3 ways to network and stand out in the job hunt


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Photo credit: Digital Storm, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Digital Storm, Shutterstock

From a reader:

Any advice on standing out? I’ve been on the job hunt since the beginning of the year. As I already have a (very) part-time job, I have the luxury to wait for the good jobs that really fit what I need. Since January, I have put in ~60 applications for jobs I am a good candidate for. Of them, I’ve gotten movement on just three, two gave interviews, and all went with other candidates.

I’ve tried networking but I don’t know anyone who isn’t in (more or less) the same boat as me. I’ve tried a few networking events, but they seem mostly haunted by people who are in the same boat as me—looking for a position, going to these events hoping for a break. I’ve tried getting a hold of people on the inside of businesses but having personnel listed seems to be becoming a rarer thing. There is a local museum for example that I’d dearly love to work for. I have a background in education, a decade in customer service, great computer skills, and a degree in communications. Their turnover for the front office is pretty high too, so there are positions opening up constantly. You’d think that I’d be a shoo-in. Instead, I haven’t gotten a single response on any of my applications.

The couple of times when I’ve gotten a hold of actual people (as opposed to the hr@company.com), they are inevitably far too busy to do an informational interview. Every time I’ve asked, it’s always a very quick (though polite) no. So, I’m at a loss. I’m doing everything that I should be, unless I’m really missing something obvious. Yet I’m ending up just spinning my wheels. Thoughts?

Dear Standing Out:

You are absolutely right; setting yourself a part from the throngs of other job seekers is goal number one in the process of landing your dream job. And, it’s probably much less daunting than you think…if you follow a few key steps.

First, before you completely throw your current network overboard you have to remember that your network isn’t just about the people you’re connected to; it’s also about your network’s network, and their network, and so on. Six degrees of separation is more than a Will Smith movie, it’s the key to finding a great new job.

For example, start by identifying your first level connections. Maybe your college roommate is connected to someone who is connected to someone at one of the companies you’ve been targeting. Ask, her to make an introduction for you. LinkedIn is a terrific tool for identifying who is in your extended network.

Another way to get your foot in the door and stand out from the crowd is to volunteer with the organization. I’m sure the museum you’ve set your sights on has tons of opportunities for highly engaged individuals to volunteer their skills. Someone with a background in education and customer service, such as your self, would probably make a great docent for a museum. Once you start volunteering with the organization, you’ll begin building relationships with staff. These relationships will not only give you early access to positions but they’ll allow people to see your talents in a way that just looking at a resume doesn’t allow.

Finally, consider joining industry groups or professional organizations, but don’t just show up for the wine and cheese socials; volunteer to serve on a committee. Once again, this is a great way to build relationships with individuals who are already engaged in the work that you are interested in. The Smithsonian website lists tons of professional organizations in the museum industry. I’m sure there are a few local chapters near you. By building relationships with people already doing the work you are interested in, you can ask them directly what the key is to successfully getting your foot in the door of their organization.

So, try these tips and let me know how it goes!

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About Author

Qiana Williams is a senior human resources manager for a global retailer where she is responsible for all aspects of the implementation of HR strategy for more than 200 employees domestically and internationally. Prior to this role, she navigated the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, tackling the various aspects of HR. Qiana has played an active role in her community through board service with organizations such as City Year – Columbus, Communities in Schools of Central Ohio, HandsOn Central Ohio and the United Way of Central Ohio.


  1. As a job coach, I’m always amazed by job seekers’ “open hand” hand strategy.

    They go everywhere – from asking others to review their résumés, networking events, job fairs to informational interviews – with the open hand strategy of I want this, give me that, do this for me, can you introduce me to.

    The only way to stand out in the job search is to be genuinely nice, polite and attentive to the needs of other people. The open hand of giving and caring may be a nove, if not radical, approach.

    Instead of asking for something, offer something. “What can I take off your plate … something you need done that I can do …” may help a job seeker be remembered, recommended or hired later on!

    • Great advice, Joe! There has certainly been a lot of buzz around generosity in one’s career, sparked by Adam Grant’s book Give and Take and growing research showing how giving can help one get ahead. I think what happens, in the urgency of the job search, it can feel as though you have little to give or that you need assistance asap. But keeping in mind that we should build our networks before we need them and that we can always lend a hand to others can help us stay a little more focused in our search and perhaps make us more successful down the road.

  2. I think that volunteering for an organization is a great idea. However, let us not forget that when you are looking for a job, you have limited resources, and sometimes getting to the site where you are volunteering might be difficult. Same goes for unpaid internships.

    I am also in the job market and currently volunteering as a communications consultant with three organizations virtually. I know it is more beneficial to be there in person, but i cannot afford to drive into the city or even pay for a bus pass every week to get around. Sometimes,job seekers are willing to do the work, but truly cannot afford the cost that comes with volunteering or an unpaid internship

    • Excellent point, Mona. But, as your situation proves where there’s a will there’s a way. The fact that you have created a way to utilize your talents while still contributing to the organizations that you are volunteering with demonstrates that outside the box thinking is key to successfully getting your foot in the door. You can still put the tips into action, albeit virtually. The fact that your work is not onsite shouldn’t impede you from making sure that the right people in the organizations know that if a full-time opportunity comes available you’d like to be considered for it. AND, they’ll know firsthand how talented you are from the communications work you are currently doing for them.

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