When you’re a job seeker and in the midst of networking, it’s a great idea to help people help you. They want to help, but no one is capable of being omniscient. They need to know how best to help you out. So you have a small job to do along the way, and there is one phrase whose absence will go a long, long way towards accomplishing that.

“If you know of anything, please let me know.”

Chances are, we’ve all heard that said a time or two. It’s even possible we have uttered that phrase; networking does not come naturally to most people, and those of us who get to be pretty good at it often have a lot of hard-won experience. We’ve been through a lot of growing pains to get this far. But this phrase almost guarantees that the person will never be able to help you, much as they would like to. It makes their job too hard, and they already have a lot on their plate.

There are two main problems with this.

The first problem is that such a general ask means a person could recommend many things, but they might not help at all. They might recommend an employer that you want no part of for one reason or another (including one you worked for and have no intention of returning, in the event they know nothing of your prior history). They might recommend an employer with a terrible reputation for reasons they may not be aware of. They might point you to an employer at which you would simply not fit. Or they might lead you to an employer that is too big or small for your liking, or where your skills and experience will not translate well.

None of those are helpful.

The second problem carries one (very logical) assumption: that this phrase is relayed to a person who is currently employed. A person with a job is almost certainly not actively seeking another job, so they are not hunting for job leads, where they might find something that could be a fit for you along the way. They might get contacted by recruiters or passively come across a lead here or there, but chances are what they see is a tiny percentage of what is out there.

Even in the case of someone who is actively looking to leave their current employer, they are probably not scouring for openings – they are probably networking for that job, dealing with recruiters, or have a few well-placed target companies they are pursuing. They would not be approaching this the same way they would if they were out of a job at the moment.

You get the idea. This person’s normal activities are highly unlikely to place them in a position to be of much help to you.

Instead, make their job easier and put them in a position to be more likely to be able to help you.

First, have some target companies, or even industries – though companies are far better because of the narrower scope. Think of companies you have long wanted to work for, or whose product you really like, or have some other draw for you. If you don’t have any right away, find them by doing some research.

With this, a person can think of who they know at one of those companies, or who might know someone there. Or they might think of a competitor or company in the same general industry where they know someone.

Second, make sure the person knows how geography comes into play. Make sure they know where home is for you and where you are willing to commute. That also helps prevent the first problem – recommending a company that doesn’t work – from showing up in this respect. No one would want to recommend a company inside the Beltway in Maryland to someone who actually lives closer to Wilmington, Delaware, or a company south of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border to someone who lives in Manchester, New Hampshire.

If you are on the receiving end of this, there are still ways to help. You can recommend networking events or professional events and organizations, as well as sources of info that can help. It limits what you can do, but you are not out of options to help out.

Think about it: you wouldn’t make a request to a store employee along the lines of, “If you know of any good products, let me know.” Their chances of recommending something you really need and/or want is quite slim. You would likewise do well to not make a general appeal for help to someone in your job search as well. Help them help you.

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