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Personal Contacts: The Key to Successful Networking

When the word "networking" is used, we tend to think of upwardly mobile college graduates with a bursting day timer in hand chatting up the competition at business meetings, conventions, or workshops. The average blue/pink/white collar worker disconnects, feeling that they could never be that pushy, don't know enough people to even start the attempt, and that the method only works in competitive business environments.

Wrong!

While networking can, and often does, follow such a scenario, the concept is much broader than that. The premise is that most people find a job through someone they know. It may be a direct referral or, more likely, indirectly hearing about an opening that seems suitable.

Procedurally, networking could not be simpler: contact everyone you know to see if they have any firsthand knowledge about job opportunities. Then contact all the people they know. Obtain referrals to other people from everyone you contact and in a short period of time, you will have a veritable army of people working with you to find the right position.

An organized approach to this time-demanding but highly effective technique is discussed in depth in my workbook "The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual" (Authorhouse, 2003). Contact lists in various categories are provided as well as schedules for follow up and strategies for maintaining the strength and commitment of your lists.

For now, let's look at the different levels of networks you can develop.

1. Sizzling Contacts.

These are the people you know personally. They include your family, friends, former coworkers, and acquaintances: your barber, your mailman, your doctor, your real estate agent, the guys you see at the golf course, the women at your club, your children's teachers, other PTA parents - anyone with whom you have regular contact. Often, you need go no further. How many of us obtained our first job through our family or their friends? It is a common occurrence. Look for a moment at ethnic groups and how they operate. Most new immigrants find a position through personal contacts. Hispanics are famous for bringing in their brothers, cousins, and nephews when there is an opening. Most companies who hire mainly Spanish-speaking labor never advertise. All they have to do is tell their employees that they need more workers and the next day dozens of assorted relatives show up and they can make their selection. There are large ethnic communities in different parts of the country: Vietnamese, Armenian, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Irish, Portuguese, Samoan, and Filipino. In almost every group, initial job search is strictly word-of-mouth. Later, as individuals, many workers become culturally assimilated and move into more mainstream jobs but the core of the group, especially those with poor English skills, tend to remain within their original subculture. There are, for example, airlines whose entire ramp staff at some airports are Pacific Islanders, manufacturing companies where the usual language on the production floor is Portuguese, and supermarkets where the workers (and customers) are overwhelmingly Korean. Contrast the successful employment rate of these groups with, for example, African-Americans who are very loosely tied to their communities. Until recent attempts by Church and civic organizations, networking was almost non-existent in African-American culture and a consistently double-digit unemployment rate directly reflected that lack of connectivity.


2. Warm Contacts.

From everyone you seek out while you are making personal contacts, you try to obtain the names and contact numbers of people they know and if you can use their names as a source of referral. If all the people you directly know, literally dozens, give you a few names to call, you may have well over a hundred names within a few days. Frequently the first and second level contacts are all that is required. Someone you touch will know of something suitable somewhere.

3. Tepid and Cold Contacts.

If you are really unfortunate, your circle of social acquaintances is very limited, your geographic area has devastating economic blight, your have negative or limiting personal aspects (prison record, disabilities, a very poor work record), then you may need to expand an extra level or two. Secondary referrals have some potential but the more tenuous the link between you and your friends and the target person, the less effort to help you is likely to be encountered. When you have exhausted all of your contact lists, unlikely but possible, you are left with the standard job search techniques (classifieds, internet, job fairs, agencies) or cold calling. Cold calls, whether by telephone or, preferably, in person, require you to call or walk into an employer without any introduction, and with no knowledge of any openings. You are likely to receive many negative responses to your queries but sometimes you just happen to time it perfectly and there is a newly available position that suits you. While the chances are sobering, you can still feel proud that you are out in the world, taking positive actions for yourself, rather than withdrawing into the sanctuary of home where the odds against success become astronomical.

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a respected Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and emotionally supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.virginiabola.com


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