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Networking & direct approaches

Developing contacts, a personal network and making direct approaches

Developing contacts, a personal network and making direct approaches

Contacts and developing a personal network

Many 50+ jobseekers will have been developing their personal networks for a good many years. Now is the time for them to use their networks, but you may find that when you mention networking you are told:

  • “I really don’t know anyone useful”
  • “I’ve tried those I know but they’re all looking, like me”
  • “I don’t like appearing needy”.
This seems to be especially true of men, most of whom want to be seen as independent and able to look after themselves; women generally seem to be far more natural networkers.

If your customer is going to go after the ‘hidden job market’, the jobs that never get to be advertised or placed with an agency, then one of the main supports they will have is their network. Job studies in the past have shown that for vacancies in any sector or at any level, at least 25 per cent are obtained through contacts. Even in the public sector, angled adverts that appear for a very short time can ensure that only the contacted applicant gets a real chance.

If your customers have access to peer group support such as job clubs, this can be a good forum in which to focus on networking techniques. Ask any group of 50+ jobseekers if they have ever got a job through a contact, and it would be an abnormal group that had no-one. So strongly encourage your customer to spend time developing their network. Here are some suggestions on how you can help them.

Developing a personal network

Encourage your customer to use the phone, rather than write or email, and, if possible, arrange to meet the person for a short while, for a coffee or a drink or at their place of work.

If they say they don’t know anyone, challenge it. How many people did they know at school, at college, in their first job, second job? What about relatives, friends, neighbours, sports clubs, social clubs, churches they went to? Are they on – try it! Even people they met on courses or at social events are all contacts.

When your customer says, “But I don’t have any contact with people from my old school”, ask them if they can remember someone, because the chances are that person knows at least one other.

And when they say, “It’s years since I saw them. It’s too long ago”, get them to try the telephone test. If the telephone rang, and it was this long-ago friend, how would they respond? If it’s along the lines of, “Hello, how are you? It must be ages since we saw each other. What are you doing now?”, then the long-lost contact will probably respond the same way if they call.

What they are after from their contact is not a job! It’s help, advice, suggestions. Often, if they get a job through a contact, it will be through someone that contact introduces them to, and sometimes even further down the line.

Get them to think about the ‘hooks’ they are going to use:
  • I was talking to Anne and she suggested I give you a call because …
  • I was looking at some old photographs of when we were all together at …
  • I’m making a change of career and thought I’d give you a call because you always seemed to know someone who could help
  • I remembered that you were an expert on ... , and wanted some advice ...
  • I’m thinking of getting a job in a warehouse, and as you’ve spent many years in that area, I wanted to get your angle on things
The important thing is that you encourage your customer to try this approach. They might even find it enjoyable. These case studies illustrate how people used their personal contacts to find a job.
Case study 1: Reading Job Club
James is in his early 50s and lost his job as Head of Logistics and Supply Chain at the end of 2008. He had redundancy insurance and initially was not too concerned about finding a job, and did very little job searching for the first few months. However by the time he joined Reading Job Club in September 2009 he was starting to get a bit desperate. He was mainly scanning the internet, and contacting recruitment agencies and while he was getting the occasional interview, and even two with the companies themselves, never managed to win through.

After discussing the 'hidden job market', he was encouraged to make use of his quite wide range of contacts, and in particular to find reasons to 'keep in touch'. It was suggested sending Christmas Cards to contacts, and he 'carded' his network. This led to a meeting in February and a job offer in April.
Case study 2: Milton Keynes Employment Service
After 44 years of unbroken employment as a mechanic, Graham Sibbert, aged 64, had been made redundant three times since the recession hit, with garages and motor manufacturers being among the first casualties. To make matters worse, when he lost his third job, Graham also knew his time was up in the commercial vehicle trade: "It's very physically demanding and there's a time limit to what your body will take."

So, he not only needed to find a new job in a recession, but also take a new direction in his mid 60s. "I felt my age was like a monkey on my shoulder and I was really lacking in self-confidence."

A one-to-one interview with Age UK near his home city of Milton Keynes, followed by a series of workshops to improve his job searching skills, gave Graham new self-belief. He says: "I realised that, far from being a
disadvantage, age is actually a measure of someone's knowledge, experience and reliability."

One of Graham's workshops was about ‘networking', using everyday contacts to seek out job opportunities. So he mentioned he was looking for a new job to a rep for an accident management business, which was dealing with damage to Graham's motorbike, and learned that the company needed pick-up and delivery drivers. "I now have a job I really enjoy, which also means I get to ride some great bikes," he said.
Case Study 3: The Foundation for Job Seekers
Grant's role as a software development manager was made redundant in early 2010, when he was in his late 40s. He decided to take six months off to travel and pursue his interests in rowing and sailing, returning in September 2010. He then started to make internet based applications and used a number of IT focused recruitment agencies, expecting to find it hard, but not impossible to secure his next role.

