By Vickie Elmer
If your professional network is still the size of a seedling, you may need to cultivate connections from the mighty maple - also known as Mom, Dad, or Aunt Helen.
Tapping a wider network of professional contacts can advance your job hunt, especially for 20-somethings who are still figuring out their professional identities - or their job search strategies.
"In trying to leave no stone unturned, utilizing your parents' networks is really essential," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray Christmas, an outplacement and career advisory company. He often takes time for conversations with young adults referred by parents he's known for years.
Young adults who are reluctant to trade on their parents' professional contacts need to remember that their competition probably already has mined their parents' LinkedIn and Facebook circles. Half of teens in a Junior Achievement survey said they expected to use their parents' connections to land a summer job, more than any other method. Another survey by Millenial Branding and StudentAdvisor.com showed more than a third of college students say their parents serve as their mentor.
"They're not going to hire you because they know your Mom. It just gets you in the door," said Challenger. "They're going to hire you because of you....Once you've got the job, you're going to have to prove that they made a very good hire."
Here's some pointers:
Sometimes your best contacts may come through an aunt, cousin, or even your mother's best friend. Use extended family, even though your parents have the largest stake in your success, both because they probably helped pay for your college and because they are your parents, said Don Philabaum, author of The Unemployed Grad ... And What Parents Can Do About It.
Ask for some specific introductions, or names of people in companies or someone in human resources. Then have your parents or your aunt describe the contact, their career, expertise, and how long they've known each other. As you introduce yourself, Challenger suggests saying: "You know my Mom; she spoke well of you."
Ideally you will land a 20-minute face-to-face meeting with the person recommended. Make the chat about their company, how they got their latest job and what problems or needs they face. If the conversation is going really well and you like what you hear about their company, call up your courage and ask a difficult question, Challenger said: "I am interested in working here. What do you think? What would you recommend I do?... Look the person in the eye and it's a great question to ask."
When someone gives access to their network, "treat it very seriously," said Challenger; dress appropriately and follow up with a thank you note. Also where appropriate add those people to your LinkedIn or other professional circles.
Be sure to tell your parents how the meeting went; some may want to send their own appreciation.
"This is a collaborative effort," said Philabaum, who has run a company creating online alumni networks and now provides webinars and other career advice to university career centers. Set up regular meetings with your relative to discuss your search, ask questions, seek a second opinion - and even go to networking events together.
You'll make your maple, AKA Mom, proud.
Vickie Elmer lives a slash career as journalist / blogger / entrepreneur / coach – all with an emphasis on jobs, thriving, great choices and creativity. She writes about business, careers, management and change for the Washington Post, Fortune, and Quartz and blogs at WorkingKind.com on careers, kindness, and creativity. She's co-owner and chief scooper of a small social enterprise that gives teens work and customers joy. The mother of three independent children, Elmer has lived by the saying “Leap and the net will appear” for so long that nets now hang midair waiting for her next big project.