Career Column: How Hard To Push For Referrals?

By Dave Opton

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Executive career advice from Dave Opton, founder of ExecuNet.

Dear Dave:

A couple of years ago I was on top of the world as CIO of a dot-com start-up. Today, it seems that no one will return my calls. I've been given good leads from my personal network but I'm finding that my voicemail messages are not returned. Before I give up on trying, do you have any suggestions?

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Patrick G.


Making networking calls to strangers is a dreaded experience for most of us, but their role in revealing unadvertised positions and key industry contacts makes them vital to a proactive career management strategy.

Success in telephone networking lies in becoming comfortable and skilled enough to capture the contact's interest. To give yourself the best chance to achieve this, you must be clear, concise, and well prepared. If after leaving three messages you don't hear from the contact, try writing a short letter that leads with a reference to your mutual friend.

Don't keep calling because this not only makes you feel uncomfortable and frustrated but also depreciates your value. However, you might try calling your friend who gave you the referral, explaining the lack of response and requesting some intervention.

If you don't succeed after trying several different methods of contact -- let it go. Your time is too valuable to waste on this referral. Don't become upset by a lack of response or brusque people that you do reach. This is not an uncommon experience and you shouldn't let it get you down.

It's also important to manage your networking expectations -- keep in mind that for every pleasant and helpful contact, you will probably encounter many no responses or people that are unwilling to help. Focus on reaching the helpers and leave the others behind.

I hope this helps!


Dave Opton is CEO and founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. Questions can be sent to Dave at deardave@execunet.com, he can't answer each individually but look for yours in an upcoming column.