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The art of networking career success

IF you found yourself out of work tomorrow, how many phone calls would it take for you to get another job? Fifty? Twenty? Ten? Five? One? No idea?

If your answer is five or less, go straight to the top of the class. If it’s above 20, take heart. You can make life easier for yourself.

This question is an acid test for those seeking ongoing employability in the so-called new economy. In fact, even back in the dark ages of the old economy, this question was still one of the most important indicators in deter-mining your future career success.

Networking. The best way to guarantee your employ-ability. I encourage you to become a Master Networker. No, not Master Sleaze or Master Shark. Many people interpret networking as “sell-ing”, whereas true networking is about building relation-ships.

The strength of your network is not based on the quantity of people you know, but about the quality of the relationships between you and your contacts. It’s not about how many business cards you collect at a function, but about the connection you make with the people you do meet.

Why network? Well, consider this. Research shows that out of all the jobs in the marketplace, only about 20 per cent of those are ever publicly advertised. By “publicly” I mean in any form of print, radio or Internet media, or via an advertising agency. The rest – 80 per cent - are therefore not advertised. So how do these jobs get filled? Who gets them and how do they get them? The answer? They use the informal job market – in other words, via word-of-mouth using their personal networks.

To compound the facts further: Research also suggests that 80 per cent of job seekers rely on advertised positions as the primary way to find work. All those people prepare a resume, write out a job application and send it off with the scores, sometimes hundreds, of others that apply for the same position.

Let’s consider the numbers here. 80 per cent of job seekers rely on finding a job through a medium where only 20 per cent of the available jobs reside. That’s a pretty comp-etitive market. And it shows. The typical job advertisement generates between 50 and 100 resumes – your competitors. You’ve got to show that you are better than 99 other people for the job. Possible, but not great odds.

Is there another way?

Shift to the other side of the equation, where the other 20 per cent of job seekers operate. It’s easier and less competitive there. More breathing space. People in this space have 80 per cent of the jobs virtually to themselves, while the other 80 per cent of people sit and wait by the phone or the letterbox for a reply to their application. In many cases they might be the only person going for the job.

Where would you rather be?

Employers, or, in new economy speak, “the people who need the work done” would of course rather get someone through their network rather than advertise – its cheaper, quicker and in most cases a prospective hire has already been qualified. Why? The relationship is already in place.

At this point, I’m not surprised if the saying, “It’s not about what you know, its who you know” starts to jump around in your brain. Hmmm…

Most people wait until they are either out of work or going crazy in their current role before they start to build their networks to help them get a new job. Smart career movers are always building their networks. This is not to say that they are always “on the market”. Rather, they pro-actively seek to build high-quality relationships with the people around them. In doing so, they are spreading their fan base far and wide, so when the time comes to move, all it takes is a few calls to the right people. And, if you’re really effective, those right people will call you instead.

What does it take to build a great network? It’s a mindset thing. It’s how you view the people around you.

The Amateur Networker thinks: “What can this person do for me?” The Master Networker thinks: “What can I do for this person?” It’s the short-term view versus the long-term view. Take versus give. A Master Networker thinks of themselves as a resource for the person they are talking to. They’ll listen to what the other person needs first, and ask for what they need second. This is the basis for an exchange of value that builds long-term relation-ships. And when the Master Networker – you - needs a hand moving along in their career, who’ll be falling over themselves to help out? The person who knows the value you can provide.

If you do find yourself looking for work right now, fast track it by building your network. List your contacts – include family, friends and business associates. Rank them according to who can give you the most assistance. Call them and let them know you are doing “market research” – do they know of anyone who works in your field of interest? Can you use their name when you call them?

When you call a potential employer, tell them that you are “researching the market” and would like to spend 15 or 20 minutes of their time to learn more about what they do. Upon meeting them, do just that – ask a lot of questions and consider how you might be of value to them. Taking this approach rather than directly asking for a job will bring down the barriers (“sorry we don’t have a position available right now”) and allow them to get to know you. And when they do need someone, you’ll be at the forefront of their minds. Oh, and don’t forget to ask them who else they know that they can refer you to.

Networking is the way to secure not just a job, but also your employability in today’s ever-changing job market. After all, how many phone calls do you want to make when you need to find your next job?

n Digby Scott is the Principal Consultant of The Catalyst Group, a career and executive coaching consultancy. Contact him at digby @the catalystgroup.com.au

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