I do a lot of career coaching, and one of the most common issues that comes up is an overemphasis on resume and cover letter and an underemphasis on building critical relationships that can help with the job search process. I believe that building relationships with individuals who can be instrumental in the job hunt is one of the most important things any candidate can do. Yes, you need a good resume. Yes, you need a good cover letter. And also, yes, you need to know people who can help ensure your materials get a look.
I call this Building Your Army of Advocates, and I believe it is one of the most important actions you can take to really own your career progression. Check out the four following principles for what it takes to build your own army of advocates to ensure your success.
A network is not an army of advocates.
A network is a contingency of people who know you either professionally or personally.. An Army of Advocates is a group of people who not only know you, but they are willing to actively help you out. Don’t get these confused! You can have a giant network, but very few people who are willing to make time for you or to take active steps to support you and your goals. As a contrast, you can also have a small – but mighty – army of advocates who can make drastic differences in your career progression. Advocates are the people who will make time to review your resume and help you prepare for interviews. They’ll facilitate warm introductions and make calls on your behalf. Beyond mentoring, they actively sponsor you and provide help.
Advocates don’t need to be raving fans.
While advocates are willing to help you, it doesn’t mean they are your most-adoring fans, walking around with t-shirts with your picture on them and waving foam fingers with your name and “She’s #1” on them. Advocates may not even be people you are particularly close to, but they are willing to do some work on your behalf. Of course, they will need to think well of you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re invited to their personal birthday party. Advocates are people who are willing to help you get to where you want to go. Each relationship might look different, but hero-worship (on either part) isn’t required.
Remember the 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon.
Many army-builders stop before they ever get started. As you start to compile a list of who may be influential advocates for you, you may find yourself feeling like, “Holy crap, I don’t know ANY of these people. Why would any of them help me?!?!” That’s where Kevin Bacon comes to your rescue! The “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” started as a game based on the concept that essentially says any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. In reference to the esteemed Mr. Bacon, movie buffs are challenged to find a connection between Kevin Bacon and any other arbitrary actor in six steps or less. So how the heck does this have anything to do with your career trajectory? So glad you asked! When it comes to building an army of advocates, you don’t necessarily need to know your potential advocate already. Ask yourself, “Who do I know who knows someone who knows someone who knows the advocate I’m trying to reach?” Then use the next step to start leveraging your existing network to access your potential advocates.
Use your 94 hours!
“I don’t have time to network, let alone build relationships with potential advocates.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this…and rolled my eyes at it. Many potential job-seekers never intentionally set aside time to build their army of advocates. Absent the dedicated time to put towards their search, they often stall out and end up frustrated and stuck, without the connections they need to accelerate their progress. All of you have lunch hours – or half hours. If you have a one-hour lunch every day, intentionally leverage that time period just twice a week for 47 weeks a year (giving yourself exceptions for holidays, vacations, and really busy times). For those of you who have half-hour lunches, you would need to utilize 4 of these a week. Total that up, and you’ve “found” 94 hours for intentional work towards building your army of advocates! You may choose to use that time to reach out to people and build connections, or you might spend it drafting talking points for conversations you have coming up. You can also use it for other things like polishing your resume, drafting cover letters, or reconnecting with advocates you haven’t spoken to in a while. However you use the time is up to you, it’s the intentional and consistent use of time to accelerate your connections with your Army of Advocates that matters!