No Friends, No Contacts, No Nothin’:
How to Get Your Foot in the Door When You Know Nobody

Here’s something I’m not proud to admit, but I’ll admit it just the same: Once in a while – a very, rare while – I have the strange, secret desire to become Paris Hilton. That’s right – Paris Hilton. This isn’t because I have a yen to appear in every tabloid in existence, but for reasons entirely different. Simply put, Paris Hilton is connected.

Now, you may not admire Paris’s fashion sense or fine acting ability, but with a great last name, family connections, and lots of cash, Paris seems to have access to people and opportunities that a job-seeker, business owner, or shameless self-promoter (like yours truly) could only dream of.

Here’s the real issue: Do we need to be blond, rich, and willing to appear in our own adult films to gain access to people and opportunities? Do we need to succumb to bad fashion to get our foot in the door somewhere? No, no, a thousand times no! So before you whip out the blond hair dye and start doing things your mother wouldn’t be proud of, consider the following suggestions for getting your foot in the door, even if you know nobody:

Step 1 - Create a layer system for gathering names and contacts.

Talk to any struggling job seeker or frustrated entrepreneur and you’ll often hear the same tale of woe: “I’ve been trying to get a job within the pharmaceutical industry,” a 30-something MBA student shared with me recently. “The problem is that I have no contacts in pharmaceuticals so I can’t seem to get past HR to get my resume noticed.”

The solution? If you’re working hard to get inside a company or industry where you know nobody, consider adopting the layer system to gather names and contacts. In an ideal world, you may already have a sense of who you need to talk to in order to land an interview or a meeting inside a company. If not, read on.

Step 2 – Take the Onion Approach.

Start the process of gathering contacts by thinking of an onion. Like that aromatic vegetable (or is it a fruit?), your contact-gathering strategy works best when you peel back a layer at a time. As you ‘peel back’ each layer, you’ll begin to connect with people that will help you get a foot in the door.

With that brilliant analogy underway, here’s how it works: Simply put, think of layers of circles of people with whom you’d like to connect. Your layer system might look like this:

Layer 1: Contact friends, family.(and their friends).

Layer 2: Reach out to alumni from undergraduate, MBA programs. (and their friends)

Layer 3: Contact referrals from professors on campus from graduate, undergraduate studies (and their friends)

Layer 4: Attend conference in your industry/area of interest. Get contact names of speakers, panelists, sponsors, other conference attendees (and their friends)

Layer 5: Contact interesting people you’ve seen quoted or read about in trade journals, industry publications, etc.

And so on…

By working from a ‘layer’ system, you’ll almost always be in the position of never having to make a cold call. Some of your calls may be lukewarm, but you’ll always have a connection between you and the person to whom you’re reaching out.

And by the way, the layers I’ve listed aren’t exactly earth-shattering ideas. In fact, making and keeping contacts is pretty common sense for any job-seeker or entrepreneur…but these types of activities are not commonly practiced. Break the mold by making a promise with yourself to reach out to more people on a regular basis.

Step 3: Reach Out to Your Layers

Now that you’ve got lots of names of people to contact, now is the time to start reaching out to folks. For those of you who read my article, “Down with Networking,” (if not, check it out on my website), you know that your new goal is simply to have as many conversations with as many people as possible. In order to accomplish this, consider a simple five-step process:

Step 1:
Gather lots of names of people or companies with whom you’d like to speak. (Your layers)

Step 2:
Email (or write a letter if you’re unable to get an email address) each contact to introduce yourself.

Step 3:
A week after sending your email, follow up with a phone call to arrange a phone meeting.

Step 4:
Have a phone or face-to-face meeting with your contact – where you dazzle and impress.

Step 5:
Send a thank-you note.

(Shameless plug: Want more details on how to work your layers? Pick up a copy of my new guidebook, “The MBA Student’s Job-Seeking Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Land a Great Job After Graduation.” Tons of ideas, scripts for emails and voice mails. In other words, a gold mine. Visit for more details).

That’s it! That’s the brilliant, Einstein-like approach to getting a foot in the door. The process, as you’ve seen, is simple. But it’s worked for lots of folks, including me, and, as my photo reveals, I’m not exactly Paris Hilton.

The tough part about this process? Having the discipline to pick up the phone when you don’t want to, and the willingness to keep reaching out even when the person on the other end of the phone may not always want to hear from you. Keep reminding yourself that your goals are worth the effort. If all else fails, sit back, sip a Diet Coke, and remember that Paris and I believe in you. Good luck!

Author's Bio: 

Elizabeth Freedman is an expert in career and workplace issues. She is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student’s Job-Seeking Bible, and was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Elizabeth runs a Boston-based career-development and coaching firm; clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Reuters and The Gillette Company. To bring Elizabeth to your next association event or workplace meeting, please visit