Let's Face It: Sometimes It's Who You Know
A Short Guide for Developing Your Network to Craft a Successful Job Search

by Erin O'Connor Jones, Director of Candidate Services



It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. Many jobs are filled simply because someone knows someone who knows the right person. In this fiercely competitive job market, the more “someones” you know, the more successful you will be.

It is better to be “over-connected” than to minimize your networking efforts and, as such, your chances of being tapped for one of the many positions still being filled despite these tough economic times. That said, there are many different types of networking; some are passive and some are active, but the most important networking is the strategic networking you do with a particular goal in mind. Strategic networkers are thoughtful in their outreach, marketing themselves to potential employers in appropriate ways through contacts who can speak to their strengths and successes. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, developing a personal networking strategy can make all the difference.

The following guide will help you develop your personal strategy for tapping your human resources as you launch your job search:

Get organized and set goals. With the jobless rate at its highest in 14 years and an unemployment rate among college-educated workers that has jumped 41% over the past year, job seekers will need a system make the most of their job seeking time. Draft a networking spreadsheet and timeline to help you to stay organized and consistently make progress in your job search. Set realistic goals along a weekly timeline, such as “Contact five people I used to work with,” “Research and register for a conference in my area of expertise,” or “Update my Linked In profile.”

Access your current network. Many job seekers underestimate the wealth of networking potential that can be tapped through current and past colleagues, neighbors, fellow volunteers, classmates, people who share your religious affiliations, your friends at the bakery and even the dog park. Begin the process of building your job search network by brainstorming about and writing down all the friends, colleagues, and contacts you have made over the years. Let your list of contacts know you looking for a new position and offer them a quick summary of what you hope your next job will be. You should be able to answer their questions about what job you want, when you want it, and how much you are willing to accept for compensation. Given the current economic pressures, you may also wish to consider the possibility of relocation.

Create an expanded network. After you have reached out to your close networks, it is time to begin networking outside of your comfort zone. This means researching and finding individuals who need to know about you even if they don’t already. If you have been shy about networking with new individuals because it makes you uncomfortable, take a moment to reflect on what about the interaction is most uncomfortable and why. While you may find it difficult to pitch your personal story, remember that you are not alone in your fear of networking and you will likely find folks sympathetic to your discomfort. Find an opening line or an ice breaker that helps you move past your anxiety and feel more at ease with your new contact. Also, the careful planning of your networking strategy and repetitiveness of the conversations will help keep each new conversation in perspective and ease your anxiety.

Be visible. Accept social invitations, continue your memberships, and attend relevant industry meetings and gatherings. Be aware of annual meetings and social opportunities and don’t be afraid to attend because you are no longer employed or are new to the sector. Attend and make an effort to meet as many new people as possible to bolster your networking. If you have colleagues or friends in attendance, ask them to introduce you to new contacts. Ask for the list of attendees, if possible, prior to an event and identify who you would like to meet in advance. This kind of outreach and strategic networking along with careful follow-up with each new contact can make the difference in a successful job search.

Use technology and online resources. In today’s world, online resources are extraordinarily rich, and social networking is an increasingly important tool in targeting talent. There are thousands of nonprofit networking groups and myriad blog postings related to finding and hiring talented, mission-driven staff. Using it wisely as a potential candidate is a skill that can exponentially expand networking opportunities. Learn to Twitter, join Facebook and LinkedIn, and explore other online resources such listservs in your area of interest and expertise. Take note of others who belong to these sites and listservs, and make sure to reconnect with any familiar names or faces. When you are researching online, look for job postings or personal profiles that match your goals and tailor your networking strategies to take advantage of their networks.

Maximize traditional resources. Despite the power of new technology, it is important to not overlook traditional tools. Remember to ask a trusted friend or colleague to review your resume, talk with you about your networking strategy, and help you define realistic professional goals. This is especially important if you are transitioning into a new field, such as moving to the nonprofit sector from the for-profit world. Some questions you can ask yourself include, “Are you using the right language for that community?” and “Are you looking in the right places and even networking with the right people?” A trusted colleague from your chosen field can add enormous value in this area.

Volunteer or work part-time. Even if you have the financial flexibility to remain idle while searching for your next job, consider a visible volunteer, part-time, or temporary position as an investment in your networking strategy. There are temporary positions available in the nonprofit sector and, while you may be overqualified for a temp job, that position may present opportunities to you that you would not have access to otherwise. Likewise, volunteering or working part-time can be a powerful tool in your networking. A smart networker will make the most of every opportunity to prove what s/he do.

Keep moving forward. Networking requires an enormous amount of time, patience, energy, and dedication and broad networking is a series of exchanges designed around common interests. It is an ongoing process and pushing yourself to get out there – and keeping notes of who you meet, where you have met them, and if you should follow-up with them – are important skills to develop whether you are job seeking or not. The rewards of an expansive network are plentiful: access to expertise, knowledge, and, hopefully, job opportunities within your area of interest.





A List of Do’s and Don’ts




Make a list of current and past colleagues. 

Reach out to everyone without first being strategic.

Let all your contacts know that you are job seeking (reintroduce yourself if it’s been a while).

Send blind emails or leave random voicemails.

Have business cards printed.

Forget to hand new business cards out when you meet new people (or old friends).

Create a system to track your contacts including dates of contact.

Lose track and subsequently forget those you have contacted.

Explore listservs and job boards.

Sign up for any and all listservs and job boards as this is neither strategic nor effective.

Accept social invitations, continue memberships and associations.

Leave without at least one new contact, have too many cocktails, or dance on the table. 

Become active in your issue of choice.  Volunteer or explore opportunities to make a difference.

Join and volunteer for any and all issue areas. You’ll be overextended and unable to make a meaningful contribution.

Find a job buddy to help renew your energy, rebuild your self-esteem, and keep you focused.

Go it alone.   Job searching can be a long process and often lonely.

Set benchmarks for success.  Be realistic.

Set too many benchmarks.    

Keep detailed notes.

Get confused and overwhelmed. 




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