Grant was immediately dismayed by how few interviews he secured, and discussed the issue at one of The Foundation for Jobseekers executive job clubs, which he had started to attend after being referred by a friend. He considered the possibility of looking for a job at a lower level, but discounted this approach because it was important to his self-esteem and family circumstances to find work at the same level, or better, and he had adequate funds to allow him to look for work over the medium term.

The advice from the volunteer advisers at the job club was unanimous - if Grant wanted to find work quickly, he shouldn't discount looking for work at a lower level, although the approach carried no guarantee of success. However, to secure work at a similar level, the bulk of his efforts should be spent on networking and targeting companies where he believed his skills would be compelling.

He should start by minutely reviewing how he was spending his jobseeking time, an exercise which revealed that Grant was spending a mere 10 per cent of it on networking.

The hurdle Grant needed to overcome was his view that advertised roles were real and immediate and that networking did not guarantee results. However, what convinced Grant to try a different approach was the number of job club attendees and volunteers alike who could point to a wide range of individuals who had achieved their next role through networking.The statistics indicate that only 47 per cent of vacancies are either advertised or appear with recruitment agencies, leaving the remaining 53 per cent to be found by the networker.
The volunteer adviser reminded Grant that there was no suggestion that he should abandon using agencies and the internet, but that they should only account for half his activity.

The volunteer adviser gave Grant some practical networking advice - he should adopt a simple strategy which would involve developing his existing LinkedIn profile immediately, starting with broadening his connections base. He should then join LinkedIn groups focused on his areas of professional interest, take part in online discussions, and update the recommendations on his profile.

At one of the group presentations covering networking, Grant saw the value in joining other networking groups which had face-to-face elements, such as Chamber of Commerce networking meetings and going to trade fairs associated with his work.

It was also pointed out that family and friends should be part of anyone's jobsearch network.
Grant became more positive as a result of embarking on networking approaches in a consistent way. He was talking to people again rather than looking at a screen.

In discussions, Grant could see that building his network of contacts was not difficult. He was advised to contact previous customers, previous suppliers and previous competitors. He followed the volunteer adviser's suggestion that he should try to use the telephone as much as possible, contacting managers and reports from his two previous roles. The volunteer advisers and jobseekers all agreed that phone calls would be more likely to bring about a meeting than leaving all the communication to emails. 

The volunteer adviser had seen some managerial jobseekers succeed through carefully researched and highly targeted direct approach letters, perhaps one a week. Grant was advised to send a letter rather than an email, because these are often opened and considered by the "target", whereas an email from an unknown individual may be ignored.

When Grant started to secure interviews, his volunteer adviser suggested that he should focus on explaining how all his transferable skills would work well for the new employer. "This is what I've done..........and this is how the experience applies to you.......... because in your case I can..........." Grant also needed to articulate why he was the best fit for the role.

The process took almost six months, but Grant achieved his goal - a role as chief architect, software engineering, via a networking contact he had approached who had managed him in the job before last. Grant is very pleased, although he would have given careful consideration to a role with less status, responsibility and pay, if that had been easier to achieve.

He felt that his volunteer adviser and the other jobseekers had played a key role in encouraging him not to give up and in helping him to maintain the positive frame of mind essential to any chance of success over a long period. He had also been careful to develop other interests to stay positive: learning a language and keeping fit.


Direct approaches

As part of their proactive approach to the job market, 50+ jobseekers need to make direct (speculative) approaches to companies.

Share your knowledge with the customer about proactive job search, and that sometimes this may be the only way to get into companies who are not currently advertising, or who use an agency to recruit.
You should emphasise the importance of research. Targeted job applications have a greater chance of success in today’s jobs market.

A more general approach where the customer contacts a wide range of companies in a particular sector or locality, with a letter that specifies the skills and experience the person is offering, is one possibility, but in a tight jobs market this is unlikely to get the attention it deserves. So recommending a more targeted approach, with a hook that will get the attention of the reader is far more likely to be successful.

That said, advise the customer that the response rate could be less than 10 per cent, but that the approach is still well worth taking.

