Finding a new job really does come down to who you know. Here are 10 tips for maximizing those relationships.
YOU'VE HEARD IT time and time again: Networking is the most effective way to find a job. Well, it's true. According to employment experts, career advancement is best achieved by utilizing your circle of personal and professional contacts. But the latest twist on the age-old strategy might leave some networkers feeling a bit seasick.
In September, job seekers and curiosity seekers alike will have a chance to hobnob with 10 cast members from the hit reality TV program "The Apprentice" during a seven-night Caribbean cruise. Michael Jacobsen, editor of Trump World magazine, one of the sponsors of the cruise along with travel Web site Expedia, promises the trip will be "a phenomenal networking opportunity for anyone coming onboard." By putting fans of the ultimate job-search show together with the aspiring entrepreneurs from the cast, says Jacobsen, names and deals will be flying back and forth all week long.
So if your idea of a good time is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Raj and Stacie J., two "Apprentice" contenders who've already committed to the cruise, by all means book your passage now. But if you're trying to meet valuable contacts and line up a new position the traditional way, the sea adventure is probably not the best use of your time or money.
"I have to think that insta-networking is very fragile," says Rich Thompson, chief learning officer for Ajilon, a Saddle Brook, N.J., recruiting firm, of the shallow relationships that would likely be forged during a brief cruise. "A better opportunity of being put in the right direction (for a job lead) is through a quality relationship."
Indeed, the experts we spoke to agree that nothing beats good, old-fashioned networking. By that we mean tapping into relatives, friends and former colleagues, and setting up face-to-face meetings with any referrals they might offer.
We know, networking can be awkward, but here's why it simply has to be done: At any given time some 80% of all available jobs aren't posted in the classifieds or on job boards, according to BH Careers International, a career-management firm in New York. And 60% of people surveyed by BH Careers say they landed their last job through networking. Convinced now? Good. Keep these 10 tips from experts in mind to make your networking efforts as fruitful as possible.
1. Write an Elevator Speech
Before you start networking, prepare what experts call an elevator speech. This should be a summary of what you want people to know about you that can be delivered in less than 30 seconds. Think of it as a marketing message: who you are, what you do and what you're looking for. The key is to keep it upbeat, succinct and to the point. Anything short of that and you risk boring or turning off the listener, warns Debra Condren, a career coach and business psychologist with offices in New York and San Francisco. Since you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, Condren recommends first practicing your elevator speech in front of a mirror, and then on friends, before taking it out to a networking event.
2. Use Your Existing Network
The best way to start networking is to tap into your existing circle of contacts, including friends, family members and former colleagues. Simply spread the word that you're looking for a new job and ask if anyone has a contact of their own in your field that may be able to offer some advice. Then make sure to ask every person you meet for two or three more referrals. Once you start the process your network will continue to grow exponentially. "It's a domino effect," says Ajilon's Thompson. "Everyone has a center of influence and people that they touch. This is where the best opportunities come from...from somebody who knows somebody."
3. Target Trade Groups
It never hurts to expand your network even further. When doing so, don't waste time going to large events that cater to people in many different industries. You need to take a more targeted approach. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to join the dominant trade or industry organization in your area. Preferably, it should be one that has some type of barrier to entry, even if it's just a membership fee. "The higher the level and more targeted the environment, the more efficient and effective a networking source you will have found," says Marc Lewis, North America president for Morgan Howard Worldwide, a Stamford, Conn., recruiting firm. Consider volunteering on one of the group's committees. It's a great way to meet members.
4. Show Interest in Others
All of the experts we talked to agree: The secret to effective networking is to stop focusing on yourself and take an interest in the other person. Not sure how to do this? Simply start asking questions and get that new contact to talk about himself and his business experience, recommends Morgan Howard's Lewis. This is easier than you might think. People love to talk about themselves, Lewis says. And they're often flattered when others seem genuinely interested in what they have to say. Another benefit of taking an interest in someone else is that the job seeker has an opportunity to pick the other person's brain and learn something about their industry that they can use later on. "You can't expect every person you meet to help you, for example, find a job interview," says Lewis. "But if you are effective at working a crowd, as any good politician will tell you, you can learn and take something away from the conversation as knowledge to use elsewhere."
5. Don't Ask for a Job
This may sound counterintuitive, but the worst thing you can do while networking is ask for a job. Instead, seek advice, says Dan Strakal, coauthor of "Better Job Search in 3 Easy Steps" and owner of Success Positioning Systems, an Albuquerque, N.M., career-services firm. Why? People are more likely to be generous with their time when you ask for their counsel. Also, Sharee Wells, a regional vice president and career coach with BH Careers, points out that if you ask for a job you're often forcing the other person to say no to you. Or, if that contact doesn't know of an opening, you are giving him an excuse not to meet with you. Don't worry. If someone likes you and you seem qualified for an opening, he or she will want to refer you to the right person to set up an interview.
6. Build Relationships
Strangers aren't going to put their reputations on the line for you. That's why you have to take the time to build a relationship with any new person you meet before asking for a favor, says Wells. How do you do that? Consider dropping a personalized note to any new contact you meet at an industry event. Then, once you've made the initial overture, you can follow up by doing anything from sending along a helpful article to introducing that person to someone in your own network, recommends Susan Howington, senior vice president and managing director of Lee Hecht Harrison, a Woodcliff Lake, N.J., career-management-services firm. The key is to nurture the contact until you feel you've secured that person's attention.
7. Don't Be Selfish
No matter how desperate you are, remember that networking is a two-way street. After every meeting, ask if there's anything you can do to help the other person. Many job seekers make the mistake of thinking that they have nothing to offer in return. That's simply not the case. If you've met with a recruiter, for example, you can always offer to introduce him to the smartest people you know in your industry, says Melanie Mulhall, a career coach and corporate consultant in Broomfield, Colo. Even a young job seeker with little experience should offer to help the other person. While it's understood you may not be able to help a CFO land his next position, you might be able to assist him in other ways. His daughter, for example, may be applying to colleges and want to hear about your take on a school.
8. Never Abuse Relationships
Be careful not to overuse your network. Unfortunately, there's no rule here for how many phone calls are too many. Just try to gauge if you're coming across as someone who's always looking for a favor. Try to keep the relationship as mutually beneficial as possible. Even if you don't have an agenda other than maintaining your network, too much contact can be seen as a burden to the other person. Unless you're close friends, try to keep correspondence down to once every three to six months. "Like everything else in life, effective networking is a balancing act," says Morgan Howard's Lewis.
9. Always Follow Through
Nothing can kill a relationship faster than not writing a proper thank-you note. In many cases you can e-mail it, but don't assume the content of that letter is any less important than if you sent it by snail mail. A three line message with a smiley face doesn't cut it. Equally wrong is failing to keep the other person abreast of how your meeting went with someone he or she referred you to. And don't even think about not making contact with someone who was referred to you. It's just rude. Chances are your contact went out of his way to call that person and mentioned that you're looking for some advice.
10. Maintain Your Network
You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: Maintain your network even when you aren't looking for a job. It will make it that much easier to tap into when you do need a little assistance. It could also open up doors when you least expect it. Remember, the majority of jobs go unpublished, so you may hear of an exciting opportunity even when you aren't looking for it. "A good solid network will pay dividends down the road, but you have to invest the time," says Ajilon's Thompson.
Finally, from time to time all of us let a few people slip from our network. We get busy and lose touch. The best time to reach out and reconnect is when you aren't looking for a job. Chances are that former colleagues will be delighted to hear from you -- especially if you aren't looking for a favor.