Q: I am a former CEO. Earlier this year I left my role voluntarily. When I was a CEO, I was working and traveling and had no time with my family. I took a few months off to re-assess my priorities and spend time with my family. I am now searching for a new role. I am stunned by so many contacts who don’t have time for a cup of coffee or meeting for lunch. I am both hurt and puzzled. Is this a common experience?
A: You are doing many things right. First, you took some time to spend time with your family and re-assess. Then you began networking. Networking is still the most powerful job-hunting tool. Realize though that while your full-time role is networking, others are working and busy. And they too value their personal time with family and friends.
Here are some tips:
- In the world of networking, it is helpful to have a “bridge” or a “link” to the person. Perhaps it is a common colleague or a common experience. Mention this connection in your email when making your request. As an example, “Sam, I was hoping we could connect so I could better learn about you started your consulting firm. Mary shared your contact information with me and said you would likely be able to share a bit about your journey with me.”
- Make it easy for the person. Don’t ask them to come to a coffee shop in your hometown and pay for parking to meet you at your favorite location. Offer to travel to them, at their desired time and location. And speaking of coffee, pay for your coffee and theirs. I have traveled miles to meet with job hunters, enjoyed a two-hour lunch talking about their career and then when the bill arrives, they will start with the “You had the chicken salad sandwich and I just had the garden salad, so you owe $16 and I will pay my $8.” No, no, no. Honestly, sometimes I feel like sending them a bill after the two hours! That behavior changes the whole dynamic and I feel less inclined to help them.
- Accept an offer of a call. I used to meet contacts face-to-face almost all the time. I was spending a lot of time in the car and then would return to my laptop that night to do my “regular job.” Whereas, if I schedule three networking calls in a day, I can still focus on my revenue-producing work.
- Don’t just network when you need a job. Smart candidates network when they are employed and when they unemployed.
- When you land a new role, be open to a coffee, lunch or call with someone who is networking. It is easy to get caught up in the “I am too busy mode.” To me that is an excuse. Most working professionals lead busy lives.
- Be reasonable. It is ok to ask for feedback on a resume. It is ok to ask for a 20-minute call. It is not ok to ask me (or anyone else) to write your resume. It is not ok to assume I can meet you on your day off mid-day for lunch.
- Thank them! Send a quick email thanking the person for their time after the call, coffee or lunch. This is important! Those with good manners stand out! Poor manners are memorable (and not in a good way!).
Finally, it is not uncommon for a former senior leader to struggle with re-establishing themselves and getting others to respond. Your vendors were most likely super responsive to you when you are CEO, because you were the CEO. Now they are likely trying to develop a relationship with your replacement. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to them. Most will respond. Some may not. Move on and invest your time in building your professional network with those interested in maintaining a professional connection.