Finding opportunities: Networking & sourcing

Where do you begin your search? What's the best way to make it less overwhelming and more focused? How do you effectively compare or value one opportunity vs. another? What's the best way to effectively navigate your way through the whole ambiguous and arduous journey?

Finding the right job can be downright daunting, confusing, and even paralyzing. Figuring out where and how to start the whole process, putting yourself out there, and ensuring you’re focused on the right activities that will pay off—these are all key factors to ending up in a position that will help you realize success and happiness. There’s no right or wrong answer on all of this, but there are things that tend to work (or not). Included here is guidance to help you get the process underway and manage what can be an intimidating endeavor like a pro.

Reshaping your mindset

In her acclaimed book, Year of Yes, television powerhouse Shonda Rhimes talks about the power of saying yes, which comes down to putting yourself out there, trying new things, pushing your boundaries, creating opportunities to meet people, and ultimately seeing the world differently.

Doing this effectively can be a bit exhausting yet energizing and life-changing if done well. The process can also be a give-to-get one, requiring you to give up certain things (e.g., watching your favorite shows in your PJs) while getting something else (e.g., a new friend or a new skill). All that said, wrapping your head in a “Year of Yes” mindset is a key prerequisite to sourcing and landing the right job. It can organically create opportunities and enable you to see things that otherwise never would happen.

Forging new connections

Evidence shows that networking—i.e., getting leads from family, friends and/or colleagues—is the most effective way to find the right job. Stats say that 70% or even as much as 80% of people ended up in their current position thanks to people they’ve gotten to know just by putting themselves out there. Building on our point about achieving your “Year of Yes,” you’ll need to make small shifts in your choices in order to become a “master networker.”

Connections can come from unlikely places, so be sure to cast a wide net. If you’re not sure who to tap, go on LinkedIn and explore the connections of your friends and colleagues. Ask friends if you can talk to their parents. Reach out to old teachers or professors who might have advice. Forge valuable connections for others to open up the opportunity that they will do the same for you. Don’t be shy about asking for an introduction, even if the person you’re targeting isn’t hiring at the moment or maybe isn’t even directly involved with a company or job you want to pursue.

Informational interviews are a great way to grow your network, but you might have to kiss a few frogs, as the old saying goes, before you find your proverbial prince of a job. As you embark on that process of trial and error, make sure you’re extremely efficient (i.e., brief and focused) with people’s times. Ensure you’re organized, clear and crisp about what you’re looking to do and how you could add value to an organization or what your special thing might be. Follow up immediately—even after just a phone call that might be a favor from a connection—to thank them and clarify next steps, whether they be yours or theirs. Include something cool and tangible with your note that brings to life who you are and what you can do, providing a leave-behind in the form of a portfolio or some other great-looking, smart deliverable that they can forward to someone else and help you spread the word. Email is great because it can be done quickly and allow for hyperlinking or attaching anything relevant as part of the follow-up. Meanwhile, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned hand-written note to convey the strength and depth of your personal brand and make you memorable. Consider doing both because when it comes to being grateful and considerate, it’s hard to go overboard.

Understanding the market

Beyond connections, online sites can be valuable sources. Ladders, Indeed, and LinkedIn are probably the three most well-known and well-respected for an array of professions. It’s critical to use sites that have a critical mass of opportunities for your profession so you can maximize your choices.

While these kinds of sites might surface a great opportunity, they might be more valuable as a market analysis database. More specifically, they can provide a convenient way of understanding what’s out there, or the types of roles and titles that are available, which firms are hiring, what the compensation ranges are for various positions. They might also give you a good sense of what kinds of roles seem like a bad fit for one reason or another.

As your networking and online research produce options and ideas for you, ensure you’re organized around them, creating a database of ideas, companies, and contacts that you can track like a to-do list. To help provide a starting point for how this might work, we’ve created the Opportunity Tracker in Google Sheets that you can save as your own and build out over time to keep track of your options, who you’ve reached out to and when you connected, and the status and next steps of a particular opportunity. To save the Opportunity Tracker, just tap “File” and then select “Make a copy”.

