Multiple Jewish sources teach us that mitzvah is associated with the word tzavta, i.e., connection. Tzavar, Hebrew for neck, has similar etymology—unsurprising, since it connects the head and the body, and tzevet denotes a team of people who are connected.
Below is the essence of a message I just composed to students about to start a new academic year at Yeshiva University. It’s about making connections and is widely applicable whether you are actively job searching right now or contemplating that the role you are in may not be the one you have for the rest of your life.
It’s no secret that rather than wade through a pile of resumes and cover letters, hiring managers seek referrals from their connections to fill vacancies. Some estimates suggest that over 80% of jobs are not publicly advertised and are simply filled through recommendations from individuals already employed at the company. Even when they are advertised, your resume has a low probability of being looked at unless you have a company insider advocating for you. Great resumes and cover letters will only get you so far. This is one reason why it is so important to make connections in industries and at companies that you may be interested in working for one day.
Here’s how you can use LinkedIn to develop these connections.
1. Schedule 20 minutes twice a week (I use my trusty Google Calendar for this) to grow your LinkedIn connections and leave brief comments (not just likes) on other people’s posts. Comments will help get you noticed and may spur some great discussions.
If you don’t yet have a profile—what are you waiting for?! LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over half a billion users and counting. It is the place to see and be seen. Use the first 20 minutes to build your profile.
2. For most fields there are dozens if not hundreds of affinity groups on LinkedIn. Some directly relate to job seekers/changers in that industry, so the discussions and posts in those groups may be especially valuable. I recommend joining two or three groups (more if you have interest in multiple industries). Consider adding one every few months that relates to your (desired) industry and be sure to periodically comment on posts or arrange a conversation with an author or commenter on one of the posts. (See below.)
3. For every 30 connections you make (by the way, it’s OK if a few of these are outside your immediate field of interest to diversify your base), reach out to at least three of them for a short conversation to learn more about their career path and industry. It’s rare to meet people who can’t make time for a conversation to help share their expertise; many enjoy this opportunity and will recall times when others did it for them. In Talmudic language this is known as “galgal hachozer” or, colloquially, “the wheel of fortune.” So don’t be shy to reach out. If you’re an introvert like me, the initial outreach may be challenging, but keep the end goal in mind and you’ll find your comfort level increasing with each conversation. Start with something simple like: “I am exploring careers in your industry. Your profile intrigued me because of X and I’d love a 20-minute conversation in the next week or so to learn more about your career path and any tips you may have for me…”
a) Do some homework as soon as you’ve scheduled a conversation: Research the company and industry so that you can maximize the meetings you have.
b) In the COVID era try to meet using a platform where you can see each other (Google Meet, Zoom, WhatsApp or similar) rather than a phone call, which will help make you more memorable.
c) Same as you’d send a note after an interview (when possible, consider a handwritten one to help you stand out), send one after these informational conversations/interviews to show that you appreciate the professional’s time.
d) Be sure to keep brief notes on the conversations—the more organized the better. This will help you nurture those connections down the road. You can keep a spreadsheet and make a note in the sheet or in your Google Calendar so you remember to follow up a month later to update them on your progress and/or send them something of value such as an article you recently saw that relates to the conversation you had. And add them to your (growing) list of people that you send a short greeting to during the holiday season (e.g., Chanukah/New Year) so that you keep yourself on their radar. You never know what opportunities or valuable new information comes their way down the road so it pays to keep in touch even if you end up pivoting your career/job search in a different direction.
A final note about connections. If you or someone you know is open to having a student shadow or intern (whether remotely or in person), let me know or make the connection for someone in your own circle. It’s increasingly hard to find opportunities for hands-on experience/observation, so making this connection for another is a true mitzvah.
Daniel Coleman, MBA, is a sought-after career coach, passionate about helping people identify their values, find meaning and achieve their career goals. At Yeshiva University, his primary focus is providing coaching, programming and resource development for the growing and diverse multiethnic graduate student population. A former motorcyclist, he’s also a registered organ donor, left-handed, and a patent holder. You can reach him on LinkedIn with questions or suggestions for future columns.