I’ve learned some shocking things in the professional world.
First, I learned that high performers know there is a hidden job market. This secret market is where a majority of the jobs are given away before they reach job boards.
And that’s the first difference between high performers and average performers: they know how the best get their jobs and they use it.
To get a little better at networking myself since I suck at it, I’ve been reaching out to people in person, at events, or through LinkedIn in genuine ways occasionally. It is a great way to develop yourself.
Having talked to dozens of people in the professional world who have great jobs, I was surprised to find that a lot of them admitted or emphasized the importance of knowing the right people. That would be the second thing top performers understand. Having the best skills is only part one of the equation; the second part is knowing the right people.
This is astounding because most job seekers go directly to job boards, one-click mass apply, for the 10% of jobs that are left over, and get no responses. That used to be me.
So there is a hidden job market. How did I find out about it and how can you? I found out through Ramit Sethi’s Dream Job course many years ago. And accessing this market comes down to networking and forming real relationships because hiring managers check their network first.
When I first heard about this, I thought it might not be true. However, I sought to find the truth and asked people for informational interviews many years ago. I was surprised how many mentioned the importance of knowing someone and networking before I even asked a question about it.
As a top performer, you should seek to use this knowledge to better your success rather than have a loser’s mindset about it. Some people, myself included, react initially by thinking that it’s unfair that the job hiring and hunting process is partially about “knowing the right people” rather than just merits. But it’s marketing; if a hiring manager doesn’t know you exist, how can you even stand a chance? A network lets you discover new cool jobs and companies. And applying through the front door just leaves you in a pile of a hundred resumes that may not get more than a glance.
Don’t let the limiting belief make you think, “It’s no fair! The world is stacked against me and people with connections win out!”
It’s just an easy way for lazy people to do nothing and blame others. And if I can get better at it, so can you. Because, frankly, I suck at networking and being social. Back when I would go to networking events, I would wince and scream internally because I was scared of rejection. And it only got worse when I would approach people, and they would snub me or not even try to keep a conversation going.
But I pushed through it, focused on the people who were nice to me (which was so difficult), tried not to dwell on why they didn’t like me (sometimes, you can’t tell), and continue to be friendly, open, and interesting. Eventually, I found myself at a networking event a couple years later where I was described as the “life of the party” even though there were coworkers there that were naturally more social.
I believe it’s a skill, and it’s still something I don’t think is natural to me or something I’m great at. I still suck at forming real relationships on LinkedIn when I reach out with a message. But I practice from time to time, which is better than most people. The more you hone your skill, the better you get, and if you don’t keep practicing, it can atrophy.
A high performer, which you can become, will start working to build his or her network as soon as possible. But the real challenge is maintaining that network. I try to reach out to people in my network at least once a year to wish happy holidays and send a message that’s clearly not automated or copy-and-paste.
I have learned from the best networkers and connectors that networking doesn’t have to be sleazy or selfish. In fact, just like sales, networking gets a bad name because of the sleazy networkers who are bad at it.
The people who are takers suck at networking. They go around taking value from others by handing out business cards and asking what others can do for them. If you don’t have a job to offer them, they leave you.
Always look to see how you can return the favor or make it a win-win situation where both of you are exchanging your value, services, or time in some way to help each other. See how you can form a real personal connection. Ashley Weston, a celebrity men’s stylist, discussed networking on her YouTube with her husband Dorian. Dorian said that even if it’s a transactional situation, you can make it more pleasant and personable because no one wants it to be just transactional.
Even if you have nothing, you can add value by acting as a connector and introducing people you know or just met to each other that might find that relationship valuable. I like to read Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone every couple years to refresh myself on his networking tips.
Here are some great ways of making first impressions without having pressure:
- Ask for an informational interview or tell them you are evaluating and exploring opportunities. And mean it – don’t try and force them into giving you a job.
- Tell them that you are looking to develop your personal professional career and show your hunger.
- Come at it from a high-level top performer perspective rather than a desperate job seeker attitude so that there is no pressure and people see you as a high performer. People won’t want to meet with you if you’re desperate.
From there, you could develop a relationship, and opportunities could come about. As I learned from interviewing DustinNotJustin, a videographer for Gary Vaynerchuk, people prefer recommending those they’ve met and talked to versus a stranger they’ve never talked to.
The next difference between a top performer and average performer is his understanding of his market value. A top performer is tapped into his market value through his network. He or she has data from his network on how much others with his job are getting paid. This network of others with the same job and recruiters helps top performers avoid getting underpaid.
High performers know how to present that data in convincing, persuasive ways to negotiate for a salary raise to their boss. For some jobs, the salary range can jump up fairly quickly because of the scarce supply and high demand or changes in the industry. They know how to leverage this so that they don’t go underpaid for years on end. Contrast that with an average performer who accepts the salary they’re given and mediocre raises every year, often unaware of how much over or under the market they are.
Honestly, that’s another area I’m working on getting better at. I’m better than average, but I don’t have this superstar network behind me. One alternative that I recommend that I’m using are websites that aggregate data, like Payscale.com or GlassDoor.com. They’re not always as accurate or solid as a real network but a good stepping stone for people who suck at this stuff.
The next difference between high performers and the average is their motivators. Average people care about money, work-life balance, and a good culture. High performers care about that too, but they also place emphasis on self-growth, learning experiences, and how their experiences will help them in the distant future. Top performers sometimes quit a company despite a massive salary if another company can hit their needs better.
That’s sometimes because another company will pay a higher market rate. But usually, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s no longer about the money. They’ve made enough money, so they look to higher levels of meaning, which may include enjoyment of the work, the right amount of challenge, making the world a better place, and a culture that nurtures their growth.
A top performer usually doesn’t like to cruise along and do the same thing every day without room for growth or an ability to push themselves. Their desire for growth is what got them to a high level of skill. And they get bored without feeling challenged. There needs to be a culture that encourages that.
Last but not least, obviously, having the skills to do the job itself on a high level is critical to being a top performer. It should go without saying, but having top-notch skills with high-demand and low-supply is the foundation. Without that, the networking will only get you so far.
Learn about what skills and prior job titles are needed for your ideal position through your coffee meetings and informational phone interviews. Self-educate, practice, find your passion, and improve your skills. Build a track record of wins to show off. It’s easier said than done, I know, but it’s true.
In terms of closing tips, always show your kindness, appreciation, and humanity. Thank people for connecting and make sure to keep the relationship going with touch-points.
Utilize the network you already have as well. You’d be surprised how many people you know even if you think you know no one. If you have family members and school alumni, they may know people in established organizations you’d like to work for. LinkedIn makes it easy to find that out. It’s easier to get a meeting or recommendation from them rather than a cold contact.