Fatten Your Professional Little Black Book Online and Off
So let this be your litmus test. The next time you decide to call, email or "friend" a random stranger on a social network, ask yourself, how would you feel if this person did the same thing to you? Blindly contacting someone you don't know who could possibly take you out of the unemployment line with a 30-second elevator pitch is the equivalent of drunk-dialing an ex minus the personal connection. Can you say stalkerish? And do you honestly think this makes a great first impression? Sure it demonstrates the size of your moxy, but doesn't bode well for you in the personal judgment department.
So what is the protocol for networking (online or off) with people you've never met in the job search process? I call it my social algorithm: six degrees of separation + a common denominator +3 contacts = trust. In other words, in order to effectively network with individuals you don't know (without being labeled a stalker) you need a connection to their social circle, share something personal in common, and have at least three contacts with them to win their trust. You can't expect someone who doesn't know you from a can of paint to miraculously recommend you for a job based on a blind friend request, phone call, meeting at the grocery store (fill in the social scenario blank). You have to build a rapport with them and earn their trust through the social algorithm.
So how do you get these types of vitals on said stranger who could hold your future employment in their hands? Channel your inner 007 and legitimately use your cyber stalking skills for your intelligence. Do a search for said stranger on LinkedIn to see who they're connected to and if you share individuals in your social circles. If you do, contact that connection and ask them for an introduction to said stranger so you can elevate your status from stranger to acquaintance. Now, don't assume that since the introduction has been made you have free access to immediately ask this individual to hook you up with an interview while you're in town the following week. You have to build a rapport. Dig deeper on LinkedIn, Google, or just ask your connection where this person went to school, whether they have kids, play the tuba...The angle here is to find out something personal you both have in common so there's a connection and a conversation piece other than the weather and the fact you need a job.
Now that you have this information in your arsenal, you need to employ the secret phrase "Flattery will get you somewhere". Use these common denominators to stroke the person's ego and get on their personal level. Set up an informational interview to find out more about what they do for a living, ask them to be your tour guide next time you visit their city, give them a list of great restaurants for the vacation spot they'll be heading to for the holidays. This is far more subtle than the blind contact elevator pitch and will get you more traction in the long run. You'll know the equation is complete once you've had three meaningful contacts with the person. By then you'll have established enough common ground to talk about your credentials and how your new acquaintance can help you build upon them.