Narrowing your funnel

Like dating and real estate sites, these job boards can be completely overwhelming and end up being a massively unproductive time suck if you’re not careful. Think of this process as a funnel where you might start with a broader universe of options that you’re aiming to quickly narrow as you learn about what might work or not based on your priorities. Is there a particular company you want to work for and just want to get into it regardless of the role and then evolve from there? Or, is there a particular role you really want to find to gain a specific set of skills and experience that will require being flexible about the company you choose to join? To help you net out your priorities and what sort of trade-offs you’re willing to make, we created the Job Navigator, which features a set of tools to help you define what matters.

Once you get a sense of the job market or broader landscape through the bigger sites while also completing your Job Navigator scorecard, connecting with a recruiter can be beneficial for a host of reasons. Staffing/search firms typically have business partnerships with an array of companies, making them effectively “insiders” within a given market space. As a result, they know the players so they’ll be able to tell you which organizations are good and which are bad, the way things are done or not done, and a myriad of other valuable insights that you may not otherwise be able to access.

Another benefit of working with a recruiter is that he/she can make your process less labor intensive. Once you brief them on the parameters of your job search (desired salary, title, benefits, etc.), they are off working for you and short-cutting the process, looking for opportunities that match your requirements and helping you move into the narrower part of your funnel. Ultimately, when the recruiter identifies opportunities that fit your criteria, they’ll advocate for you with the employer, thus allowing you to skip a lot of the red tape that normally comes along with a job search. They’ll also often handle salary negotiation and expectations around roles and responsibilities before you even go into an interview.  

Even if you go this route to focus your efforts and off-load some of the work, we recommend leveraging all of the tools provided through the Job Navigator to ensure you own the process vs. letting it own you.

Getting your foot in the door

Another major step to consider is how to approach key contacts once you’ve found a company and/or a position you want to pursue. Many people wonder whether it makes more sense to go through the traditional process led by HR to be considered for a job and get an interview or whether it’s best to bypass the process and go straight to the ultimate decision maker.

Trying to get past gatekeepers—particularly talent acquisition and HR personnel—to go directly to managers can be a bit of a gamble and you never know if the result will be positive or negative until it’s too late. Some managers consider this to be a genius move and appreciate the candidate’s interest and drive, often viewing it as a positive testament to their work ethic and entrepreneurialism. Alternatively, other managers might be annoyed by the fact that you’re choosing not to follow the process, questioning your ability to follow directions and operate within the chain of command. If you have a good understanding of the company culture and the person you’re trying to target, we say go for it and take the risk. Contact both to express your interest, ensuring that you tailor your message uniquely to each based on what they are likely to care about the most.

Polishing your personal brand

Regardless of what channel you choose, the key point to consider is that this is a sales cycle and you are the “product.” That means you need to be prepared to be aggressive, anticipate and endure failure, proactively prospect your potential “customers,” be clear about your value proposition, and price and package yourself in a compelling way. All the world’s a stage and you’re definitely on it during this process, so ensure you keep yourself together in all aspects—in your communications, your tone in writing and phone conversations, your follow up and service level. These are all little-big things. Each of them might seem small and insignificant, but the sum of them is your complete puzzle and contributes to or detracts from the way you’re perceived by your target market. Even if you’re good at all the little-big things like writing and visuals, we recommend asking someone you trust to look over everything you send out just to double check that all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed while the tone and content are spot on.

Finally, make sure to check out Women at Work’s Mentor Marketplace. These experienced women are available to workshop your resume, dry run an interview, explore one career path vs. another, or even help you evaluate two or more opportunities you might have. Just explore the “Supply” of mentors to find those who look most relevant to the field and role you want to pursue and “buy” Office Hours (for free, of course!) with one or more of these amazing women who are willing and able to help.

Main takeaways  

  • Say “yes” more often than “no.” Opening yourself to meeting more people, learning new skills, and ultimately seeing the world differently is a key prerequisite to sourcing and landing the right job.
  • Expand your network. As much as 80% of jobs are never even listed because they’re filled internally or via networking. So don’t be shy about talking to family, friends, or even friends of friends.
  • Create systems to avoid getting overwhelmed. The Job Navigator is designed to help you narrow down your options and define what matters to you while the Opportunity Tracker will help you stay organized.

About Alexis


Alexis Harding is Women at Work’s resident HR expert. A long-time HR professional based in the Boston area, Alexis has rich experience in the HR departments of several large institutions over nearly two decades. She is here to engage with your questions about a range of topics that might be impacting your career and your overall success.


About Christina


Christina Van Houten is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since. She’s eager to help women find their way to the best possible life they can achieve.

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