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Nowadays, the reality is that the majority of executive roles are appointed because someone has been referred to either a head-hunter or an employer directly.

Whether you’re considering moving on to a new executive role or you’re actively looking for an opportunity, the most important thing you can do is leverage the power of your network.

In this article, Executive Interview Coaching founder Richard Elstone explains how to activate your network to find your next executive opportunity.

Step 1: Export your LinkedIn contacts

The first step is to work out who exactly is in your network. LinkedIn is the world’s biggest professional networking and careers development platform, so it’s a good place to start.

Review your LinkedIn network and make sure you’re connected to everyone you have worked with previously.

Next, download your contacts. You can find tips for exporting LinkedIn 1st-degree connections here.

Step 2: Divide and conquer

Richard suggests dividing your contacts into three groups: A, B and C.

Use an Excel spreadsheet (or a similar data storage tool) to keep track of the people in each group.

Make note of how you met each contact and where they are now.

Group A

These are people you have worked with or for previously whom you are 100% confident will refer you to an opportunity, regardless of whether you are looking or not.

Generally, they’ll not only refer you, they’ll also be your referees as well.

You’ll likely have 8-10 of these kinds of people in your network.

“It might sound counterintuitive, but you actually don’t need to worry too much about your Group As,” said Richard.

Group B

These are people with whom you have a solid professional history who know you well.

If they knew you were looking for an executive opportunity, you’re confident they would refer you.

You might have 20-25 of these kinds of people in your network.

Group C

Again, these people will have worked with you and know you quite well.

However, you’re not sure whether your name would spring to mind if an executive opportunity came up.

You might have 50+ of these kinds of people in your network.

Step 3: Start activating your network

Now that you have everyone organised in your spreadsheet, it’s time to activate those in Group B. Here’s how:

1. Lock in a coffee catch-up or virtual get-together 2. Show interest in their role 3. Ask for their advice 4. Close by requesting a referral 5. Keep track of your conversation in your spreadsheet

Locking in your catch-up

When it comes to inviting someone for a catch-up, Richard said it’s important to be strategic in your approach. “Say you’d love to catch up and find out what they’re doing in their role,” said Richard. “People love giving advice, so explain that you’re at a crossroads and you want to ask for their advice.”

When locking in a time for your get-together, Richard said to keep control of the conversation. “Say you ring someone on a Monday and they say to call back on the Friday,” said Richard. “Ask them if you don’t hear back from them on the Friday, can you follow up on Monday? That way you retain control.”

Hint: You can give the person a subtle reminder to call you back by dropping on to their LinkedIn profile. “The person will know you’ve looked at their profile and it may be enough for them to call you back,” said Richard.

Drive the conversation

The first 20 minutes of a half-hour catch-up should be all about them. Ask lots of questions about everything from how the family is doing to their work.

In the last 10 minutes, navigate the conversation back to you. Tell them where you are at in your current role and ask for their advice about what they think you should do next.

“Whatever you do, do not ask them for a job – you’re simply looking for some advice,” said Richard. “What you’re really doing is activating your network, so that if they hear of an opportunity, you’ll be front of mind.”

At the end of the catch-up, ask for a couple of referrals. “Your network will dry up pretty quickly if you don’t ask them for any referrals,” said Richard. “To do this effectively, ask them whether there are a couple of people they think you should speak to. Always ask for two, in the hope you get one.”

Step 4: Repeat

Reach out to anyone who is referred to you and follow a similar process as above.

1. Lock in a coffee catch-up or virtual get-together 2. Explain who has referred you and reminisce over the shared contact 3. Show interest in their role 4. Ask for their advice 5. Close by requesting a referral 6. Keep track of your conversation in your spreadsheet

If you run out of contacts from Group B, start to tackle the Group Cs. “You might be surprised that some of your Cs are in fact the ones who will refer you to a role first,” said Richard.

And there you have it. That’s how you build and activate your network.

So, after reading this – is your next opportunity going to come from a search consultant? Probably not. It’s going to come from your network.

“People like to employ people they know or those who are referred by people they trust. You’re more likely to get a job via your network than you will any other way, even if that is ultimately through a search consultant as well.”


Executive Interview Coaching offers a range of services to help you secure your next executive role, including advice about how to effectively leverage your network. By activating your network, you may even tap into opportunities before they’re advertised, so it’s definitely worthwhile.

Get in touch today to find out more!


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