Youve gotten the same advice again and again: If youre out of work, youve got to network.
Techies, like everyone else, often land jobs through colleagues, friends and other acquaintances. But how do you cultivate connections if you believe what you know — rather than whom you know — should determine whether youre hired?
For starters, you have to acknowledge just how essential connections can be to a job search. Consider the job histories of people around you as well as your own, and recognize how often techies find jobs through people they know. Connections are especially important during economic doldrums, when employers are flooded with resumes and you need to stand out from the pack.
Decide to become a pro at networking, just like youre a pro at Unix or C++. “Networking is about building relationships, and it takes time to do it,” says Patti Wilson, owner of The Career Company (http://www.careercompany.com), a career management firm in Silicon Valley. “Youve got to try all avenues. You network through industries, you network socially and you network with colleagues. Its never-ending.”
Get started by following these hands-on tips:
Form a study group or success team, a group of four to eight people working together on a weekly basis to motivate each other, build contacts, generate job leads and think through career decisions. You can build a team with former work colleagues, school classmates and acquaintances from special-interest groups (SIGs) or by contacting a local career center.
Success teams, an idea derived from Barbara Shers book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, can help members establish goals for networking, such as identifying five new contacts over the course of a week. “Its been really good for moral support,” says Wendy Desmonde of Menlo Park, California, of her participation in success teams.
You shouldnt spend all of your networking efforts in front of a screen, but email lists can be one way to jump-start the process. Wilson facilitates an 800-member email list, the WednesdayJobGroup, for networking and support. Desmonde, for instance, has used the WednesdayJobGroup list, along with another run by her local synagogue, to make contacts. “Its a way of meeting other people with common interests, where theres a way to exchange job leads and career information,” she says.
David Claiborne of San Francisco, former manager of client services for email marketing at now-shuttered Netcentives, recommends sending an email to everyone you know. “Friends, relatives, aunts and uncles — tell them your situation.” For Claiborne, one of those emails led to a connection with a COO at a startup; the company doesnt have a current opening, but the contact may help to generate other leads.
Think beyond your area of expertise. Churches, alumni groups, sports-related clubs and other groups organized around interests, from mountain biking to macrame, can generate contacts for your job search. Such groups have a distinct advantage: Theyre not dominated by other techies looking for work. To be successful, realize that you shouldnt focus too intently on generating immediate leads for job openings. Remember, networking is about building relationships.
“One of the things I personally find kind of fun about networking is the scavenger hunt aspect of it,” says Desmonde, who worked in software QA. “You dont know where its going to lead, but meantime youre making contact with other people.”
An informational interview with a company manager, or even a peer, has several goals: gathering information about the firm, garnering advice and developing a relationship. Dont be shy about requesting a short amount of someones time. Many people, says Paul Greenblatt, a career counselor at the Career Action Center in Cupertino, California, see a 20-minute informational interview as “a really inexpensive way to give back” to their field by helping someone else. If youre nervous about the process, try it with a friend or former colleague first. “Its really hard to get started,” Greenblatt acknowledges. “Start your show off-Broadway.”
Remember, this person is doing you a favor. Dont go into the interview with direct questions like, “Do you have a job for me?” Youre not interviewing for a specific job. “Youre gathering information, and at the same time, youre building a relationship,” Greenblatt says.
More Networking Advice
- What Do You Need to Know for Your Dream Job?
- Seven Tips for Marketing Yourself
- Networking Resources for Techies
IT Professionals: get more resume help, salary data and industry info from Monster Technology.