It's not who you know, but who knows you're looking.
Barry Harris is not a big believer in help-wanted ads. "You have to trust that someone is going to pick your resume out of a stack of hundreds. There’s just too much competition that way," he contends.
Instead, Harris relies on networking to get his job leads and tap into the so-called "hidden job market." A former co-worker from a previous job tipped him off to his present position as a part-time copy editor at the Oakland Tribune. And he's now using his connections to land a full-time job as a grant writer.
Harris views everyone he meets as a potential lead to a new job. "Maybe a specific person can't give me a job, but they might know someone who knows someone," he explains.
"You have to broadcast to everyone you know that you're looking for a job," agrees Jerry Simerman, who teaches a job-search workshop at the Oakland Career Center. "If all you're doing is sending out a bunch of resumes, it's not going to work."
Networking is crucial to finding a job in today's tough market. You've probably heard the statistics that more than 60 percent of all jobs are not advertised in newspapers. Some say 80 percent. Some job counselors will go as far as 85 percent. Whatever the number, experts agree that jobseekers who only use the help-wanted ads are at a competitive disadvantage.
Between the Lines
Consider how Harris networked recently as he spread his resume around. After hearing that a nonprofit agency was looking for a grant writer, he went to the organization's website and noticed that the president's biography indicated he was a resident of a cooperative housing facility in a nearby city. He contacted a friend at that city's only co-op and discovered that she knew the chief executive.
Guessing that cooperative housing residents were by nature friendly and outgoing like himself, Harris dropped by to visit his friend, who introduced him to the president. "Odds are much better if you meet people face to face," Harris believes. The president was happy to chat with him about the job. While there, he met other residents and passed his resume on to them. Fifteen copies went out that day.
Virtually anyone can be part of your network: relatives and friends, classmates, co-workers, members of your place of worship, former teachers or even teammates on your softball team.
Ask for Help
"Who else should I talk to?" is a vital phrase for expanding your network, advises Liz Atilano, acting director of the Loyola Marymount University career development center. Career counselors at the center tell their graduates to ask that key question of everyone they meet. Your network then can expand exponentially.
The most important thing is that you not be embarrassed to tell people that you're looking for work, says Simerman. This can be tough if you're feeling down about losing a job. You have to swallow your pride. "Sometimes people feel guilty about not working or they feel ashamed," he notes. "They don't tell family members, they don't tell neighbors and they don't tell friends they need a job, and they slink off to the library to hide."
Many jobseekers also forget that their alma mater is fertile territory for networking. Most campuses let alumni use their career centers, according to Atilano. It doesn't matter if you graduated this year, last year or 20 years ago.
Campus career centers may have job postings that don't make it into the newspapers. Your alumni association, former professors and classmates are all potential network contacts. Another method of networking is to join professional organizations in your field of expertise.
Job fairs are also important to attend, Simerman feels, although they may look like a waste of time. Even if the people in the booths don't seem to have many jobs, it's important to make contact and collect business cards. Call the recruiters from time to time to keep abreast of the company's hiring needs.
"It's important to be visual and keep calling," he says. "The squeaky wheel in our society tends to get the grease."
The Direct Approach
Another method is to target a specific company where you're interested in working. You may not have personal or professional contacts there, but that shouldn't stop you from getting your foot in the door, Simerman stresses.
"Informational interviews are big on our list of things to do," he states. These are short meetings with employers who aren't interviewing for a specific job. It's a way to find out more about the employer's needs and a way to let them put a face with your resume. It need not be with the company president or human resource department director; someone from middle management whose brain you can pick may be an even better source of useful information.
To get an informational interview, all you need is a name at the company to contact. Telephone or write a letter of inquiry to ask for an informational interview. In some cases, you can try showing up in person and see if they'll make time to see you.
"If you put yourself in somebody's path, yes, they can turn you down. You have to deal with rejection in a situation like this . . . but people who are willing to take risks and put themselves out there tend to have the best luck," Simerman contends.
However, an informational interview is not a job interview, Atilano cautions. It would be considered rude to ask for an informational interview and then use that person's time to beg for a job. "The jobseeker shouldn't change the agenda on the individual who has been kind enough to share their time," asserts Atilano. You should ask questions about the corporate culture, your contact's career path, and maybe get their ideas on how to tap into the hidden job market, she says.
And, just as with family and friends, end the interview with the key question: "Who else should I talk to?"
In no time, you will network your way to the person you really want to talk to - the one who has been looking to hire someone just like yourself.