Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Mar 6, 2010

Working the Network Works

Instructor, Caroline Bender

The trade publications refer to “the hidden job market.” These are the jobs that are not advertised, and in spite of their invisibility, someone estimates that 80% of available jobs are not advertised. It is not entirely clear how that is calculated. What matters to you, the job seeker, is that these jobs are as abundant now as they have ever been. And they are available to you if you understand where to look.

Why is there a hidden job market?

Advertising is still expensive, online or off, and in a 10% (or higher in some regions and industries) unemployment situation, posting an ad opens a floodgate of applications an employer can’t manage because he laid off his recruiting staff in the last go-round. Better to put the word out quietly, in a controlled settling, than to post in so public a forum as a website, newspaper, or trade journal.

Referrals are more reliable – for everyone involved. Even the Navy knows that a buddy system improves retention . The referring employee is endorsing both the company and the candidate, the candidate can get the real skinny on life at the Company, and the Hiring Manager gets a name he can put right to the top of the stack.
 Jobs are often created for a specific need, or to suit a specific internal candidate, where insider knowledge is so crucial you wouldn’t want anyone but the person you already have in mind. How often have you said in your own work situation, “I wish we had an Anne to put on this problem,” or “Martin would be at his best if we could find a way to let him analyze data all day long”?
 So how does one find this job market if it is invisible?

You’ve got to work your network. Because working your network works.

This is not a paragraph about “social networking,” Tweeting, status updates or YouTube job posting. This is not a strategy for amassing the largest number of names you can in order to hit them up for jobs. This is simply about staying connected with the people you know, and letting them help you achieve your goals.

The people you know are your “lower-case f” friends, your family, your former colleagues and classmates. Social networking sites and tools may make it easy to connect, but not if you are doing it shallowly. If you are doing it well, a beer or a phone call will do. And guess what, Workforce America, it’s not just when the chips are down, either. You’ve got to actually think about other people, and tell them when you do. Help them when they ask, and ask for help when you need it. Roll a few logs and actually build that relationship and you will be surprised at what you can accomplish together.

I have a friend/mentor/former co-worker that I chat with online on occasion, and yes we are networked 4 ways. But we also write notes to each other (stamps, envelopes, and all!) and about once a month we find a way to meet for coffee on a Sunday morning and share ideas. When she broke her ankle, I came by to keep her company; when I lost power during an ice storm, she put me up. And when she heard about a shift in her company that implied an opportunity I might take advantage of, she let me know.

That opportunity stalled in its growth stage. She spread the word about me, and sparked some interest, but the change wasn’t getting off the ground. I soldiered on where I was until 4 months later, when I was laid off from my job.

Enter now a different friend, one I had not heard from in nearly 15 years. For a time, we had been quite close, but her career pursuits took her across country and Life happened to the both of us. I will admit that we reconnected through the new-fangled social networking you are so tired of hearing about, but it was our original old-fashioned friendship that made the reconnection such an ease and a pleasure. When she heard I had been laid off, she asked, “What are you looking for? My company has some new openings…”

And it turned out it was the same company.

These two colleagues, who knew each other so well, who both thought of me as a match for their company, had no idea that they both knew me. Our relationships were so far apart in years and makeup that we were all dumb-founded to learn of this connection. I brushed up the resume again, and I was reintroduced as a candidate. In February, I started working at that company.

Your network will not get you jobs, you know that. Even the friend who directly hires you is not hiring you out of friendship. The stakes are too high for that. They are hiring you for your skills, your style, and the history of success (both personal and professional) you are bringing to that job. You are literally seeing return on your investment.

You don’t have to be friends with everyone you work with; you don’t have to center your personal life around your work. What you do have to do is invest a little of the personal in the professional, and the other way around to be “top of mind” when the subject of great fit and match is on the table.

Give of yourself to the people you know. Notes, emails, phone calls, (a text or a “poke” if that is your vibe), keep the connection alive.

Care about what happens to people you no longer work with, live near, room with, or play with, and find a way to visit with them. Not because it may someday lead to a job, but because you like them. And they are nice to be with.

Promise to check in, and keep that promise. This is where so many of us lose our network. Friendships take time and effort, but in both cases, small quantities suffice. Sitting sidelines at the soccer game, shopping for new shoes, shooting hoops, taking the baby around the block, telling someone you thought of them today.

Strive to be the amazing person your friends think you are. They do, you know. You don’t get it, because frankly they are so amazing with all they manage, that why would they think twice about you? You’re both wrong. You’re both right. Live up to the hype.

Offer to help, to keep company, to watch the kids, to send a care package, to write a letter of reference, to put in a good word.

Accept the same in return.  Reciprocity happens when you need it most.

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