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Most of us have heard the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Is it true?
Last Updated: 03-Feb-2014

Most of us have heard the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Is it true? Statistics vary depending on source and location, but it’s safe to say that over 50% of jobs are found through networking. There are several reasons why networking is critical to your job search.

  • People do business primarily with people they know and like. Resumes and cover letters alone are often too impersonal to convince employers to hire you.
  • Hiring managers are hiring because they are extremely busy. They typically prioritize by first interviewing candidates who have been referred by trusted colleagues, rather than using scarce time to sift through piles of resumes from strangers.
  • Job listings tend to draw piles of applicants, which puts you in intense competition with many others. Networking makes you a recommended member of a much smaller pool.
  • The job you want may not be advertised at all. Networking leads to information and job leads, often before a formal job description is created or a job announced.
If networking is new to you, it’s wise to have a strategy. First, identify your niche skills by considering how former colleagues and classmates would describe you, and what types of problems people ask you to solve. Then use this to design an “elevator pitch”. In 30-60 seconds, you should be able to memorably explain what you want as your next step and how you can create value, by highlighting your niche skills and accomplishments. Practice what you want to say, but don’t recite a memorized statement. Deliver your elevator pitch in a relaxed, conversational manner, seeking advice rather than asking directly for a job. If you are clear on what you want and come across as motivated and valuable, people will want to help you.

Next, evaluate your existing network and consider who you will contact. While you’ll want to network with most of the people you respect, consider prioritizing your time by starting with your best references – your ‘fan club’ who will enthusiastically endorse your abilities, track record, and character.Contact each of your references to let them know you are looking, and confirm their agreement to be your reference. Describe your goals and seek their assistance for potential job leads. Keep them informed on your job search progress, and prepare them for any calls from potential employers. Then, list all of your additional contacts such as former co-workers, classmates, faculty, volunteer connections, sports teammates, fellow members of your religious congregation, family members, and neighbors – essentially anyone that you know, and re-connect with them through personalized emails and phone calls. Don’t assume that certain people won’t be able to help. You may be surprised by who they know.

You have networking opportunities every day. Start where you are comfortable, whether it’s at parties, community events, or volunteer activities. You can network in person at the gym or the bakery, on the phone, over email, or via the internet. Seek out and attend local job fairs and industry events. Talk to anyone and everyone including those new to an industry and old pros, those in school and those overseas. They all matter.Make an effort to be out in public more than you usually are. As you strike up conversations with others, be prepared to mention that you are looking for your next challenge and what type of role you envision. Always be prepared for questions like “What do you do?” or “What are your plans for this summer?” This is your opportunity to casually turn the conversation toward your elevator pitch and let them know you are looking for your place to contribute. Of course you will also discuss other topics while you are networking. Be a good listener. Your networking conversations should be two-way interactions, where you genuinely show an interest in others and enthusiasm for their work. By learning about your contacts and their employers, you can direct your conversations and make them more meaningful. If someone talks about a current activity, offer to help.

If you have not yet explored online social networking, now is a good time to explore sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You can easily locate connections to the company and industry where you want to work, join alumni groups, and receive job postings related to your field.

As you progress in your career and develop more niche skills, you should also develop more specific employer targets and career goals. The more experience you have, the more selective and focused you should be. More recent graduates may fare better with “Let me know if you hear of anything” requests, while more seasoned professionals are expected to have a more targeted approach.

Once you identify a connection with a company you are interested in, ask your contact if you can mention them in your introductory communication. If your connection is willing to put in a word for you, that is ideal. Also be sure to leave your contact information with new people you meet. While someone may not currently have a lead or connection, they might turn around and meet your perfect connection next week. Always follow up to thank those who help you in any way.

The stronger your reputation and skills, the easier networking may become. People will want to refer you because it makes them look better. Never feel ashamed to network. Remember that the majority of employed people found their current job this way, making it the most effective and respected way to find your next job.

While strong networking skills will definitely help in your job search, it’s also important to remember that it’s just one component of your job search strategy. Strong skills, reputation, references, resume and interview skills are also critical components to help you land your next position. Networking can take some practice, but will get easier the more people you talk with. Once the connections start leading to interviews, then you’ll know you are on your way!