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Networking: The Key to the “Hidden” Job Market

By Jill Levy, RIMS Director of Member and Chapter Services

Career experts estimate that the vast majority of job openings are never advertised or publicly announced, but filled through word-of-mouth or networking -- known as the "hidden job market." The likelihood of a job opening not being advertised at all increases with the level of the position.

Networking is crucial to a successful job search. According to the Standout Jobs and PBP Media Recruiting Trends Survey, in 2009 there will be less money spent by employers on job boards and much more reliance on referrals.

So the question is why do many job seekers simply ignore this crucial factor?  FEAR!  For most of us, the idea of reaching out to strangers or past acquaintances and trying to “start a conversation” makes our palms sweat – just thinking about it. But the truth is, it’s like that old advertisement for the lottery – “you have to play to win!”  That just about sums up the whole situation – if you don’t jump in and play the game of having new conversations and exploring what’s out there, you will never uncover that serendipitous job or unexpected opportunity.

Here are a few steps toward successful professional networking: 

  • Acknowledge the fear and just push on through it.  Keep in mind that those you are contacting are generally willing to help out – after all, they could find themselves in a similar situation (if they haven’t already) and know that down the road, they may want to incorporate YOU into their network.
  • Start now!  The best time to establish your network is before you actually need it. If you are a student, start networking:
    • with local chapters of trade/professional associations,
    • with professors,
    • by taking on internships or seeking “shadowing” opportunities
    • meeting with your university’s career counseling resource
    If you are an experienced professional, you can:
    • Offer yourself as a resource for or attend professional associations meetings, conferences, webinars or publications
    • Participate in discussions on professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn
    • Inquire about providing lectures (one-time or as an adjunct) at local colleges and universities.
  • Realize that this is a conversation and not a job interview.  You aren’t conducting these chats or arranging for a meeting to ask for a job.  You’re talking with them to explore ideas, ask for suggestions and let them know who you are and what you are seeking.  Be prepared to talk about you are as a sought-after contributor in the workplace and what you are excited and eager to share in your exploration of professional opportunities.
  • Get comfortable about not having the next step thoroughly defined and nailed down.  Be flexible – these conversations are not intended to lead to a job offer so relax.  This is a time for exploration and the person you are calling may have a key to the treasure. It could be insight about how the industry or organization works, some resources that would be valuable to you, or another contact that may lead to the pot of gold!
  • Set the tone for the conversation.  Don’t assume that folks are free to speak with you when you initially contact them.  You can include the question as to whether this is a good time but make sure you lead with a request for 10-15 minutes of their time and if “now” isn’t convenient, set up a time when it would be. Tell them why you are calling them.  If you don’t know them personally, make sure you tell them who referred you.  If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken, make sure you remind them how you two know each other (i.e., you probably won’t remember but we spoke at last year’s ABC conference”). State your intention for the conversation, and make your request clear and simple so that the person can say “ yes” without concern.
  • Prepare a brief script as a security blanket so that you can refer to it if you have a “brain freeze” while on a networking call. The script should include questions that you’ve prepared ahead of time, notes as to why you are networking with them, and whatever you might need to bring them “up to speed” about YOU.
  • Ask questions.  Are there others they can recommend you speak with?  Are there events that you should be attending or books/publications you should be reading?  What about unpaid activities (if you aren’t presently working) that you might participate in?
  • Make networking part of your regular schedule.  Include time in your calendar to make networking and touch-base calls on a regular basis;  since this is one of the most effective ways of conducting a job search, make sure you give it the priority and attention it requires. Keep a database of your calls by name with the phone number, referral source and notes about the conversation.  If you are networking as aggressively as you should be, you won’t remember the details without a ‘scorecard.’ Follow-up with a thank you and any updates about how you used the information/contacts they provided.
  • Have fun with it.  This is a real opportunity to learn and to expand your connections and enjoy the adventure of exploring new territory. Track your results and celebrate your victories!  And don’t forget to offer your insights and thoughts – make your networking a two-way street.



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