A client of mine just experienced a job-search fairytale. Although I usually take a writing break over the summer and instead ask guest bloggers to share tips and advice, I just had to write about this amazing, real-life Cinderella story. Because you can’t make this stuff up.

In mid-June I engaged with a new client: Let’s call him “Dave.” Dave had been going at his job search unsuccessfully for a few months on his own, and he was beaten down. Job hunters need a “win,” a small success to help them feel wanted and to build confidence. Examples of a win are a company calling back for a second interview or a job offer that they may ultimately chose to turn down. In fact, I encourage people to claim a small win as quickly as possible after we begin working together. Confidence is the most critical ingredient in an effective job search, and Dave’s confidence gauge indicated he was running on empty.

First, a little bit of background: Dave had been a software-engineering manager for years before taking the entrepreneurial plunge and running his own local retail chain for 10 years. After he tired of the schedule demands of retail, Dave yearned to go back to his tech roots and find a job that offered a salary and benefits—something that would take him through the last chapter of his career.

The million-dollar question was would the tech world take him back? A 10-year hiatus in tech is long. REALLY long. Imagine your cell-phone/social-media usage 10 years ago. If you had a Facebook account and/or an iPhone (yes, I said “and/or”), you’re considered a very early adopter. That’s how long Dave had been out of the tech game.

Submitting his resumé and cover letter in cold through job boards wasn’t going to work. There was never a scenario where he’d look like the best candidate in a stack of 75 resumés. Unfortunately, there was always going to be another candidate who had more recent experience.

If Dave was going to land back in tech, he needed the help of his friends.

I told Dave that the reputation he’d left behind was what would get him back in the door. If that didn’t work—if his old colleagues wouldn’t vouch for him—then it was time for him to start brainstorming alternate career paths.

The Fantastic Turn of Events

During our weekly check-in call, Dave was at his lowest point. Depression was setting up camp in his head. He was seriously considering applying for a job that required an hour-plus commute, that paid less than half of what he’d earned in his prior career, and that was two to three steps down the ladder from where he’d stepped off. And this job was working for one of the consistently worst-ranked employers in the US. I jokingly told him that a job at his neighborhood Starbucks would be a better life move.

After our coaching call, I was quite nervous for Dave and his search. Would Dave’s emotional runway carry him through this long trip? He needed a win, big time.

Dave was ready to try anything that would create a different result. He began tackling his LinkedIn network, and in one weekend he grew his number of first-degree connections by about 75. He reached out to old employees who were now managers and directors around town. Everyone was delighted to hear from Dave. They missed him, and their memory of his value was strong.

Dave began lining up coffee and lunch appointments to revive his old network. And that’s when the miracle began.

One day, he had coffee with an old employee who was now working for Dave’s dream tech company. This darling start-up had been acquired by a larger company with big funds, and it was in the growth phase where it needed management to come in and quickly establish new processes and procedures. They had an advertised opening that Dave had applied for, and it was his top from the opportunities he’d come across. This company was in his town—no commute. Dave worried that the whole thing was just too far out of reach. I did too.

But the reception over coffee couldn’t have been better. In fact, his old employee was so delighted to reconnect that he skipped a meeting to bring Dave back to the office and meet some of his co-workers. During his company tour, Dave was introduced to the hiring manager for the role he desired. Then he was introduced to the hiring manager’s hiring manager. While they were chatting in the hallway, old colleagues were walking by, calling out, “Dave, what brings you here? Are you coming to work here?” They didn’t leave without telling the hiring managers that Dave was one of the “good guys” and would be amazing to have on staff.

Trust me, you can’t do better than this kind of glowing recommendation. It was miracle-level action.

Dave went home that day feeling like there was finally hope. He was nervous about getting his hopes up, but I had a sense things were about to get very interesting. The pace quickened. He was contacted that afternoon, informed that he could skip the HRP pre-screen and invited for a half-day of interviews. The next day Dave powered through an afternoon of interviews, each one positive and encouraging.

The following day Dave informed another friend that he likely wouldn’t be in the job market long enough to come in for an interview for the IT-manager job he’d been asked to interview for, an interview he’d cultivated from another networking connection.

Just after lunch, Dave received a call that his dream tech company was preparing an offer. The verbal offer was $50,000 higher than what Dave had stated he was willing to work for at the beginning of our coaching work. The company was well-respected, located in town, and was on the cutting edge of technology. And Dave would be joining a staff with a slew of past employees and co-workers who still adored him.

Then the written offer came: It was another $15,000 higher. Although I’d coached Dave to negotiate his salary, the additional amount came without him even asking.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Dave’s getting back into tech in a big way. The sunset years of his career, I have no doubt, will be amazing. He was singing my praises on our last call, but I reminded him that it was his reputation that made this happen. Yes, I guided him to use his network, prepped him on the interview (like using bathroom breaks, even if you don’t need them, to let you clear your head and breathe between marathon interview schedules) and helped him stay focused and motivated during the down moments. But I do that with other clients and it doesn’t always reap such great results.

The moral of this story: Use your network. We all get by with a little help from our friends. I can guarantee you that former co-workers with positive memories of your past work can do bigger things for your career than you’d ever imagine.

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