If you’re just starting out in your job search, you may have spent time clicking around and applying to jobs online (nine out of ten early-stage job seekers tell me this). If so, take a moment to celebrate; shifting from thinking to action is the most challenging step in any endeavor.

But now let me level with you:

Successful job seekers focus on spending more time with people -- and less with postings.

In a complex, quickly-shifting job market with overwhelming options, you need peopleto give you context and guidance on where to focus your job search energy -- which positions to pursue, how to pursue them, and who can help you land them.

I know, I’ve said it countless times, and I’ll say it again: 85% of jobs are landed through networking. Yes, it requires picking up the phone and putting yourself out there. But the positive effects are staggering. I’ve seen languishing, months-old applications turn into interviews the same day an outreach email was sent to the right person, and I’ve seen informal interviews turn into on-the-spot job offers for positions that weren’t even posted.

And not only are the results of networking fast-acting and illuminating; as daunting as reaching out for help may seem, people have a magical way of injecting confidence and momentum into your search (both of which are hard to generate on your own).

Hence, what every early-stage job seeker needs most is a short and sweet plan for connecting with real people who can point you in the right direction and help you set your search up for success.

Your five-step, human-centered, job search startup plan

Step 1: Identify 5 people who could be great resources for your search:

After you’ve defined which general career directions you’re pursuing, identify five people you know (or friends of people you know) with a position, employer, or past experience that positions them to give you helpful context and guidance.

Before reaching out, order your list from “least scary to most scary” -- you’ll want to start with people who know you well already and can help you practice these conversations in a stress-free environment.

Step 2: Block off time and reach out effectively

Schedule an hour in your calendar in the coming 1-2 weeks to craft and send your almost undeniable requests to learn from these people in brief, 20-minute phone calls.

Make sure you click ‘Send’ on a Sunday evening or mid-week morning -- emailing someone in the late afternoon, on a Friday, or early in the weekend is a surefire way to get buried in their inbox.

Step 3: Use your 20-minute phone calls wisely

During your calls, set an agenda so your contacts know you value their time.

After you’ve shared your stellar summary of who you are and what you want, ask strong questions that help you learn information you couldn’t have found by Googling. Questions like:

  • “Which organizations do you think I should be looking into for my search?”
  • “What big priorities are organizations in this space focusing on in the coming year?”
  • “Do you have any feedback on my goals or how I’m positioning myself to pursue them?”
  • “If there’s one experience or credential that would make my candidacy stronger, what would it be?”
  • “Tell me about your transition into your current role and how you made it happen. Any lessons learned or advice I should keep in mind?”
  • “Who else should I be talking to as I move forward in my search? Do you know of anyone who’s hiring?”
  • “Are you willing to make an introduction to...?”

Also important to note: Do your research in advance so you can frame each question with “Here’s what I know so far, but I’d love your thoughts on...” -- this proves you came prepared, and ensures what you learn is new and valuable to you.

Step 4: Reflect and revise

After each conversation, ask yourself:

  • What did I learn? (Any new insight about the positions you’re targeting, how to prepare for or pursue them, or who you need to know?)
  • What could I have done better? (Do it next time!)
  • Which asks do I really want to make? (For your connection to feel positive about helping you, you need to minimize your number of asks, make sure each ask takes less than 5 minutes to complete, and never request an introduction you don’t plan to pursue.)

Step 5: Follow up with care

Make it easy and gratifying for this person to help you by sending a thank you email within 24 hours that includes:

  • Appreciation for what you learned and how their insight impacts your search.
  • Your specific asks (You've got to move from "Let me know who you think I should talk to!" to "I'd greatly appreciate an introduction to XX and XX at this time.").
  • If requesting introductions, include a brief paragraph about yourself they can copy. This makes their introductions easy and ensures they use your narrative to describe you.
  • Another big thank you and reminder you’ll pay it forward to them and others.

A final pro tip: Keep a list of everyone you speak to throughout your search. When you do land that next job, circle back to let them know where you’re headed and how they helped you get there. It will reinforce your relationship -- and make their day!

The human-centered challenge

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, but remember that this too is just a post -- I challenge you to give the human-centered approach a shot and see where your job search stands just 1-2 weeks from now.

And for all you non-job-seekers out there, I’d love to hear your stories of how connecting with people helped you get where you are today. From finding jobs to achieving goals on the job, we all have stories to tell about how real people made a great difference in our success.