Networking

Out of Left Field: The Usually Forgotten Benefit of Networking

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Most job seekers learn, at some point, that relationship building (otherwise known as “networking”) is the way to go. There are so many reasons, the best being that every statistical survey shows that it’s by far the best methodology. Most of the numbers I’ve seen point to a range of around 75-80% market penetration from relationship building, compared to, say, around 5-6% from postings. Those same single digit numbers also apply to using external recruiters (executive search, employment agencies, etc.). Of course, these numbers vary according to whatever metrics and categories the surveys use, but the main point stays fairly consistent.

The best reason for building relationships, aside from the numbers, is that making direct contact with decision makers initially, instead of Human Resources professionals or external recruiters, almost always will have a greater opportunity for success. HR and recruiters are frequently just screens (mostly screen outs). Reaching the decision makers is also usually the benefit of personal contact, rather than ending up as a piece of paper in a huge pile on a desk. A piece of paper can’t talk; you can.

My standard definition of networking is “building relationships, over a period of time, so that when people hear of appropriate opportunities, they will think of you.” This is an indirect approach, as opposed to the idea of asking everyone you meet if they know “anyone” or know of any open jobs. That’s a surefire way of not building a relationship; rather it’s a great method for convincing people to avoid you. (Much more about all of this on my website, ellischase.com, in the blogs and videos sections.)

There is another distinct benefit from relationship building, which is frequently overlooked – getting unexpected information. One technique for getting some unexpected information is to ask how that person got to where they are now in their career. Everyone loves to talk about him or herself, and you never know what you’re going to hear that might be a good new idea.

Or…your contact, if you’re lucky, will have some interesting observations or suggestions. I’m not referring to suggestion #459 about fixing your resume (almost always useless advice) or negative comments, like perhaps you should stay where you are; you just don’t know how lucky you are. (And you decided to do all this networking for fun, right?)

What if a suggestion is made that you hadn’t heard or paid attention to, and is an interesting one that you hadn’t thought of?  

Many years ago, I had a terrific job in technology staffing at a major bank, but it was in a culture where I didn’t fit. I even had an excellent manager. But I was, after five years of giving it a strong try, determined to leave and find a culture where I’d be more comfortable.  

My search took too long. In retrospect, I think it was because I was inflexible about my targets, and wasn’t able to hear some good suggestions about types of organizations other than the ones I was researching. (Active listening is a topic for another blog.) In other words, I hadn’t paid attention to one of those hidden benefits of building relationships on a job search. I was only zeroing in on building the relationship, getting some market information, and expanding my network. Those are good objectives, but I was missing a critical one.  

I met with a woman at one of the large banks, who seemed to listen to my story quite intently. At the end of it, she said, “You seem to be more interested in the career mobility aspects of your job, helping employees move from one area to another, or how they can get promotions, or how they might deal with difficult situations. Am I correct?” I admitted that was my favorite part of the job, but I did like the whole job and was learning a great deal from it. She suggested that I consider working in outplacement consulting.

Since the organization I worked for did their outplacement internally, I had to admit I didn’t know much about the field (like almost nothing). She told me about it, and something just clicked, which ended up turning my career completely around. She was correct in her assessment and recommendation, and my next job was in one of those consulting firms. A perfect cultural fit, and a career direction that would last for the duration of my career. It may have taken too long to figure all this out, but the outcome, due to this one suggestion, resonated in the strongest possible way.  

I’m always sorry that I don’t remember the woman’s name, because I would definitely have dedicated this blog to her.  

Don’t ignore the fact that your relationship building/networking is more than just the mechanics of meeting new people, following up several times, and asking good marketing and business questions. It should be listening for new ideas, as well.  

P.S. Does anyone know what the picture here is? Just curious. Let me know.  

The Holiday Rant

October 24. A great fall day, as I was walking to the subway. And then I saw…

Holiday decorations! All throughout the local shopping area. October 24!  

When I was a kid, the holiday thing started the day after Thanksgiving (long before that  wonderful holiday, Black Friday, was invented). Then it started creeping up towards earlier in November.

And now, October 24. Before Halloween.  

Aside from the complaints about the onslaught of relentless advertising and various holiday pressures, this meant I knew what I was going to hear from my private clients, Executive MBA students, and business school alums. And this year, it was going to be even earlier than usual.

“What’s the point of continuing my transition process? Everyone’s slowing down; not much is going on, so I think I’ll take the time off myself and begin again in January.”

Big mistake. Aside from the fact that December tends to be a high volume hiring month (headcount issues, among others, create that fact), abandoning a search leaves the field to your competition. Just because some businesses slow up during holiday/vacation times doesn’t mean that relationship-building stops. 

Your competition will be skiing in Vail, or lying on beaches in Aruba, or just partying, planning their energetic return to action after the holiday season. By the way, January is frequently a tougher time to get things going. Not to mention the loss of momentum involved, which makes things even more emotionally draining than job search usually is. Starting again is tough. I’m not suggesting that taking a break during a search is a bad thing – it’s actually a great idea – but to lose a whole season is not smart. 

