Looking for Networking in All the Wrong Places
This Is Not Your Father’s Job-Seeking Market
Over the last few years there has been a radical shift in the job market. The downturn in the economy has produced a flood of unemployed job-seekers at almost every level, and in almost every industry. Anyone who has been out there looking for job recently has experienced an entirely new landscape requiring job-seeking strategies that differ from as recently as six months ago.
In the not so distant past, job-seekers posted their résumés on all the big job boards (Monster, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, etc.) Then they searched those boards for appropriate jobs and responded by applying online. Companies with openings posted their jobs, and gathered the best résumés from the respondents … and usually interviewed the ones who appeared to be the best fits. If those applicants didn’t produce a winning candidate, companies often engaged 3rd party recruiters to produce even more candidates, some of whom were taken from those same job boards’ résumé banks, and others from the pool of “passive candidates” who were actually “recruited” from competitors. (Remember when they were called “headhunters?”) More often than not, someone got hired.
No so much anymore! Things have changed big time. Companies move slower and much more cautiously now, and have very different expectations. Adding headcount in today’s tenuous climb to recovery is not done lightly. While some people still do actually get hired by answering job postings, the current conventional wisdom is that only a very small percentage of new hires today are the result of someone applying online cold to a public job posting. (I have no actual scientific data to back this up, or assign an actual percentage to it … but it does seem to be generally true.) So how do the majority of jobs get filled today? The answer given most often is that magic word: “NETWORKING!”
The Networking Mantra
So how exactly does networking work, and how do people find jobs that way? What I see many people do is follow a plan that looks something like this: meet with as many people as possible and talk with everyone you know or have any connection with: start with your family, friends, neighbors, business associates, clients, former customers, school alumni, church/synagogue members, etc. When you run out of personal connections, attend any of the big “networking events” that seem to be popping up all over the place. Exchange business cards with strangers at those events who you can then set up meetings with and bring into your network. Let everyone know you are “in transition,” and ask everyone if they have any advice for you, or if they know anyone who either has a job, or can lead you to someone else who has a job. Make as many connections as possible on “LinkedIn” and keep expanding your own network exponentially. Sooner or later, you’ll hear about that illusive job that won’t be posted anywhere, right? You’ll get to that fabled “hidden job market,” right?
Networking with the Wrong People
There’s a basic flaw with the type of networking I’ve just described. The problem I’ve observed is that many job-seekers end up spending a lot of time meeting with people who simply can’t help them, or have absolutely no connection to the industry or position that they are seeking. They’d like to help you, but don’t know how! They don’t have a clue specifically who you’d like to meet, or what companies you want to get into. Those big “networking events” (often held at hotels or bars) are attended mostly by other job-seekers! Oh sure, it’s fun setting up meetings with those people and getting together for coffee. Anyone who is semi-outgoing and sociable probably enjoys “networking” with friends, family members, or other job-seekers that they meet at those events. Sharing war stories with other job-seekers about being out of work is somehow comforting, and certainly beats staying at home, right? You fill your calendar with “networking meetings” and feel that you are somehow making progress … that you are doing the right things. However, after all is said and done, has your networking gotten you any closer to a job?
Your Target List
Ask yourself this: how many of the people that you are networking with are actual decision-makers in your target companies – or people who can lead you to those decision-makers? Every job-seeker should have a target list of companies that are specific to their industry niche, and are likely to have jobs that fit their background and experience. Your goal should always be focused on getting in front of the people who are either decision-makers in those companies, or are directly connected to those decision-makers. If you don’t have such a list of target companies, stop everything else and make one!!!! This list is critical, and should be your road-map for moving forward on your job search. [For details on how to go about creating a target list, read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching.”] If you ever expect to “network” your way to a job, that target list is the best way to focus on meeting the right people and not wasting your time with the wrong people. Show the list to everyone you meet. Ask them if they know anyone in those companies connected to your niche. Try to become selective about who you agree to spend time meeting with, and concentrate on people who might actually help you get into those targets.
Networking with the Right People
When you actually get to meet a decision-maker at one of your targets, don’t do a hard sell, or hand them a résumé and flat out ask for a job. That will turn people off faster than a sleazy used car salesperson! The approach should be the classic networking tactic: “Since you are an expert in your field, I’d like to find out more about your background and experiences, and ask for your career advice and help.” Flattering the person and simply asking for their advice and expertise is much more likely to score you points than sounding like a desperate job-seeker. [For more ideas on how to approach the people on your target list, read “Targeted Networking: How to Effectively Reach Out.”] Most decision-makers you’ll network with won’t have a job for you that day. Your goal should be to simply have them get to know and remember you. Show them your target list. Don’t give them your résumé until the end of the meeting – almost as an after-thought (unless, of course, they ask for it sooner.) They might know of an opening at another company, or be able to refer you to someone else at another target company on your list. Or perhaps they’ll hear about a job elsewhere later, or a job will open up in their own company tomorrow, or next week, or next month. You want them to know who you are, and most importantly to LIKE YOU and REMEMBER YOU! It’s all about being in front of the right person at the right time. Staying in touch over time, and following up on all referrals are also critical. [Read “Following-Up: An Essential Key to Successs” for more on why this is such an important step.] That’s the way networking should work, and will be more likely to eventually produce results in today’s tough new job market.