How do you find career contacts?

Whenever I talk about contacts, I see people rolling their eyes and saying they’re not the sort of people who “have contacts”. I want to convince you that you can find those contacts if you look.

(And yes, this is yet another post “inspired” by the PG web resource I’ve been writing – though probably the last, as hopefully it’ll go live any day now.)

You probably have more contacts than you think

When people say they have “no contacts” for their career, they normally mean either:

  1. They don’t know someone in a position to give them their ideal job.
    If you have the sort of contacts who can give you a job, that’s very useful. However, this isn’t realistic for most people. It’s better to aim for finding contacts who can give you information and advice about a career area.
  2. They haven’t told anyone what sort of contacts they’re looking for.
    Your flatmate might have a cousin working in your ideal job – you will never know that if you don’t tell them what you are looking for.

Not convinced?

lionI often use an exercise with groups of postgrads, where I ask someone to give an example of a job, any job, and see if we can find

  • a contact within the room who can tell them something about the job, or
  • a contact of a contact (or even a contact of a contact of a contact) who should be able to tell them more about the job.

So far, I’ve been able to generate potential contacts for “lion tamer” (we came up with a graphic designer who worked for a zoo, and a vet who worked with big cats) and “crisp taster for Walkers crisps” (someone’s friend worked in R&D for a rival crisp manufacturer).

Oddly, the only ones where it doesn’t really work is if someone asks for an academic contact in a very specific field – in which case, they normally have the means to generate the contacts themselves.

Use the right approach

People are more likely to share their contacts if they are confident you won’t hassle friends or put them under pressure to give you a job. Make it clear you are looking for information only.

Tell everyone you know what you are looking for – information about an employer, a type of work, a job sector, working in a particular country …

Who should you tell?

  • Other postgraduates – people on your course or in your research group; make friends with postgrads in other Schools if you are aiming for a career related to their discipline
  • Friends – sports team colleagues, any social contacts, school friends from “back home”
  • Lecturers, supervisors and advisors – at this university or previous universities, particularly important if you are aiming at an academic career
  • Family – weddings and other family get togethers are great for catching up with what your cousins are doing now, or who they’re married to
  • Previous work colleagues – particularly important if you have significant work experience; don’t lose touch with previous professional contacts, even if you are planning a change of field

Manchester Gold – our informal and formal mentoring programmes

Our Manchester Gold scheme has two programmes for University of Manchester students:

  • Manchester Gold mentoring – a competitive programme where you get the chance to be matched, one-to-one, with a career mentor over a six month period. These programmes run in the Autumn and Spring with deadlines for applications.
  • Online Q & A – ideal for informal, one-off individual questions. Over 800 alumni and careers contacts have registered to answer your careers questions. Search the CareersLink database to find a potential match and contact up to two mentors a month by email.

Using social media to find contacts

Your current social media contacts may be able to help you. Make sure you post updates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or whichever channels you use, making it clear what you are looking for. Just keep it professional.


In addition to your own contacts, you may be able to find support and information from joining groups or liking pages

  • The Careers Service has Facebook groups for most disciplines. These are closed groups only for University of Manchester students but you may find other members who can help with advice or contacts.
  • “Liking” employer pages allows you to keep up with news from your preferred employers, and increasingly, interact directly with them.


It is worth seriously considering joining this social network, particularly for non-academic careers.

  • It can act as your online professional CV – if a “contact of a contact” agrees to meet you, there’s every chance they’ll put your name into a search engine first.
  • You can join groups relevant to your chosen career area. This will allow you to take part in online discussions with career professionals. It is also common for agencies and recruiters to target professional groups on LinkedIn when looking for scarce skills.
  • Other good groups to join include the “University of Manchester Alumni Association” (over 14,500 members) or “Manchester Business School Alumni (Official)” (over 9,500 members) if you are in MBS. This doesn’t mean you automatically have access to contact details of other group members, but it increases the chances of finding someone in the group who has a mututal contact (which is how you generally approach people through LinkedIn).

Top tip: Invest in your network by connecting to your friends, and those on your course or in your research group. In five or ten years time, you will have an impressive network as you all progress in your careers.

Looking for contacts outside the UK?

GoingGlobalweblogoThe suggestions above are generally just as applicable outside the UK as inside. In addition, here are further resources for those looking for contacts outside the UK, whether you’re an international postgraduate planning on going home, or any postgraduate looking for work outside the UK.

  • Going Global – An international job and career resource, licensed for use by current University of Manchester students and recent graduates (login required). This gives you access to country profiles for 40 countries across the world, including details of professional and social networks for each country.
  • Work and study overseas – Information on regions and countries across the world on the Careers Service website. Includes our China Portal, with advice on the role of networking in securing a job in China.
  • International networks – Links to our University of Manchester and Careers Service online networks, including our India Manchester Graduate Network and our China Manchester Graduate Network

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