And it is possible for your customers to turn direct approaches into contacts by this process.
The Process
  • Research companies to approach. If seeking hourly-paid/contract work get your customer to use their local knowledge to visit companies to see if they have any work, or are likely to in the future. If they are white collar or professional, suggest they use the Kompass business directory (most large libraries have copies) or the web to seek out the companies that offer the service or sell the product in which they have experience. This takes time.
  • Your customer should then research the individual organisation, to find out who would be the best person to write to (ideally the person to whom they would report). Does the organisation have any problems, needs, challenges, or opportunities they could help with?
  • Your customer should write a letter to the person in the company that they have identified, along the lines of: “I notice that …… and this is an area in which I have specific experience. At XXX I …… I would value the chance to meet you and discuss this in more detail, if you feel it could be of help to you.” They should keep the letter quite brief, enclose a short CV if relevant. The CV should support the letter fully, and be tailored to meet the circumstances. Please see this example of a direct approach letter (downloads in new tab or window).
  • Ideally the company phones your customer and fixes a meeting, but if not, then they must follow up the approach asking to speak to the person to whom they wrote. Then they must talk with whoever deals with the phone-call, because they are unlikely to get through to the senior person that they wrote to: “I wondered if my letter might have been passed on to someone else?” They should then try and develop the conversation from there, finding out if there is anyone else they might speak to, whether the situation might change etc.
  • They should get the name of the person they are speaking to: “Thank you, you’ve been most helpful, may I just ask who I have been speaking to?” because he or she is now a new contact they can use, and next time they can phone and use their name rather than write.
This case study illustrates how one jobseeker found work through using a targeted approach.
Case Study 1 Direct Approaches
Donald (aged 52) had held senior marketing positions in the AA, and before that the RAC. He joined the job club shortly after being made redundant and initially attempted to get a job through agencies he had worked with successfully in the past. He also approached old colleagues and friends in looking for a job in his 'industry' and tried to get into previous competitors such as Direct Line and Green Flag. He drew up a good senior marketing CV and felt that he had much to offer as a Marketing specialist, and put himself forward for senior marketing roles in a variety of sectors. In the first six months, he obtained only three interviews, although he applied for over 100 jobs mainly advertised on the internet.

Initially he had rejected trying direct approaches, not believing that they worked, but after discussing using general and targeted approaches, he felt a carefully targeted approach was worth trying.

In an email, he wrote: "I started to use my contacts to a limited degree and also researched specific markets on the internet. As a result I sent 14 direct approach letters – all quite targeted, six very specific. Response was fantastic – five of the six companies contacted me. One was looking for people at a more junior level than I wanted to operate and one was very interested in my CV but was undergoing a re-organisation and needed to defer any action. I had meetings with the other three, and a second meeting with two of these to date. One is still live, and may result in a second meeting too.

Of these last two I have sent proposals for consultancy work to one and still await a response. The other has offered me a job which I have accepted."

He attributed his success to the extensive research that he had carried out on the internet, where he spent time identifying companies that had an extensive customer base to which they were selling a single product occasionally. He believed that he had the skills to sell other allied products or services to that customer base. Initially he sent a letter to a named person, normally the chief executive, but also followed up all his approaches on the phone, asking for a short meeting.
This case study shows how another jobseeker found a job after changing his CV and making speculative approaches to companies who were recruiting.
Case Study 2: Direct Approaches (Owen)
Pete had been unemployed for two years before joining the Older Workers Employment Network (OWEN) project. He has worked as a mill manager in a textile business and had taken a few casual jobs but really wanted something more permanent. He particularly liked the sound of Portable Appliance Testing (PAT).
At his first one-to-one session with an adviser Pete seemed pretty confident about his CV, but wondered why it wasn’t working for him as he simply wasn’t getting interviews.

The important thing was to get Pete’s CV sorted out so we invited him onto our in-house CV and interview technique workshop. This gave Pete the chance to focus on his CV and get some really good practical advice about how it could be improved on. It was still tailored to the textile industry, not surprising as he’d worked in that sector for such a long time, but it wasn’t working for him as the jobs he was after had no obvious link to job of a mill manager.

It’s really common with more mature job seekers that they have lots of really good experience and skills, but just can’t match them to the jobs they are applying for. For some this is about a lack of confidence....they just don’t think they have many skills, for others it is just a lack of ability to do what we advisers do all the time: tease out transferable skills and match them to suitable jobs. So on taking the advice of his adviser, Pete:
  • Changed his CV, adding in transferable skills that were relevant to the job he was applying for (and a lot of information was omitted from his original CV!).
  • Reduced the amount of information sent to potential employers after we emphasised the importance of knowing when enough is enough and to not bombard an employer with too much information about yourself.
  • Sent his CV to companies speculatively, rather than waiting to see job opportunities advertised. Pete knew the kind of company he really wanted to work for, so sent his CV to these types of companies only. We often recommend to mature jobseekers that they apply to smaller companies as it seems that there are often less barriers about their age, perhaps this is because some of the people doing the interviews are over 50 too.
We also funded Pete’s PAT and Safety Passport course, as these were key qualifications he was going to have if he was going to stand a chance of getting a job as a PAT.

Success! Pete was recruited to a new job with local company CLM, who carry out PAT testing for organisations in East Yorkshire. On gaining employment, Pete said: “A big thank you to the team at OWEN, I don’t think I would have got this job without your help and encouragement. You made my CV work for me and encouraged me to apply speculatively to companies who were recruiting - it was this tactic that finally paid off.”
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Co-financed by the European Social Fund