By Reesa Staten, Robert Half
In the job search, as with many things in life, the secret to success often lies not in what you know, but who you know. The fact is that all things being equal, hiring managers will often give an edge to applicants who have been referred to them by someone they know.
Why? Hiring is risky business for employers. Hire the wrong person, and your company loses valuable time, money and productivity. Not to mention the negative effect a bad match can have on team morale. So managers look for any input, including referrals, that will help them make the best hiring decision.
As a job seeker, you can increase your odds of getting hired by constantly expanding your professional network. The more people you know, the better your chances of hearing of job openings first and getting a foot in the door by having a personal referral.
Start by telling everyone you know — and everyone you meet — that you are in the job market. Job leads can come from anywhere, so leave no stone unturned. Of course, if you already have a job and are looking for something better, then your inquiries will need to be a little more discreet.
The first rule of networking is to make connections long before you need them. Keep in touch with the people you meet throughout your life, including past teachers, bosses and coworkers. Don’t overlook the family friend who works in a field or industry that has always interested you. If you lose contact with old acquaintances, rekindle the relationship with a friendly call or email.
The second rule of networking is to pay it forward by being a resource for others, no strings attached. If you offer support to someone who needs it, he or she will be more inclined to return the favor when it’s your turn to ask for help.
When someone introduces you to a person in their network or helps you land an interview, be sure that you are professional and courteous when you meet with the new contact. Your friends are going to bat for you. Make them glad they did.
Become a ‘Social’-ite
LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites are good channels for building and cultivating your professional network. You can use these sites to locate people who can help you expand your network. Be sure that you have an up-to-date profile so that your contacts get a complete picture of your skills and work history.
Facebook is one thing, but don’t overlook the value of face time. Arrange to have coffee with former colleagues from time to time so that you can keep the connection alive. If it’s been a while since you talked to someone, bring that person up-to-date on what you’ve been doing, including any new work experience you’ve gained. This will help him or her identify career opportunities that may be a fit.
When you ask your contacts for help, keep your requests reasonable, and make it as easy as possible for them to help you. For example, if you are applying for a job at their company, personally hand them your resume and explain why you think you would be a good fit. If you know the name of the hiring manager, share that information, too, so your contact does not have to do the legwork for you.
Not everyone will be in a position to help you, so be gracious if they decline. They may not feel comfortable advocating on your behalf, particularly if the two of you have had only limited interaction in the past. This is all the more reason you need to stay in frequent contact with members of your network.
If networking isn’t a habit for you, make it one by engaging in at least one networking activity each month. It could be as easy as sending a quick thank-you note to someone who has helped you in the past, attending a business mixer or congratulating a friend who was promoted.
Networking shouldn’t feel like a chore. If you foster great relationships over time, then your contacts will start to feel a lot more like friends than professional colleagues.
Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at email@example.com.