By Liz Ryan
When I'm not writing career-advice columns, I lead an online discussion community. One day not long ago, we got a request that startled me. "I need to make some money," wrote the poster. "I don't care about the work so much, but I need to make $X and I need a job fast."
While I appreciated the job-seeker's candor, I can't say that his message was designed to enable his network to spring into action or to impress an employer.
No matter what kind of request we are making of our networks - our friends in three-dimensional space or our friends online - we need to keep in mind that the better we can prepare people to help us, the more help we will receive.
In the case of the candid job-seeker, the problem was that his message spoke about his need - the need for cash, specifically - while in no way whatsoever equipping the recipients to actually help the guy.
This is why, when you're job-seeking, it's terribly important to ask your friends and colleagues for specific things. "I need a job" is not an appropriate message for an email group, because it says "I haven't taken the four minutes that it would take me to specify to you the kinds of help that would be most useful for me right now."
That help could include an introduction to a person at a certain employer. It might be a recommendation to a headhunter who specializes in your functional area. It might be a referral to an upcoming job fair or a resume-writing service.
You could ask for almost anything - but it can't be a blanket cry for help in the form "I need a job." That message signals "I don't have time to give you a specific to-do item. You figure it out." Networkers call that sort of behavior 'burden-shifting,' and it's one of the principal reasons that people get turned off from networking.
Anything we write on a public platform such as an email discussion community is going to be seen and mostly likely passed on to others. I can't imagine that the phrase "I don't care about the work, but I need to make some cash" will make any employer's heart beat faster.
If one of us fellow email group members happened to know of an employer who was hiring, we couldn't possibly have forwarded the job-seeker's message along. I'm sure that our job-seeking colleague is a fine individual, but an employer wouldn't get any sense of that from the query that said "I don't care about the work, just the money."
That may be a perfectly normal human emotion - the one that says "I can do all sorts of things, I just need a job" but it's not a message that would entice any employer to speak further. There's a reason why we write to employers about our interest in their specific roles - not only to show that we're willing to expend some mental energy on acquiring a certain job, but also to show that we understand the built-in protocols associated with job-hunting.
If you really just want to make some cash, you can tend bar or wait tables. And even in that case, you'll have to find a way to say "I really love tending bar and waiting tables." Restauranteurs aren't different from other kinds of employers - they want people who want to be in that restaurant or behind that bar.
If you can't bother yourself to specify some jobs that you could perform (or have performed in the past) and why you'd be a great employee, why should anyone else bother spending three seconds focusing on your need
Most networkers have the view "Sure I will help you, but you have to do the work to tell me exactly what you need." If that is too much trouble, then you may have to solve that job-search puzzle all by yourself. So know what you want, and tell your network specifically what you need.
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn.