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The New Way to Network


10/31/2006 1:59:35 PM

By Peter Weddle -- The job market is a mess. There are opportunities available, but they come and go at warp speed. On top of that, employers are drowning in resumes, the sheer volume of which makes it very hard for anyone to stand out. Nevertheless, many of us are apparently in or about to launch an active job search. In fact, according to one survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com from The Wall Street Journal, 83% of the workforce is hunting for a new or better job or planning to do so.

And there's the rub. Whether you're looking right now or intend to in the future, the time it will take to find that new job is increasing; sometimes to as much as double what it took just two years ago. So, what should you do?

Career counselors generally agree that the best strategy for finding a job is networking. It is the most effective way to tap into the "hidden market" of great opportunities that normally get filled by someone who knows someone else who meets a person who would be just perfect for an open position. Networking can't do it alone-it should be integrated into a multi-dimensional strategy of checking recruitment ads, research, and other time-tested techniques-but it can give you an edge in finding some of the best openings that most people have never heard about.

The only downside to networking is that it's time consuming and often inconvenient. You have to travel to an office or a meeting place somewhere to connect with potential contacts, and then you have to invest the time to get to know them one-on-one. As a consequence, the return on your networking is limited because you're human and need to sleep a couple of hours each day.

Now, however, you can expand your networking and, in the process, improve your access to the hidden job market. How? By using the Internet to do electronic networking every day … not to the exclusion of traditional face-to-face networking, but in addition to it. Here's how it works:

First, electronic networking occurs via e-mail. You meet and interact with others (your potential contacts) via online discussions forums and bulletin boards. Where can you find these virtual meeting places? Try the sites operated by your professional association, trade organization and college or university alumni group. For a good listing of association and trade group sites, see WEDDLE's 2007/8 Guide to Association Web Sites; for a good listing of college and university sites, see the University Directory at Google.com.

Second, the Golden Rule of Networking applies as much online as it does in the real world. Networking works because it's based on people helping each other out. So, the Golden Rule is simple but very important: You have to give as good as you get. Don't just stand around at those discussion forums and bulletin boards and watch everyone else interact; add to the conversation. Share your knowledge and experience with others so that they will be inclined to share theirs with you.

Third, electronic networking is a contact sport. Traditional networking is based on "who you know." If you know the right person, you can find your dream job. Electronic networking, on the other hand, is an exercise in "who knows you." The goal is to increase the number of people who know you and have benefited from that interaction. That virtual circle of contacts, in turn, expands your access to great employment opportunities, especially those that you probably would never otherwise have even known about.

Fourth, networking is netWORK, not netRELAX. In other words, the key to success in networking is regular activity so that the other participants in the discussion forum or bulletin board become familiar and comfortable with you. Devote a half hour twice a week to contributing to the conversation. That level of activity won't keep you from doing all of the other things a job search requires, but it will give you enough visibility to be recognized and accepted by the group. And, best of all, you can do your electronic networking from home while you're wearing your fuzzy slippers and having a glass of wine.

Fifth, pay attention to the culture of the group. Each discussion forum and bulletin board has its own culture which governs such issues as how disagreements are handled, the kind of language that is acceptable and other norms of behavior. To make sure that you don't inadvertently violate these unwritten rules, spend some time observing the conversation before you join in. Then, start slowly and increase your involvement gradually so that the others have a chance to get to know you and grow comfortable with your point of view.

There is no one sure way to find a new or better job. Over the years, however, networking has consistently yielded the best return (in terms of the quality and the quantity of opportunities it uncovers) from your investment of time and effort. Thanks to the Internet and the technique of electronic networking, you can enhance its benefit even more and, in the process, ensure that you are in charge of any change in your employment situation...rather than its victim.

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