As a matter of fact, reaching people you want to meet might be easier than usual. Things do slow up, but there’s a good likelihood it could work to your advantage. 

Yes, some organizations do get slow during November and December, especially in financial services, but does that mean companies are closed? Of course not. Someone is keeping the place open, right? There is some business going on. And there will be, therefore, valuable contacts to be made.

It’s also easier to get people to spend some time with you at these times; the overall pace is usually slower. Many would rather talk with you than work! And talking leads to business relationships, which leads to effective networking, which leads to… (you get the point)

Just in case your relationship-building does slow down a bit during these times, it is also a perfect time to do your basic research, stay knowledgeable in your field, utilize the somewhat empty business libraries (in New York City, for example, SIBL), re-think your e-mail writing campaign, organize your resources and records, and get a lot done. We’re now in the period following…October 24 (!)…  It’s time to step it up. 

Keep on Top of Your Search – Tech and Record Keeping

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One of the common comments that clients have said to me at the successful conclusion of their career transition is to say the best thing they learned from me was to keep good records. My usual thought is, “That’s IT? Nothing about my incredibly brilliant insights into how you pitched yourself, conducted your search, developed new targets, etc.?”  

I figured out a long time ago that one of the very few things you can do in the always nebulous, frequently demoralizing search is to try and control as much as you possibly can – when control is not at all easy to establish. So much of search is due to the vagaries of markets, uncontrollable events in organizations, some insensitive behavior on the part of hiring managers, and, unfortunately, much more.  

Maintaining great records helps you remember all the people with whom you’ve interacted, know the referral sources, remember suggestions and new referrals, note subjective reactions, and then be able to review everything every day. A measure of control. What you never want to happen is get a call at 10pm some evening to schedule a possible interview, and you have no idea who the person is and have no way to find out how you know them. Or, you want to review your notes regularly and make sure you’ve followed up, maintained relationships by keeping your contacts “warm,” and, obviously, follow up on a suggestion that might turn out to be significant.

Some have gone overboard in this respect. Many of my Executive MBA students, business school alums, and private clients automatically turn to Excel and create sophisticated databases, and sometimes spend way too much valuable time on maintaining the database – rather than getting out there and doing the essential relationship-building.

A client of mine, whom I’ve known for many years, recently shared some techniques with me, in the hope I might in turn share them with others. He was so good and adept with the technology and administration of data that, while much of it looks complicated to many, once in place it worked extremely well for him. His system was not a time killer. He wrote to me at the conclusion of a successful search and outlined his techniques in detail – not only record keeping, but several other suggestions for job searchers. I am grateful to him for his efforts in sharing.  

I thought it might be worth it for readers to consider some of his highlights – but please recognize that some of these techniques are not for everyone. See if any of these ideas might work for you:  

1) Apps/Products

Cloze ($20/month, $13/month for a year) – automatically picks up relevant records/files you have in Google Drive, Evernote, Gmail, etc.  Evernote is a special case; it will OCR all of your documents and photos. If there’s an article I clipped or a business card  photographed, it will pull those into the record for the relevant person or company.  

Cloze has a bunch of “smart suggestions” features. It can remind you to get in touch with people. When it detects a new phone number, email address, etc. in a contact’s email signature, it will ask if you want to change it, and then will do so if you agree. Among many other features (some of which you will not want), there is a browser plug-in to pull profiles from LinkedIn directly. Big time saver.

Stickies - I like this little app that puts virtual yellow (or another color) sticky notes on your screen. They stay "on top" but can be collapsed. Available in the app store, but is also automatically downloaded on Macs.

Things 3.0 from Cultured Code - This is, in my opinion, the best "to do" application available for the Mac. And I've tried quite a few of them. It is expensive because there is an app for Mac, iPad, and iPhone and each is a separate purchase. But I can't live without it. Available in the app store. (NOTE ADDED 10/4/2018 - I switched to Omnifocus 3.0. This new version is a major update and puts it ahead of Things for the time being.)

2) Online job postings

Google’s relatively new job search service is pretty good. Once you find the search criteria you like, I suggest taking the search string and converting it into a link you can bookmark and rescue.

I also find job postings on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor to be useful. I don’t bother with the email notifications. They tend to get overwhelming.  

You will find that many companies use the same handful of systems for submitting online applications. But, for each company using one of those systems, you need to create your own user account. Make it easy on yourself and use the same password for every online job board. Not the greatest security, but otherwise too complicated to deal with.  

3) I can’t overstate the importance of the following tactics

Find a potential hiring manager, do a bit of research on them, and reach out to them directly. I’ve had significant success with this approach.  

You might be surprised at the responses you can get from reaching out to strangers asking for help (or market research, or due diligence). Of course, research is an essential part of preparing for contact.  

Don’t take no for an answer. I have gotten interviews after receiving a rejection simply because I kept trying.

My client had a lot more to say about other technology, in addition to what he mentioned above, and used it with great effect. I thought that it might be too much to include here, but I hope you get the idea. Again – not for everyone, but definitely worked for this client (and several others).

No matter how you do it, accurate and continuous record keeping is an essential piece of a successful search.