that they leave the organization. I covered this topic in a previous Ask Victoria article. Of course, tread lightly before going down this path. In some cases, the manager is supportive of the change and growth going to a new organization can bring, and in others, he or she may start to view you as having “one foot out the door”. This article also outlines who to ask for references (and how to do it!) when you are keeping your job search confidential, which I’m going to suggest that you do for now. And remember, if any of your conversations start to go in a direction where you need to disclose that you plan to search for a new job, request that your contacts keep it to themselves. 

Best of luck and please do keep us posted!

To your success,

Victoria

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About Author

Throughout my 15+ year career in resume writing, career coaching, higher education, and working with nonprofit job seekers, I’ve used an approach that is nurturing yet practical and driven to achievement. As Audience Development and Content Manager at Idealist for our online publication, Idealist Careers, I bring relevant tips to today's social impact job seekers and career changers with sensitivity towards the challenges they face. I also am the writer of our career advice column, "Ask Victoria". Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I share with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Have a question? Ask at askvictoria@idealist.org. Follow me on Twitter @_AskVictoria.

1 Comment

  1. Anyone whom you approach for an informational interview will assume you’re job hunting,and may wonder why you are wasting his or her time if you’re not. People are busy. The benefit of an informational interview is that the person contact is not under any pressure to hire you and can freely make suggestions if s/he likes you.

    If you are looking for other jobs in a small town, I think you have expect that word will get out. Even if you request confidentiality, the likelihood of being observed in buildings you normally wouldn’t be visiting, or being seen dressed more formally than you otherwise would be dressed is high.

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