The Underestimated Importance of Personal Networking
By Georgina Stamp
Searching for jobs is an arduous task that can take a lot of time, however there are ways of shortening that effort. The majority of job hunters underestimate how useful their network of contacts can be and how they can use this network to extend their search to increase the chances of finding a job. With the development of online social networks, your personal collection of contacts is considerably larger than those of job hunters 10 years ago and should be fully utilized in your search for work.
Understanding Your Network
Each and every one of us has a large network of contacts, however most of us don't realize this. For instance, did you know that according to the Pew Research Center, the average American has approximately 634 contacts? Your network is likely to consist of your friends, your family and previous colleagues. Not all of these contacts are going to be relevant to your job search, but there is potential and people often ignore this job path when looking for work.
The theory that we're only six steps away from anyone in the world might have been a bit far-fetched, but there is some truth in the idea. It's unlikely that you will know all of the friends of your friends and this is where you could find a potential job opportunity. The most important point to remember about your network is that it is larger than you can imagine and has people you've never even met... yet.
Traditional Methods of Expansion
If the majority of your contacts are of little help to you, it would be worthwhile for you to expand your network by attending social events and meetings that are aimed at specific types of businesses (small vs. large), industries and functional areas (accounting, sales, etc.).
Job fairs sponsored by trade associations and the media are another great method of building a larger network of contacts. With each person you meet at a fair, ask for contact details, references and referrals. Carry out research beforehand of companies that you'd like to speak to, and try to spend time to get to know their attendees. Your goal is to leave a lasting impression that you can follow up on down the line. Not every business is going to see your potential, but the contacts may be useful with your job search.
There are also more contemporary methods of obtaining professional contacts, such as networking online. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are ideal for contacting and becoming noticed by employers that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to speak with in person. For instance, did you know that according to the Bullhorn Reach Report, 97% of users registered with LinkedIn use it to source candidates for jobs? LinkedIn has several groups that you can engage in to showcase your knowledge and allow you to meet new people.
Of course, making a compelling first impression online can be just as difficult as making an impression in person. According to the Taylor & Francis Group in London, you have as little as 50 milliseconds to make your first impression and impress those that are viewing your page. For example, ensure that no inappropriate comments are present on your wall or feed. Censorship is crucial when prospective employers could be doing a background check on you.
Utilizing your Network
The old saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know" is still relevant. With your network of contacts expanding by the day, your chances of securing a job will increase considerably. You need to spread the word through your contacts that you are on the market looking for a job and are open to suggestions; you can do this by keeping in regular contact with your network.
Make a list of priorities and which of your contacts would make the best reference for each priority. How many of your contacts have jobs in the field you're targeting? By creating a list of contacts who have the highest potential of providing you with a job lead and communicating with them frequently, you are using your personal network effectively.
To be sure, it has been theorized by Robin Dunbar, the director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, that you will only keep in touch with approximately 150 of these contacts.
It's important to speak with all of your contacts in a friendly manner and show respect at all times. It would be rude to expect them to do you a favour without at least being polite or engaging them in other discussions.
As with anything in life, the more you put in, the more you will get out. So remember to allocate considerable time and effort to your personal network. A leading example is Christa Zihlmann at Mercer Human Resource Consulting in Geneva, who received her job through making numerous phone calls and eventually attracted the attention of a head hunter.