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Networking: The Job Search Imperative

So, you think spending a few minutes applying to jobs through a job board is a complete job search plan? Think again. Job boards are still a valuable part of the process, but the usefulness of this approach is trending downward. Three years ago almost 25% of new hires came from the boards, last year it was down to 20% and the latest figures are around 18%. Companies are starting to measure the results of sourcing surveys to allocate resources to the most likely source of a hire. A whitepaper published by the Talent Board shows that there are an average of 85 applications for every job posted. Sound competitive? Companies also report that an estimated 60% of those applications are unqualified. The takeaway for job seekers should be that it may very well be a waste of time to apply to every position and hope that you hit the job lottery. Frivolous applications are noticed and remembered. Now for the bad news: The best way to get a job in a company is to already be working there. Almost 42% of all “hires” are from internal movement of employees. Bad economic times have led employers to be more willing to invest in a known asset rather than go outside to hire an unknown. When you hear advice to “network, network, network” it is because you need an edge to set yourself above the pack.

The dozen tips on personal networking were published earlier in this series, so this will pick up with the reasons and methods of putting that plan into action for a job seeker. The primary reason for communicating with people rather than machines is that the personal approach is a straighter path to a decision maker. Additionally, it should be obvious since internal hires seem to have such an advantage that all openings are not posted externally. This hidden job market is not hidden to everybody, so the key is to find people that got the memo or a nod from the hiring manager down the hall. You must be as tenacious as a detective solving a murder, collecting evidence, analyzing facts, and chasing leads.

Employee Referrals – The CareerXroads 2013 Source of Hire Report shows again this year that employee referrals lead all other categories in external hiring. Approximately 1 in 4 external hires are referrals. Contrary to popular belief, this is not about coincidentally having a relative or neighbor that works in a target company… and yes you should have targeted companies in your plan. Networking into a company means finding an insider and turning them into someone that knows you well enough to recommend you as a coworker. Since many companies pay a bounty for successful new hires, networking through an employee is a good way to start a win/win situation.

Events – Face-to-face contact is always preferable to remote control networking. Be active in local chapters of professional organizations and attend meetings and mixers. Some will even waive or reduce admission fees for job seekers. There are also job seeker networking events held in almost every city specifically for meeting with professional contacts. Local Chamber of Commerce offices may have a registry of members that provide resume assistance and coach job seekers. Remember those things called books? Public libraries almost always conduct programs for job seekers and may also have local seminars as well as a treasure trove of resources.

Telephone – Several of the Bell System companies ran ads with the slogan “The next best thing to being there.” If you can’t meet face-to-face for networking at least make a personal voice contact. The telephone is a fantastic and forgotten tool. Everybody’s knee jerk reaction is to use high technology as a first choice, but there is not only a higher percentage of hits when making calls, the conversation is usually longer and more meaningful to future conversations, aka network building. Spoken words carry inflections of emotion that are not possible with written electronic communications. Three essential parts of every call is to ask how you can help them, who else you should call, and most importantly a sincere “Thank you!”

Social Media – There is probably no better way to hook up with other job seekers, recruiters, career counselors and employers than online social media and for the most part it is free. LinkedIn is a mandatory site for job seekers… if you want to be found, go where they are looking. Reddit is a vibrant living place where you can meet people, ask questions, and get frank answers. Twitter is not for just messaging friends or following celebrities. There are chat groups on Twitter that have predetermined meeting times and have the ear of influential people for your network. One of the newest and most vibrant is Open Mic Career Chat using the hashtag #OMCchat at 7:00 pm Eastern every Thursday. Tools like TweetChat can be used to focus on the chat without the static from other tweets.

Email – The easiest, but probably least effective means of networking is email. It doesn’t replace the phone call, but a carefully crafted message can put you in queue to be heard in their time rather than interrupting them with a ringing phone. An important fact to remember is that most companies use online applications to feed their resume database. If you apply by email only, you are essentially asking somebody else to do your dirty work. You should state that you have applied online but wanted to give it a personal touch by contacting them directly. Your cover letter is the text of the email. In case it isn’t obvious, this is the reason that “To Whom It May Concern” emails don’t work. You may confidently assume that if you send a blind email it will only be read by a blind person.

Headhunters – In his book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, Harvey Mackay lists headhunters as one of the sixteen cornerstones for a solid network. They are often overlooked but there should be several in your network at all times… even when employed. Think like a recruiter and help them by providing names for their searches even if you are not looking. It is just as important that you are a key player in their network as it is for them to be in yours. One key prerequisite for building a diverse network of contacts is played out in being able to give more than you take.

The life span of a network can be forever, but it requires work. Every contact should be the source of at least one additional contact and more if possible. Insurance for a “forever network” is that you allocate a piece of your time every day for network maintenance. Stay in touch with your network especially when you don’t need anything and they will be there for you when you do. Being social means people will also want you to be in their network. Isn’t that the point?

Image credit: ulkan120 / 123RF Stock Photo (Edited)



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