We've all heard that whom you know is just as important as what you know. But what can you do when you've exhausted your inner circle and still don't have a job?
Branch out even farther. "If your immediate friends could help you, they absolutely would have already," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-author of "How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times" and partner at the career-coaching firm SixFigureStart in New York City.
Although seeking out and introducing yourself to friends of friends, acquaintances of colleagues or even complete strangers who might be potential job leads can seem daunting, the payoff can be worth the effort. Here, experts give tips on making the process more natural -- and hopefully more profitable.
Meeting new people
To meet friends of friends or acquaintances of colleagues, Janet Civitelli, workplace psychologist at VocationVillage.com, recommends asking people you know to invite you to events where all of you can connect. If that isn't possible, she suggests asking your friend or colleague if he can introduce you with an email or telephone call. "Help smooth the way by mentioning to the people you know what they can say about you and why you want to connect. For example, your friend or colleague could say, 'Tracy, I'd like you to meet Frank. Frank is a product marketing manager who just moved to Los Angeles from Boston. He has a great background in working with software startups.'"
In a similar vein, networking with strangers can be easier when you have a mutual connection to something. "Look for networking sources alumni, members of groups to which you belong, professional organizations where there may be natural common threads that can be used to start conversations," says Toni McLawhorn, director of career services at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.
"People help people that they know and are comfortable with, so you want to establish rapport," Ceniza-Levine says. "Your friend's referral is one way to establish rapport. But even with 100 percent strangers, you can establish rapport by demonstrating knowledge and interest in their industry, company and work."
She suggests researching and knowing about your target industry, company and job so that you can talk to people in their language about issues they care about. "They will then want to speak with you. Don't make the interaction about your search -- help them with information and insights as well."
Adds Civitelli: "When you first meet someone who is a stranger, focus on building a connection rather than asking for a job. Don't think of your interactions as high-pressure sales because an aggressive pitch can come across as forced and desperate. Being relaxed and conversational usually makes a better impression. The best networking allows you to become viewed as a colleague rather than as a job seeker. You'll be in people's minds when openings come up so that you are considered for current and future job prospects."
Another approach that is "softer" than directly asking someone to help you find a job is to request an informational interview. McLawhorn suggests telling the person that you are considering a career in her field and that you'd like to pick her brain about it -- what she likes, what she doesn't like, how she sees the field for the present and future. Then, be willing to meet the person at her convenience and respect the time limit she sets.
Getting over fear
Finally, realize that many people are nervous when meeting someone new. While a common interest or acquaintance helps ease some jitters, accept that sometimes there might be lulls in conversation or interactions that just don't go as well as hoped.
Civitelli suggests taking a class or reading a book on small talk, noting that the skill is worth mastering not just for job searches but for a variety of situations. Likewise, learning beforehand about the person you're meeting or the event you're attending can help you prepare a few questions or topics to fall back on.
Above all, keep trying. You never know which connection is going to turn out to be the one that lands you where you want to be.