In The Hidden Job Market For The Eighties, Tom Jackson and David Mayleas reported that “only 10 to 15 percent of available job openings are cited in newspapers or with agencies.” Not surprisingly, in the ensuing two decades, little has changed. Job Star Central finds that 80% of current jobs are never advertised. Meanwhile, Career X Roads suggests that in 2010 28% of jobs were found through referrals. The Quintessential Career website further points out that only five percent of jobs are obtained by answering ads on job boards. Finally, Richard Bolles, author of the classic job-hunting manual, What Color Is Your Parachute?, insists cold calling and networking combined lead to success for 86% of job seekers. Overall, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates the key element in job search is networking.
If networking is the magical elixir, the secret password that facilitates meaningful, well-paid employment, then it certainly seems critical that we learn to practice this skill effectively. In the hope of accomplishing just that I’ve been studying the tricks of the trade. For years, frankly, about the only thing I was connected to was the box scores of The New York Giants game. But that has changed, to a certain extent, of late, by becoming a student of the field. Below are the best bits of wisdom I’ve distilled from my research and applied to great effect in a variety of contexts — including — of all places — on a train from Prague to Budapest.
1) Make Yourself Valuable — According to Jeffrey Gittomer, author of The Little Black Book Of Connections, the key to networking is making yourself indispensable to others. You must generate worth or meaning if you want your contacts to reciprocate. As Gittomer puts it, “if you make yourself valuable, and memorable, others will want to make you part of their network.” I highlighted the word want, in this particular quote, because this seems the critical element to obtaining a meaningful contact — that he or she wants to help. Certainly, this becomes more likely if you’ve already helped this individual in some significant way.
In my experience the universe operates with a kind of karmic harmony. The more you make yourself available to others the more they will be available to you. Many great figures teach similar principals. St. Francis of Assisi once wrote “for it is in giving that we receive.” Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath, believed “life is given to us, we earn it by giving it.” Even if you don’t obtain direct help in exchange for the help you provided it is likely to come back to you from another source. In networking, as in running a business, or starting a social organization, we really do reap what we sow.
2) Continually Put Yourself In Front Of Decision Makers — The vast majority of us never put ourselves out there fully. So those who do generally obtain outsized rewards. This is nothing new. Thousands of years ago Publius Terence wrote, “fortune favors the bold.” William Sprague expressed a similar idea when he suggested, “do not wait until the iron is hot but make it hot by striking.”
When networking it is important to take risks. By putting yourself in front of important figures you harness the full power of your connections and provide yourself the greatest chance of success. Techniques like warm calling (this is different than cold calling in that you have background information on the target, and, ideally, a referral), making frequent proposals to those at the top, attending events where decision makers are located, and maintaining a strong public profile (more on this later), can keep you from seeming a fly on the wall. The more you are in front of decision makers, and force them to evaluate your talent, force them to consider saying “yes!,” the more likely you are to achieve your goals. Besides, the positive attributes of successful people often rub off on the individuals with whom they associate. Perhaps Christopher D. Furman put it best when he said, “If you want to be a winner, hang around with winners.”
As for celebrities, Gittomer recommends proceeding cautiously and keeping it brief. His technique is to say “I’m a big fan,” shake hands with the target, and then say “I wish you every success.” It doesn’t sound like much, but this little gesture, in certain cases — as happened when he met Jim Kelly — can lead to longer conversations, which, in turn, may lead to critical business deals down the line.
Finally, along the same lines, Harvey Mackay, in his book Use Your Head To Get Your Foot In The Door, suggests networking with employees at your target company to find out about a business culture. In particular, he suggests you narrow in on one critical question: “who is your hiring manager?” This will enable you to skirt around human resources departments, which, most often, serve as impediments to the advancement that only decision makers can facilitate.
3) Build Relationships Slowly — When you obtain a bite on your line when fishing it is advisable not to yank up on the rod too quickly, for this may cause you to lose the fish. The same holds true for networking. Act too rapidly, jump all over your promising lead, and you will likely destroy the initial connection you developed. A better tact is to proceed slowly, building a deeper, more sustainable bond.
In The Networking Survival Guide, Diane Darling suggests offering to buy a prospect lunch comes across as presumptuous. Besides, for many important figures, with busy schedules, this seems far too onerous a request. Darling recommends offering to meet a contact for 15 minutes at his or her office for coffee instead. This low-stakes gesture creates a more positive vibe. It also makes exiting the situation easier. Finally, once you have established this initial contact, be sure to follow up, continually taking an active role in strengthening this connection (by, for example, creating value for your contact). Relationships need constant nurturing. It was this basic fact that lead Woody Allen to jokingly compare a relationship to a shark. By this he meant that a relationship “has to constantly move forward or it dies.”
4) Maintain A Public Profile — In the new, hypercompetitive job market it is not enough to passively submit resumes. One has to employ radical techniques to stand out from the herd. In the book Guerilla Marketing For Job Hunters 2.0, Jay Conrad Levinson and David E. Perry suggest issuing press releases, distributing white papers and/or newsletters, employing targeted email campaigns, partaking in public speaking programs (at libraries, nursing homes, and conferences), building a website, blogging, volunteering as an expert or pundit on news channels, submitting articles to magazines and newspapers, and, generally, engaging in whatever measures are required to build a noteworthy public profile.
The advantages to this are fairly obvious. Robin Williams, Oprah, and Richard Gere don’t network. For they already have a platform. The goal, then, is to keep yourself in the minds of employers and build up your credibility as an expert in your field. Because you will be offering others value, free of charge, employers will be more likely to become aware of you, find you, and hire you — without you ever having to make a single cold call.
5) Tap Into Alumni Networks, Social Networking Sites, And/Or Other Organizational Alliances — Nearly everyone, today, is on LinkedIn. But not everyone uses it effectively, obtaining referrals from one source to help you reach your target. Additionally, consider employing the power of Classmates.com, attending high school, college, and graduate school reunions, connecting through a professional or trade organization, and joining charitable and non-profit organizations. By donating your time to worthy causes and reaching out to others with whom you have a past, you will not only build your understanding of your area of expertise and your own role in the larger social sphere, you will often make critical contacts that will serve you will when you need that next job.
There is often a great deal of chatter about the power of networking. For instance, it is often stated that it is not what you know but who you know that makes the difference. Certainly, networking is potent. But unless you are creating value, maintaining a public profile, putting yourself in front of important figures, building relationships slowly, and tapping into alumni and social networks, this power will not be available to you. Practice these strategies, then, while always remembering that we are each dependent on the other, that no man is an island. We need the other. Depend upon our network. They feed us as we in turn feed them. Or, as Vince Lombardi put it, “individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”