Ask a Real Recruiter: How Can I Ask for Help in My Job Search When Everyone Knows Everyone?

Dear Recruiter,

Advice says that I should network in my job search. But, when everybody is a friend (or somewhat) to everybody in the same field, if I make a move toward a company, it couldn’t pass unnoticed. Am I supposed to rely solely on people’s integrity and honesty? How can I not lose great opportunities for the fear of getting caught job hunting?

Job Hunting in Secret


Dear Job Hunting in Secret,

It’s a small world after all. Nowhere does this sentiment seem to ring more true than when you’re
job searching—particularly in a small or niche industry.

Trust me, I know exactly how you feel. When I was young and first starting my career, I committed a cardinal job hunting sin: I asked absolutely every person I knew for a job.

When networking is such tried and true advice, why was this tactic such a big mistake? Well, for starters, it’s a pretty uncomfortable conversation for everyone involved and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t result in a single job offer.

But, more importantly, I was limiting my options without realizing it. A secret I wish I had known when I was young is that a majority of people truly do want to help you in your search, but rarely can they help by giving you something as major as a job on a silver platter. By narrowing my ask to only a job, I was cutting out all other possibilities for support and sponsorship from my network.

How does this relate to you? Before asking your network for explicit help in your actual job search, aim for something that’s a little more general. For example, informational interviews are a great place to start.

These types of conversations are exploratory, and they don’t scream “I’m job hunting!” to your boss or other people in your professional circle that you might be worried about.

However, these discussions may get some ideas flowing for starting or continuing your job search and can even help you gauge how trustworthy your contacts might be with confidential information (should you need to share anything with them as you move forward).

So, rather than blanketing the world with pleas to help you find a job and then panicking that your manager is bound to find out, start by reaching out to your contacts with more general, exploratory questions like:

  • “How did you get started in your career?”
  • “What are some things you love about your company?”
  • “What advice do you have for someone in this industry?”

If you’re looking for more advice and questions to ask, The Muse features multiple helpful articles about informational interviewing that will help you get started.

Once you’ve built solid relationships through informational interviewing and have discovered who in your network is trustworthy and can truly help you in your job hunt, then you can move into those more direct asks (without obsessively worrying about them spilling the beans).


This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Real Recruiter in the subject line.

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By UCLA Extension Career Services
UCLA Extension Career Services