When Cookie Burkhalter relocated from Colorado to Wilmington, Delaware three years ago, she thought finding a new job would be easy. With first-rate qualifications and more than twenty years of professional experience at Fortune 500 companies, she figured she would land a new position quickly by surfing a few Internet job boards and sending out her resume.
But Burkhalter, an IT project manager, quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be so easy. After months of applying for open positions, “I never got a single interview from a posting on the Net,” she declares. “Applying for all those jobs was a complete waste of my time.”
When things began to turn around for Burkhalter was when she realized that the missing element in her job search was the human factor. “Even though I grew up in Delaware, I had been living out of state for a long time,” she recalls. “I had almost no local contacts, so I was relying on postings and ads to find out about available jobs. But by the time I saw the ad, so had thousands of other people, and there was always one of them who was just a little more qualified than me.”
The Inside Track
So Burkhalter set about rebuilding her personal network. She joined two women’s groups made up of others who shared some of her personal interests and hobbies, and began to meet new people. When she let her new friends know about her job search, all of a sudden, she began to hear about jobs before they were advertised, and interviews started to materialize. When she finally did land a new job, it was the direct result of a referral from a friend.
You may not recognize what Burkhalter did as networking, but that’s exactly what it was. Many people think of networking as circulating around a room exchanging business cards. But a broader view of networking is creating a pool of contacts from which you can draw leads, referrals, ideas and information for your job search. You can network without ever attending an official networking event.
Texas resident Maria Elena Duron found an executive job as a result of working as a community volunteer. “I was volunteering at the Midlands MexTex Fiesta, and I found myself flipping burgers side-by-side with a board member of the Austin Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,” Duron remembers. “He asked me if I had ever been involved in fundraising, and when I said I had, he asked for my resume. He forwarded it to the Foundation with his personal recommendation, and three weeks later I was hired as Executive Director for the West Texas Region.”
Your career network can and should contain current and former co-workers, alumni from your school, a wide range of people in your industry, and personal friends. Making time for lunch or coffee with these people can be much more productive for your job search than reading the want ads or surfing the Web. In fact, surveys consistently show that 80-85% of jobseekers find work as the result of a referral from a friend or colleague, and only 2-4% land jobs from Internet job boards.
If you have been out of touch for awhile with people you already know, don’t let that stop you from reestablishing contact when you start your job search. Everyone you speak to will have had to look for work at some point in their career, and most of them will be sympathetic and helpful.
To spread your net even wider, you may need to start making the acquaintance of new people also. Every time you talk to a friend or colleague about your job search, ask for suggestions of others you might speak to, and follow up on their referrals.
Attending organized events may also play a role in your job search, since this can be an easy way to expand your network quickly. Here are some popular choices for networking events:
- Chamber of Commerce mixers;
- Service clubs such as Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis;
- Trade and professional association meetings in your industry;
- Lectures, workshops, conferences, and fundraisers hosted by educational institutions, community organizations and affinity groups;
- Social, cultural, and sporting events that include receptions or other mix-and-mingle time;
- Private gatherings organized for the purpose of meeting new people and schmoozing;
- Job clubs.
You will have more success at this kind of networking if you go back to the same groups over and over rather than going to new groups all the time. Find two or three that seem to have the right mix of people, and keep going back.
Follow-Up Is Key
If you don’t follow up with the people you meet, though, you are wasting your time in meeting them. You may think that once you have told someone what type of job you are looking for, if they hear of something they will call you. The truth is that if they have met you only once, they probably don’t even remember you, and it’s even less likely that they will remember where they put your number.
After meeting someone new, send them a “nice to meet you” note and invite them to attend another event with you, or make a date for lunch or coffee. Find out what the two of you have in common, and see if there is an activity you could share.
Building relationships likes this takes time and effort, but relationships are the core of networking. The people in your network should be people you truly enjoy interacting with, because if you’re doing it right, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.
Says Duron, “Don’t limit yourself to just networking in your industry; everyone is interconnected. Getting to know a daycare director makes sense even if you don’t want a job in daycare, because she knows so many people. Waiters and hairdressers are often the first to hear about coming changes that lead to open positions. As long as you have your antennae out and listen, you can connect with anyone.”
Don’t expect networking to be a quick fix for your job search. It can take time for your relationship-building efforts to pay off. You need to put in the effort to get to know people, and trust that you will see results from it. But the best time to begin building your network is while you are still employed.
C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Hired Now! and Get Clients Now! Since 1992, she has helped thousands of professionals make a better living doing what they love. C.J. is a Master Certified Coach who leads workshops internationally – in person, on the phone, and on the Web. Find out more about C.J. and get a free copy of How to Find a Job in 28 Days or Less at GetHiredNow.com