“It’s who you know, not what you know.” How many times have you heard this cliche? It’s often very true, although not in the self-limiting way many job-hunters think. Times they are a-changing, thanks to email and social media — as well as the tried and true standards, paper, postage and the telephone — everyone has the potential to know many people, even the high-powered and well-known, who can help unlock the “hidden job market” through networking and direct contact.
To those who look for a job by getting listed with a few executive recruiters and/or with the Sunday newspaper classifieds, hearing that the vast majority of jobs are filled through networking comes as a severe shock.
Hearing that many help-wanted ads are posted purely to fulfill legal requirements — or filled before the ad hits the paper — doesn’t help one’s morale either. This is not to say that ads are completely useless — they are quite illuminating in terms of seeing who’s hiring, the positions that are out there and the salaries that go with them. Go ahead, answer ads — but don’t get your hopes up.
Networking — sharing information and leads with people you meet — can be done with current and former work colleagues, fellow members of professional associations and job-search clubs, fellow alumni, conference/trade show exhibitors, friends’ friends, relatives and neighbors. Online bulletin boards and mailing lists mean you don’t have to wait to bump into your contacts in the “real” world. Skilled networkers can pick up leads and referrals almost anywhere, from the airline passenger in the next seat to a guy at the health club to parents in their car pool.
Be inspired by the “six degrees of separation” theory, and realize the network you create is really the sum of all the networks of the people in it, due to the multiplier effect. It can be as rich and far-flung, or as narrow, as you want it to be.
Remember the P’s and Q’s of networking:
- give as well as receive
- always bring business cards
- be sensitive to others’ time constraints and priorities
- contact people with the methods that work best for you (email, telephone, letters or notes)
- be clear about what you want and who you are
- organize others’ business cards (Rolodex, contact management software, notebooks)
- be thankful for any help or referral (via email, notes or letters)
- follow up tenaciously
- do good work for your clients and employers (a satisfied client or boss can be your best ad)
- listen — always talking means missing things
- be open to serendipity (maybe your best lead will come not from your formal networking group, but from your child’s playmate’s mother)
Direct contact means sending letters, email or calling specific people — whom you don’t know — to describe your qualifications, and uncover a lead or even land an interview. Names and contact information can be obtained from industry directories, newspaper or magazine articles, conferences, or newsletters. Mass mailings can be sent to many employers at once, or customized to a small, select group, which is far more effective. Your letter may note you heard the panelist speak at a convention, or offer congratulations on a promotion to Vice President of Marketing.
Often, job seekers of the more retiring variety prefer direct contact to networking — it offers the chance to sit down and compose a thoughtful letter, instead of the pressures of chatting up people at functions and parties. Direct contact can reach a much greater group faster, but doing both is, of course, your best bet.
The direct contact P’s and Q’s are:
- start the letter with your reason for writing
- cite any connection (you heard the person speak, attended the same school etc.)
- note any qualifications that make you a good fit for a job
- include information to show your knowledge of the company
- enclose a resume (unless your letter makes a strong enough case)
- note when you will call to follow up