Networking Done Right

If you're looking for a job, as I am, one thing you've probably heard again and again is the importance of networking, that is, using friends, family and other contacts to find another job.  It's apparently a rather popular method; about 70% of jobs are found through some form of networking, as noted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  For those of you keeping score at home, that's less than one third of all US jobs that are found by applying to newspaper ads, searching online jobs sites, hiring headhunters, or doing every other form of job searching that you possibly can.

Given this reality, it's important that you network if you hope to find a new or better job, a fact that's never been more apparent than in the current environment.  The reality of the situation is that, no matter what your other skills, personality, or abilities, if you can't network (or opt not to), you're simply going to have a much, much tougher time finding a job, particularly if you are just starting out in your field and your work to date will not speak for itself.  To help you out, here are a few basics to keep in mind as you go about your networking:

DO consider everyone you know as a potential part of your network. You never know who your friends, family, and neighbors might know; sharing news of your job hunt raises the possibility that you can find out about job openings you may never have otherwise encountered.  Who knows, maybe your grandmother's bridge partner's daughter's husband is trying to fill a job that you'd be perfect for, and simply mentioning that you need a job in that field is enough to get the ball rolling on putting you in that position.  It's a game of Six Degrees of Separation; the further you can stretch the web of your acquaintances, the more likely you'll reach someone who can hire you.

DO try to build and develop your network before you need it. Ideally, you want to know who you can contact should you need help in finding new employment, before you need to rely on them.  Knowing who among your friends and family could be the most helpful if you find yourself seeking a new job will make it that much easier to try to find a job through your network when the time comes.  Keep in touch with your college classmates, former coworkers, and others in your field of work, and your network will be healthy and robust if you need to find another job at some point in the future.

DO be sure to thank anyone who helps you find a job. If you manage to get a job through a former colleague or an old school mate, be sure to thank him or her for all their help.  Depending on the person and the relationship you share, this thanks could be anything from a simple hand written note expressing your appreciation (notes being much more classy than emails or phone calls) for someone you barely know, to taking your group of friends out on you to celebrate their help in getting a new job.  The important thing is to show your appreciation and make those who helped you know that you remember all the help that they provided.  Speaking of making others feel appreciated…

DO help others out when you can… If you're employed in a decent job, you may end up being asked to help someone else in your network find employment.  Do what you can to help, from passing along the resume to Human Resources to setting up a preliminary interview (if it's in your power).  In doing so, you can (potentially) improve your standing at work, boost your status in the network, and most importantly, help out someone else in need.

…but DON'T put your job on the line… It's one thing to pass along a resume to a hiring manager, it's another to personally vouch for the work ethics and skills of someone you've never met.  If your third cousin's daughter's babysitter wants help getting a job, getting her information to someone who could hire her is a good deed; promising that she'll work out when you haven't even met her is downright foolish.  If the person you help doesn't work out, you don't want to be in a position where your boss looks to put the blame (and the negative consequences) entirely on your shoulders.  Don't vouch for the work quality of someone with whom you've never worked; instead, provide what information you can and hope that opens the door.

…and DON'T demand payback. If you helped someone find a job and you are now unemployed (or looking for other work), don't think it is his responsibility to find you a new position.  There are any number of reasons why he might be unable to help you (beyond providing moral support, of course).  Attempting to force the issue, besides being unlikely to help you find a new position, could make him less inclined to help you in the future, and make it less likely to get any help from your broader network, to boot.

DON'T expect your network to do all the work. While that 70% figure makes it awfully tempting to think that all you need to do to get a job is telling your immediate friends and family and waiting for the job offers to start appearing, but life doesn't work that way.  You'll need to keep up with all the people in your network, to see if they've heard anything, and follow up on any leads you happen to receive (networking can help get your foot in the door; it's your job to get the rest of your body through).  In addition, you can't forget the other job hunting methods; even if they aren't as productive as networking, they can still yield job offers, and you should leave no stone unturned.

DON'T lose hope. It's easy to get discouraged if you've been looking for a job for a long time without any success; trust me on this one, I speak from experience.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in the job market, and if you find yourself unemployed, it could be weeks, months, or even years before you find something new.  The best thing you can do is to focus on the good things in your life, try not to panic about your job, and keep up the search.

Good luck to all those who are job hunting, and happy networking!

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