Is Business Networking Really the Best Job Search Technique?

Does the hidden job market really exist? Is business networking really the best way to find a job? As a general statement, networking is an important tool in your job search. Is it necessarily the most important tool? Maybe so, maybe not….

If you research much of the available job search advice, you’ll come across many articles proclaiming that networking is the best way to find a new job. The primary reason given is that 75 – 80% of all jobs are never advertised and are filled by networking contacts. This is the so-called “hidden job market”.

Don’t believe it.

While this may have been partially true many years ago, as a hiring manager I will tell you that much of this hidden job market today has moved online with the tremendous growth of the Internet.

The Hidden Job Market Isn’t so Hidden Anymore

Prior to the widespread use of the Internet and company web sites, the only alternatives for getting qualified candidates were to advertise in the newspaper or work with employment agencies, both of which were costly. Keeping an active network of candidates was more important then.
Today, however, for a relatively modest sum I can post jobs online and reach millions of potential candidates. And I can post jobs online on my company’s web site for free.

I’ve been a hiring manager for over thirty years at three different Fortune 500 companies, a Dot Com, and a large (8,000 employee) public sector organization. In today’s world, I can absolutely tell you that at the mid-management level and below, the vast majority of job openings appear either on a company web site, online job site, or in the newspaper.

This does not mean that the hidden job market no longer exists – it does. But it certainly doesn’t contain 80% of all jobs. And while networking is an important part of any job search, it should not be your only technique and maybe not even your primary technique.

Sure, there are exceptions. For example, you will very seldom see the following types of jobs advertised:

  • Senior executive positions – vice-president and above. You will seldom see President and CEO openings in the Sunday Times or on Monster! There are only a small number of qualified candidates for these positions and they are usually well known in their industry.
  • Unusual jobs in very specialized industries. Only a few people will be qualified and they too are likely to be well known.
  • Fast food and other entry level retail jobs. These are high turnover jobs and almost all candidates apply in person, so there’s seldom a need to advertise.

Another reason why a job never gets advertised is because it’s filled with an internal candidate. As a hiring manager, I always consider internal candidates first because their skills and work ethic are known to me. Over the years, I estimate I’ve filled at least 25% of my job openings with internal candidates.

If I’m unable to find an internal candidate, I will post the job either in the newspaper or online. Remember: we’re talking about jobs at the mid-management level and below. So the bottom line is that 75% of my job openings are advertised. Most other hiring managers I know tell me the same thing.

Networking is important so long as you understand what it can and cannot do.

Effective Networking

The main thing to realize about networking is that it’s best as a long-term strategy.
Building a list of business and personal contacts and keeping in touch with them should be something you do on an ongoing basis. Not for the sole purpose of finding a job, but to keep current, do mutual favors, exchange information, and generally build a long term relationship.

Then, when you do need a job, you simply get the word out to the contacts with whom you’ve built up a solid relationship. Most will be happy to help you. And since they know a lot about you, they can be an important and credible source of referrals to others who may have job openings.

As a hiring manager, when I have a job opening, I’m very receptive to referrals of candidates who are well known to people I know and trust.

This is networking at it’s most effective level.

INEFFECTIVE Networking (Don’t Do This!)

A networking strategy that you will still see on many job search advice sites is the “informational interview”. This also may be called a “referral interview” or a “networking interview”.
With this strategy, you find out the names of managers in target companies and pretend to not be searching for employment. You send them a letter stating that you’re seeking their expert knowledge and advice on information and careers in that industry and how you might prepare yourself. You then ask for a short “informational meeting”. Once in the meeting, you sell yourself and hope this will turn into a job interview or that you’ll be referred to another hiring manager.

In other words, you attempt to completely skip the need to build a network of contacts by going directly to the source!

As a hiring manager, let me be very blunt about this strategy: it’s been overused and played out years ago, and I immediately recognize this for what it is – a job search ploy. I will also consider you less than honest if you attempt it.

I don’t know of a single hiring manager today that would grant an “informational interview”.

