How aggressive or vigorous should you be in your attempts to contact people inside a workplace if you think those people could really help you with an endorsement but you do not have a strong personal connection?

hand shakeThese days there is a lot of questionable advice and some real confusion about how job seekers should maximize their networking efforts using online sources of connection. Some articles suggest that job seekers should identify prospective workplaces that have job postings and then use LinkedIn to find people who currently work there with the aim of contacting them to ask them to forward their resume to the “right people” and put in a good word for them. The problem is that if you take this approach, you risk creating a negative impression. Instead of gaining an ally or getting a positive boost for your candidacy, you could be perceived as clueless, desperate, boorish, or overly aggressive. Instead of getting the endorsement you want, you could damage your search efforts. If you have ever been on the receiving end of such a request you understand that anyone who asks you to vouch for him within a workplace is asking you to put your own credibility on the line with the people in charge of hiring. You need to know, really know, the person you are endorsing, and a connection on LinkedIn might be a start but it is not enough to gain trust.

The reason why some people are tempted to try this approach is that most of us understand that jobseekers who are recommended by people inside the targeted workplace gain a tremendous advantage. Thomas Boyle, director of product marketing at Silk Road, a talent management solutions company, says what so many already suspected: “It is still about who you know. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that employee referrals are the number one source (for hiring).” (As quoted by Jacquelyn Smith in her Forbes Online article, “New Research Shows Where Employers Find Their New Hires.”) If you can come to the attention of the workplace through a trusted contact , namely, a person known and credible to the workplace, and if that contact says good things about you, your chances for getting hired go way up. About 60% of new hires are recommended by internal sources, according to a Silk Road Report on sources of hiring.

How can a job seeker gain the trust of people who work inside a particular workplace? The answer is you cannot do it immediately and you cannot do it remotely. But just because you do not currently know people in a targeted workplace does not mean you are precluded from relationship building with a goal of developing authentic connections inside that and other workplaces that your research reveals could use your skill set and experience. The answer lies in a process I call rapid relationship and trust building. It is something I have learned about through my career counseling practice with the hundreds of people who have worked with me. Some people I worked with were outstanding at relationship building and others struggled with it. But as I have watched and coached so many people over the years, I could see that the naturally gifted networkers were engaging in a certain kind of relationship building, and sometimes doing it remarkably quickly, to open up possibilities that resulted in jobs. They were creating and deepening friendships that led to greater good fortune.

I was able to study and understand this process because of the number of gifted networkers I counseled and the fact that I could ask probing questions about how they did what they did, who they met with, and what they said to open up opportunities. I write about this approach to job search in my new book Job Quest: How to Become the Insider Who Gets Hired.

The approach is predicated on authentic friendship and generosity. It is not all about you getting a job, in other words. A better way to think about productive networking for a job is that it is about you, at least in part, adding value in your industry, field, or specialty. What the naturally good networkers are doing is asking for help to understand the lay of the land, learn the gossip, rumors, oral history and on-the-ground information about what is happening in the targeted field or industry. They are learning about workplaces that are busy and active and growing and good places to work. They are not using the “J” word too soon (jobs). They are giving to others without an expectation of a quid pro quo return on the investment by creating connections for themselves and others, and giving people gifts of information, support, help, opportunities to promote themselves, and small tangible gifts when appropriate. The attitude is different. The mindset is different. And the result is a series of in-person vetting meetings (breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee) with key people who size up the candidate and report back to the workplace or notify other people in the industry who might like to meet this person. Emotional intelligence is very important in this process.

Part of emotional intelligence is realizing that it is likely to be offensive if you ask for an insider advantage without having a relationship that supports an endorsement. Endorsements are the result of personal knowledge and they usually have to be developed in person. The best endorsement is one where the person knows you, likes you, knows your work and work ethic, knows someone inside the workplace, and is happy to vouch for you. But even if the person only knows you and likes you, and knows someone inside the workplace and is happy to vouch for you, that more limited endorsement can still be very helpful for a jobseeker who would like to be invited in for an interview or a vetting meeting with a key person or people connected to the workplace.

I have seen good networkers create opportunities through this process of rapid relationship building that have led to endorsements behind the scenes at the workplaces that resulted in job offers. Those doors would not have been opened if that jobseeker had used a direct assault without an authentic personal connection.