How To Ask For Job Search Help

The typical advice says that you should tell everyone that you are looking.  But is that really helpful for management-level jobs or jobs in a very specific industry, say finance?  Will people really get leads from their manicurist? The typical advice says that you should tell everyone that you are looking.  But is that really helpful for management-level jobs or jobs in a very specific industry, say finance?  Will people really get leads from their manicurist?
If I could choose between help from my manicurist or the Managing Director of a bulge-bracket investment bank, then of course I would go for the MD.  (This assumes you are ready to make your pitch; the MD should not be someone you practice your pitch with.) If access is equal and you are ready to talk intelligently about your search, you should always pick the person who you think is more immediately relevant to your search. 
However, the rule of thumb that everyone is a networking target is valid because you don’t know exactly what or whom everybody knows, so reaching out broadly doesn’t hurt and may actually help.  Furthermore, you may not have access to the MD of a bank or other decision-maker in the area you are targeting and you have to start with the network you have.  Perhaps the manicurist house sits for the MD or was a banker and is working as a manicurist in preparation for opening her own spa.  Often, in networking you have to start further away from your end target and work to get closer.  A lot of the payoff is in these weaker ties, not in your most immediate circle.
To keep making progress, you need to effectively ask for help.  Effective asking means that you have specific companies and functional areas in mind so that you can tell your networking target exactly what you need.  Don’t hand out a resume or give a pitch about yourself and leave it to others to guess where you might fit or what info you need.  Even if they want to help, they may not know how.  Instead, give them a 30-second pitch so they know you’re qualified and serious, but ask with specificity:
Do you know anyone at Companies X, Y or Z?  Perhaps someone who used to work there? 
Do you know companies who do similar work? 
What do you know about financial services?  This is helpful for a lead like the manicurist, where you may not know if s/he has any relevance to your search.  This is where s/he can say, “Well, I house sit for the MD at Big-Old-Boring Trust…”
Coach them through their mental rolodex: 
Someone you used to work with?
Someone you went to school with?
Someone at the church (or other organization where you know this person)?
Assure them that you are at the research stage and looking for information, not a specific job.  This ensures that the target knows that all leads are appreciated and takes the pressure off of coming up with job leads.  Be ready to answer questions, including what level you are targeting, because your target may need to know how to position you when making an introduction.  Above all, be specific.  Ask about specific names, specific departments, specific companies.  You will only get what you ask for.  Ask in a vague manner, get a vague response.  Ask with specificity, and it’s easier for the target to act upon your request.

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