Several years ago, a subordinate of mine set his sights on becoming the next aide-de-camp for our commanding general. I advised him to speak to the Chief of Staff, who bluntly told him that he would not be considered for the position. Undismayed, he put in place a plan of action. He would arrange “convenient” opportunities to engage the general: wait for him in the gym at 5:00 a.m., show up at meetings for which he had no reason to attend, find excuses to visit his quarters after hours, and even email the general directly. Still, he got no response. He was ghosted.
Most of us have been there at some point, when that dream job seems within reach, but you just can’t seem to grab the brass ring. While perseverance typically pays off in time, there are times when we just can’t land that job. For reasons we never quite grasp, no one answers the email, picks up the phone, or otherwise responds to our queries.
There are any number of reasons why this happens. For some, it’s a lack of self-awareness – your “brand image” is not what you think it is. The people you hope will extend an offer to you see you differently than you see yourself – and generally not in a positive light. In other cases, the individual making the selection already has someone in mind, and that “someone” is not you. There are those times when you just don’t make a compelling case – you’re either easily ignored or easily overlooked, and sometimes both. It might also be bad timing, mediocre networking, or simply a change in priorities. Regardless of the reason, you don’t get the response you hoped for. In most cases, you get no answer at all.
Being ghosted doesn’t have to become a habit, however. It might not feel good, but you have more control than you might think. If you want to be a first-round draft choice, you have to make yourself a first-round draft choice. If you want to be the first person who comes to mind when a key position opens, you have to do the things that posture yourself for those opportunities. This starts with honest self-reflection: leverage your strengths, address your shortfalls, and be sure that you are someone whose name is associated with quality. In most cases, those are the “easy button” tasks. The hard work comes in separating yourself from the crowd.
Build a network
Most jobs today are filled through effective networking – and relationship-building is the foundation of a good network. It takes time, effort, and a lot of social and emotional intelligence. If you want that dream job, you need to have a network strong enough to give you the boost you need to achieve your goals. Without that network, you’re relegated to (at best) a 15% chance to land that job, which means you won’t even be considered.
Leverage your network
Systems theory is not the most exciting subject to study, but it will help you to understand and visualize your network. Donella Meadows’s book, Thinking in Systems, is an invaluable tool for helping you better understand the power and accessibility of a network. Once you have a firm grasp of the human nodes and links within your personal network, you can more easily “tap” its inherent capacity. The human capital within your network can do more to raise your profile than you can accomplish on your own. Put it to work for you.
Make the connection
Once you’ve succeeded in making the initial connection required to compete for that dream job, “lock it down.” Connect on social networks, engage via Twitter, build the relationship. Whatever you do, be sure to keep it professional. Nothing sours a connection faster than making it personal before it’s time. Be thoughtful when you engage, concise when you communicate, and respectful at all times. Allow time for this connection to mature and evolve; it could be the difference you’re hoping for.
Land the job
Your big moment has arrived. You know the job is available, you just need to land it. Reach out, make your intent known. Engage with thoughtful reasoning that demonstrates your ability to contribute measurably from the outset. State your case in convincing terms and engage with timely follow-up (and not in a creepy way like waiting in the dark in the gym). If you’ve done your homework, there’s a good chance you’ll land that job.
The key to all of this, of course, is relationships. The best networkers are sincere about building and maintaining personal connections with people. If you’ve ever used the words “managing relationships” when discussing your network, you’re likely someone who will one day wake up without a supporting network. The relationships that comprise a network are personal and can’t be treated as mundane household chores. Embrace your network, put your heart into it, and it will do things for you that you cannot begin to imagine. And it won’t ghost you.