This tactic has been around for so long that only the newest and most amateur hiring manager would fall for it, yet this bad advice comes up again and again on job search advice web sites. I can only guess that they are using information that is many years out of date.

As a networking strategy, forget this one.

Other Ways to Network

Okay, you haven’t developed a well-established network of long-term business contacts – now what? There are various offline and online methods to network and begin building some contacts.
WARNING! If you are still working, be very cautious about telling too many people you are job hunting. This may get back to your employer and result in less than pleasant consequences. If you’re currently unemployed, there’s no problem – shout it to the world if you like!

OFFLINE NETWORKING

Get the Word Out
Let your relatives, friends, neighbors and people you’ve worked with know you’re looking for a job. The more people who know you’re looking, the better the chance that you may be able to get a referral.

Join Professional Associations
Consider joining some professional associations. It’s not only a good way to keep up with your industry, but it can lead to lasting business contacts and referrals for job openings – so long as you don’t promote your interests too heavily. Here’s an comprehensive list of Professional Associations.

Join Networking Groups
There are groups that are specifically formed to give career coaching and networking opportunities with other members. Here are three of the most well know ones.

  • The Five O’Clock Club- This is a membership-based organization that offers outplacement assistance and career counseling. Membership is $49 and they have branches in cities across the country. The original Five O’Clock Club was founded in 1883 and they claim that the average member finds a new job in 10 weeks, as compared to eight months for a professional.
  • Forty Plus – Forty Plus groups are non-profit and look for managers and professionals over the age of 40 who earn at least $40,000 per year. However, most chapters say the salary requirement is only very loosely enforced. “We teach people how to network, train them in ways of marketing themselves, and teach them all the techniques — resume writing, interviewing, negotiation — having to do with job search,” says Barbara Lowery, the Houston chapter’s executive director. “If you learn to feel good about it, you’ll network without fear.” There are 10 chapters across the country.

ONLINE NETWORKING

There are litereally hundreds of online networking sites today and the list is growing. While a relatively new technique, it is catching on quickly, especially if you’re seeking a high tech job.

These online communities can provide advice, job leads, or simply the chance to communicate with others in the same situation as yourself. But they can be addictive and you’ll need to watch that you don’t spend more time networking online than you do job searching.

Here are some of the most popular online networking sites.

Bright Star – This is an alumni community where current and past employees from companies and organizations stay in touch.
Jobster – You must have an invitation to join this one. Companies use Jobster to reach out to working professionals who can provide referrals.
LinkedIn – This is a relationship-based job network. Members can search job listing, network with other members, and occasionally get inside connections to the hidden job market. One of the newest and fastest growing networks.
Ryze Business Networking – A network designed to help grow your career and find jobs. Offers a free networking home page and messaging.
Monster Networking – This is one of the best features of Monster. It’s a huge network of contacts to network with and you can search by keyword, occupation, company, school or location. For an additional fee, there are additional features such as Instant Messaging.
Vault Message Boards – These are online discussion forums for various career topics, undergraduate and graduate schools, companies and industries. Good networking sources for career and company information.
Viral Commerce – You can meet people and build a network by inviting others to join. The network expands as your contacts invite their contacts to join.
WorldWIT – This is the largest online discussion community for women in the world. You can use it to find jobs, get resume help, connect with other businesswomen, and obtain a variety of other career and business advice.

The Hiring Manager’s Best Networking Tip Ever

As a hiring manager, the absolute best way to get your name in front of me is….through one of my employees.
That’s right – not by referral from a friend, not by referral from a business associate, and certainly not by the time worn technique of trying to get an “informational interview”.

Whenever I have a job opening, the first thing I do is ask my employees if they are acquainted with anyone that qualifies for the job. I trust that they would only recommend people who are extremely good because their reputation is on the line. These are the referrals that I always consider before anyone else.

If you want a job with me and are fortunate enough to be well acquainted with someone who works for me, that is almost a certain path to at least an interview.

This is admittedly probably the most difficult way to network, because you have to know an employee of the hiring manager. But if you do, your chances for an interview are excellent.

 

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