“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” This old saying still apples to job searches and remains the most effective way to find a new job.
Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, conducted a survey to find out how people got their last job and his results for 2015-2016 are broken into employment categories. For those who were unemployed or underemployed at the time, 47% got their job from networking compared to 40% that found their job through traditional job postings and applications. Among those who were actively looking for jobs while still employed, networking was still the primary method to find jobs, at 42% compared to 40% for the traditional path.
For those who were just sampling for a job opportunity or were not looking for a job at all, the discrepancy was even higher. 60% of employees sampling the market found a job through networking, as did 62% of those who weren’t searching at all. Only 22% of employees sampling the market found jobs the conventional way, and a scant 8% of the latter group through postings and applications (not surprising, given that these people were not looking for work at the time).
Adler suggests that human resource departments should focus more on developing targeted outreach and networking programs than simply shotgunning job postings. If you are on the job-hunting side, this article drives home the importance of networking — but what is the proper way to network?
The first element is maintaining professional relationships at every job you have, being careful not to burn bridges. You do not have to like everybody you work with, but you do need to be respectful to your co-workers. If you acquire a reputation as someone who is hard to work with or ungrateful for opportunities, it will be nearly impossible for you to call in favors when you need them.
You need to earn the ability to call in favors, and that involves initiating favors for others. These can be very simple things, such as forwarding articles of interest or helping out in small (and unpublicized) ways when a co-worker is overloaded. Co-workers will remember that you helped them and will be more likely to return the favor.
Networking is not just accumulating a collection of business cards or LinkedIn/e-mail contacts. Know a little bit about your meaningful contacts. Are they sports fans? Do they have any kids in college? Are they active in local organizations? You can earn networking points outside of the business world by taking an interest in their activities. Look for areas of common ground. If you are focusing on volume of contacts instead of quality of contacts, you don’t have a network — you just have a list of names.
Strategic networking, where you are targeting a particular contact or area of expertise, is a little more difficult but still follows the same principles. Do a bit of research on Google and LinkedIn to find out more about your targeted contact to find common ground. If you have access to a mutual contact, try to find out more about your preferred contact through casual conversation. Remember — there is a fine line between being interested and being creepy. Know when to back off with your research and recon efforts.
People tend to stay within their group, but you could benefit from expanding into other fields that interest you. Reach out to tangential contacts. Perhaps your next job will be in a different field that you actually prefer to your current area of expertise.
Finally, stay in periodic contact. If you haven’t talked to someone in ten years, it is hard to call up and ask for a favor. Keep those contacts as active and valuable resources, and you will be able to call on those resources when you need them the most.
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