Job Search Help photo from Shutterstock“How can I help you?” is a magic question. It is one of the most useful job search questions you can ask others. It is also a question that, if you are properly prepared when it is asked of you, can laser focus your networking contacts on your specific needs.

Asking your job search contacts How Can I Help You?

This is a no-brainer, right? No. Actually, it isn’t. Most job seekers are focused on their needs far more than the needs of others. This is natural… and why I emphasize the importance of asking others how you can be of assistance. In Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!), I recommend asking this question in the second step of a four step process for conducting a one-on-one job search networking meeting.

Asking others how you can help them uncovers needs you may be able to address. It is a tool for making deposits into other people’s “emotional bank accounts”, a phrase used by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Sincerely trying to understand the other person and their needs is one of the best ways to demonstrate your desire to help. Demonstrating you want to help will build rapport and trust.

So, let’s assume you have remembered to ask the magic question. As evidenced by a large number of former clients, evoking a meaningful response from others can be difficult. Many will tend to dismiss your question with responses similar to “I’m fine, don’t really need anything.” To be of help to them, you must break through these types of roadblocks by being more insistent. Here are two suggested responses that you may find helpful:

– ____________ (person’s name) was kind enough to introduce me to you. Perhaps I can return the favor. What types of people would you like to meet?

– I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me and really would like to help you. What are some things that would be helpful to you?

Answering your job search contacts when they ask How Can I Help You?

Now, let’s turn this question around the other way. Job search networking demands that you be prepared to explain how you would like to be helped when the magic question is asked. There are many ways to respond. I recommend you start by defining what end result you are seeking to achieve, such as gaining introductions to people who can interview and hire you. To connect with such people, I have found a target employers list to be a great tool. Here are two suggestions for getting these introductions, either by using such a list or providing descriptive information (which is not as effective);

– I have a list of companies that are of interest to me. What would be most helpful is if you would review the list and introduce me to people you know well in a couple of these companies.

– I want to connect with people in companies that have over 100 employees and are in the ________________ industry and in _______________ (city/area). It would be helpful if you could introduce me to people you know in such companies.

“How can I help you” is a magic question that can build relationships when you ask it and get you closer to your job search goals when it is asked of you. What other suggestions do you have for responding to this question?