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Yep, asking your network for job-hunting help can sometimes feel awkward.

But did you know that experts say less than one in three jobs results from an online application? That one statistic alone should quickly vault “reaching out to my community of colleagues” to the top of your job-hunting tactics list.

In order to give your outreach efforts (and your contacts) the best chance of actually being able to help you find a job, however, it’s important to do some prep work first.

Do these three things first
Before you send that first e-mail or make that first phone call request, you need to:

Clarify for yourself exactly what type of work or job you’re looking for.  Be specific when defining your new-job goals. Be able to describe either a type of work or a job title or a set of responsibilities within a specific type of organization. Also be clear on what you aren’t interested in.

You want to be able to describe this to any colleague you reach out to for potential contacts or ideas about job openings. Nothing is more frustrating for someone who wants to be able to help, but has no idea where to start.

Identify the type of help you’re asking for.  Similar to being clear about what type of work you’re looking for, you want to be specific about what kind of help you need. This may sometimes even be a different “ask” for each person you connect with as you job hunt.

For example, you may ask for an informational interview with a former colleague to learn more about her employer. You may ask a fellow classmate to introduce you to his friend, the department manager at a company of interest. You may ask one of your connections on LinkedIn to virtually introduce you to a contact of interest in his or her network. Or you may ask a subset “community” within your network if they have any contacts within a certain segment of their industry you’re targeting.

The point is not to just ask for help, but to focus your request in ways that let people easily respond. In other words, you’re asking them to act on your behalf, rather than making them do the work of thinking about what might be useful.

Line out what you’ve already tried.  When you ask for help, you want to make every effort to avoid wasting people’s time. So in a sentence (two at most), be able to describe what efforts you’ve already made toward finding and/or landing your desired job. What research have you done, and what have your discovered? Who have you already reached out to, and with what results?

Again, the goal is to help your contact target his or her efforts as strategically and effectively as possible. If someone wants to help you, you want to make that as easy – and successful – for them as you can.

Then follow up with these two actions
Treat introductions like gold.
When you ask someone to reach out on your behalf, you’re asking them to put their professional reputations on the line for you. For better or worse, your behavior will reflect directly on them as your “champion.”

That places a tremendous responsibility on you to treat the individual you’re being introduced to with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. That means that you follow up immediately on every introduction, expressing your appreciation for the person’s willingness to share their time and insights with you. You concisely explain why you’re reaching out, including what you’ve done so far (remember, just a sentence or two). You then ask what would be the easiest way for you to discuss your question or request you’d like to pose – perhaps phone, e-mail, over coffee, etc. depending on the circumstances.

Circle back to both of your contacts with a thank-you note – and results. Of course you’ll thank both your original contact and the person you’re introduced to for their efforts on your behalf. But it’s also smart to follow up a bit later to let them know you’ve followed through on their introduction (or advice), and the results of your actions. For example, you can let your primary contact know that you’ve reached out to the person they introduced you to, and when you’ve got a call scheduled. Or you can let your new contact know that you took her advice, and the positive outcome resulting from her great suggestions.

Your goal is to let people know that you took their time and efforts seriously, you acted on their advice or introduction, and that you’re on standby to return the favor in any way you can in the coming months or years.

Invest yourself in your network before you need it
Almost all of us will be job hunting at some point in our careers, and in fact, it might be at many points. If we’re fortunate, many colleagues will reach out to us over the years to help them with informational interviews, connections, and job-hunting ideas. That’s one of the extraordinary values of a network you’ve nurtured – you can help others at least as often as you need to ask for help.

But the key word here is nurture.

There’s a huge difference between using people for your own benefit versus sharing needs and benefits with others over the course of a career lifetime. That difference is based on actually caring about the well-being of those in your community of colleagues and connections. So start investing yourself now in helping others as you can. The day will come when you’ll be job hunting, and when it does, you’ll have a caring community in your corner just waiting to help out.