You know all about the power of networking, and you’re clear on the need to connect directly with hiring executives to speed up your job search. But here’s what you don’t know: how to get these busy folks to give you the time of day. We’ve compiled some helpful tips on how to get an executive to network with you.

“Forget the job boards; use your network,” goes pretty much all the advice you hear when you talk to others about your job search.

Although you may completely agree, the actual networking part can feel easier said than done as a job seeker. You can probably relate to the feeling of frustration when you hit “send” on a networking email and wait, and wait, and wait for a response (if it ever comes) from a senior leader.


Sadly, you can’t skip the networking part


Networking makes the difference

for 60-85%

of all jobs

Unfortunately, you can’t skip the networking part and expect to be successful in your job search. After all, estimates put networking as the key differentiator for 60% to 85% of all filled jobs.

Some jobs never get posted, and make up what we refer to as the “hidden job market.” Others get filled through employee referrals or through social media networks like LinkedIn. Still more jobs don’t currently exist in the first place, but get created for the right candidate who meets the right organization at the right time.

What you’ve been doing isn’t working

Without pulling some outrageous (and expensive) stunt like Brandon Fox recently did when he put up a giant highway billboard to market himself to executives, most people struggle to get the attention they need from the C-Suite. Typically, executives field way too many pressing work-related emails, and they don’t feel like they want to take the time away from other demands in order to help a stranger.

You’ve likely tried the typical job seeker moves, like cold-emailing, sending a snail mail letter, sending a LinkedIn InMail, and/or quickly looking on LinkedIn to see if you have a mutual connection. Those, undeniably, could result in a (minutely small) response rate, and might have worked quite well in the past.

We’ll assume you’re reading this because you’ve done all that, and you’re still not getting the response rate you want.

Here’s a revolutionary strategy: Find “The Third Door”

Alex Banayan, author of The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers, says that there’s always a way to get in front of busy people if you are creative and persistent about it.

The way he describes it uses the analogy of a top nightclub where everyone wants access. First, he says, there’s the line that 99% of people stand in, waiting to get in (like most job seekers do, using job boards). There’s a second door, the VIP entrance, where celebrities & top executives breeze by the main line and stroll on inside (the “rich uncle” connection some job seekers luck into).

And then there’s a third door, for brave and creative souls:

“It’s the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, climb over the dumpster, crack open the window, sneak through the kitchen—there’s always a way in.”

Alex Banayan

Use these alternate ideas to get an executive to network with you

You’ll need to think creatively about how to establish connections with busy executives who won’t return your emails. Here are some ideas to get you started thinking about how to connect:

  • Find them at a professional networking event. Look at their bios – where do they go professionally? What industry groups, events, etc. do they attend? Make a plan to attend and introduce yourself.
  • Research where they might be speaking or presenting. Are they slated to be on a panel, at a conference, or the like? Hint: do a Google search for keyword combinations like “John Smith” CompanyName speaker or “Mary Smart” CFO panelist to find out their upcoming speaking engagements.
  • Set up a Google news alert about them, so that if something pops up, you have some context to reach out (or to post the article on LinkedIn and mention them).
  • Run a Google or Bing search to find out ten things about them. What causes do they care about? What charity board are they on? Where do they volunteer? What schools did they attend? You may have a connection through any one of these alternate venues, instead of connecting through work.
  • Follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Everyone loves a follower! Plus, you’ll have the ability to comment on and/or share their posts, which will bring you to their attention.
  • Create your own gravitational pull. Post/curate great ideas from your industry and mention/tag fellow executives in it. Start a strategy or networking group for your industry. Write a white paper or thought leadership piece and circulate it on LinkedIn. Speak and/or volunteer at industry events.
  • Invite them to nominate others. Start (or join) an industry mentoring or awards group and ask them to nominate people on their team.
  • Be part of emerging thought in the industry. Participate in an incubator, investor pitch sessions, industry meet-ups, and/or thought leadership sessions.
  • Join the board of a professional association or nonprofit. Even if a particular executive isn’t in that association, you’re highly likely to find other highly-networked people who know him or her.
  • Find (and help) influencers. From recruiters, to bankers, lawyers, and industry-specific influencers, you’ll want to be helpful to people who’ll be willing to make connections for you. Send them leads or candidates (if truly helpful); promote their posts on LinkedIn; mention their work in thought leadership pieces or short form posts you write for LinkedIn.
  • Find other executives you know at customers of theirs. Execs may not want to take your call right away, but they’ll rarely turn down a request from a customer. Work your network to see if you can get a customer to introduce you to your target executive.
  • Mine your own memberships and associations. Are you a member of a church, club, board, charity, school committee, neighborhood association, alumni group, sports league (yours or your kids’), or anything else along those lines? You’re likely to find a superconnector – someone who seems to know everyone – in those settings who just might know the executive you’d like to meet.
  • Move in at an angle, not straight on. Connect to others who’ll in turn connect you. Follow other industry thought leaders on social media, and be visible within larger industry threads. Should your target executive comment, add a thoughtful comment in response and follow up with a connection request. Find other ways for third parties to introduce or connect you, so that you’re not conducting cold outreach.

Once you’ve made the connection through any one of these ideas (or your own creative solution), THEN you can follow up with an email, or LinkedIn connection request, or even snail mail for that matter. The idea is to come in to their work email as an industry networking contact and not a job seeker, whenever possible.


The right timing makes the difference

Even if you do get the attention from a busy executive, certain times work better than others to get the right response rate from your outreach.

For example, if the person works at a public company, the week before a quarterly investor call is not the right time to reach out. Nor is quarter-end for most leaders, or the Friday before a long weekend.

You can find some clues online, however. If you do follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter, what time are their updates? They’re more likely to be online at that point in future days and potentially receptive to outreach.

Early morning and later in the evening are also great times to reach out; you establish yourself as a go-getter at the same time you’re likely to reach them at a quiet moment.


Key Takeaway

As the saying goes, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always gotten.” Until now, you’ve likely sent emails and hoped for the best, without a strategic, alternative approach. The trouble is, without a response back from the executives you’re contacting, your job search will likely feel perpetually stalled.

If you want to crack the code to getting a response from a busy executive, you’ll need to use some creative persistence and be willing to “find the third door” by thinking outside the traditional inbox.