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The Importance of Networking

It has been said that the best jobs come from word of mouth. But that's not stopping the thousands of Americans logging on to websites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com, searching for jobs and posting their resumes. The chance of getting a call back is very slim, especially since the average human resources office today is overloaded with hundreds of resumes from other interested candidates. But with no other apparent resources to find work, many are willing to take their chances. Some even invest in fancy resume paper. Yet how much simpler would it be if you had a friend at the company who could recommend you for the position? An inside source who could lead you to the key hiring powers? A shortcut like that could save you valuable time and money in your job hunt.

Experts agree that networking is worth your time and effort and can help you get ahead in the professional world. "Networking offers another avenue to reach vendors, customers, future business partners... It allows you to present yourself and your networking objective in a much more personal way than an advertisement, promotion, or an online resume can," explains Albert Schuster, president of Network in Philadelphia, an organization that hosts social and networking events for young professionals. He suggests doing some research to figure which networking events, tradeshows, or associations would be most valuable to attend according to your networking objective.

The idea of approaching successful professionals can be intimidating initially, but figuring out where to go once you've established a contact can be even trickier. David Leighton, president of WITI, a company that offers support to professional women through a network of various resources, says its important to relate to your contact on a human level as your communicate with him or her. "Its about relating to people through core values. Everyone is human. Find out what drives these professionals. What are their hobbies? Are they cat lovers or dog lovers? Its important to relate to that person on a human level, before you start asking for other things." He also suggests maintaining a list of companies you would like to work for. "Come up with a target list. Identify key decision makers at these companies. Google them, read their bios and find what organizations they are involved in, look at what they are doing."

Schuster points out that follow-up is essential for building on your relationships. "Follow up by e-mail and/or phone call to every contact you meet. Thank them for taking the time to meet or speak with you, remind them of your networking objective and offer to assist them with any of their future needs. This shows them that you care about them and not just what they can do for you. Keep a spreadsheet of your valuable networking contacts and follow-up at least once a quarter to see how things are going for them, to keep your networking objectives fresh in their minds and to ask for any leads or referrals."

Leighton recommends that you be informed before you reach out to your contact. "Do your homework. Read current publications, catch up on some of the news, so you can have a tap on what's going on in their industry, in their company." Information like this can come in handy especially when you're looking for a reason to drop an e-mail or note to a contact.

Both experts agree that college students should take advantage of networking before they get that degree and head out the door. "College students should be heavily networking within their future industry during their junior and senior years of college. While lacking professional experience, the ability to "pitch" yourself to a hiring manager may hold more weight than a submitted resume from an experienced candidate when making a hiring decision. Students should also try to get referrals on any entry-level job leads their new contacts might know of," explains Schuster.

"Network when you don't really have to. Don't wait til you're desperate and under pressure to find your next job," Leighton advises. But at the same time, he says, whether you are a college student or seasoned professionl, it's important to have realistic expectations. "Networking is work. Everyone wants a fast result. It takes time to make contacts, but once you've made them, they are very valuable." Schuster agrees. "You need to be proactive when networking. Make sure to engage people as often as possible, and don't wait for them to walk up to you! Networking is but one tool in your belt. You need to take advantage of networking for the opportunities it provides, not be discouraged by the opportunities it may not."

And for those hopefuls who tried to network but failed, Leighton has these words of wisdom: "Whoever takes the step to get what they want, will get what they want. The only person who can stop them is themselves."


This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Metro and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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