The Hidden Job Market: Networking

business_lunch

“It’s not what you know but who you know”
Proverb

For most job seekers, it is the same old story.  They create a resume and search all over the place for a job: local newspaper, craigslist, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, etc.  After sending out tens if not hundreds of resumes, they may or may not get any qualified leads on jobs.  I’d like to suggest an alternate way of searching for your next job that has worked well for me.

How I Found My “Professional” Jobs

My First Position

As I was finishing up my senior year of college, I realized that I should start looking at my future.  I created a (pretty bad) resume and started spamming it out to the world with the methods that I mentioned above.  I would apply to a bunch of jobs on the job sites and never hear back.  I would apply to postings on craigslist and often received no response or the job posting was a scam.  I worked with my college career center to apply to local jobs, but never received a response.  I went to the career page of many local companies, submitted my resume, but never heard back.  I could not find a job, so I graduated college and went back to my previous summer job of painting houses.  It seemed hopeless.  Reality started to set in that you can’t just go to college and get a job, even if you are in a hot industry such as IT.

After months of being frustrated, my then girlfriend’s (now wife) mother took my resume.  Her co-worker was friends with someone who worked for a Fortune 500 company, so she gave her my resume.  Within a few days, I received a call and had an interview.  A few days later I had an interview.  The company ended up finding someone more qualified for that job, but liked my interview so they scheduled me with an interview for a different group.  After my second interview, I started my first job as an entry-level software developer.

My Second Position

After developing software for a few years, I realized that I was an ok software developer, but my passion was really in process improvement and helping others to reach their potential.  I started going back to school for my Masters degree in Management with the intention of becoming a manager.  During that time, I decided to take a different approach to finding my next job.  Over the course of 6 months, I setup meetings and took existing managers in the company out to lunch.  I figured what better way to get a management job than to see how existing managers did it.  When I did this, I told them that I wanted to get into a management position and wanted to understand their background, how they got to their current position, what their job entailed and what advice they had for me.  Most of these managers were very happy to answer questions.  I received some great advice from them and learned a ton about the various paths that people took to get to their position.  A side benefit, many of the managers in the organization now knew who I was, where otherwise they would have had no idea.

Outside of the great advice that these managers shared with me, I also had several of them tell me that they wish they had an open position because they would hire me.  This was great to hear and really helped to boost my morale and confidence.  Over the course of 6 months, I met with 12 different managers within the company.  A few months after I met with one manager, he contacted me and let me know that he had an opening for a position in his group that I might be interested in.  I setup an interview and became a project lead for a handful of software development projects.  I probably would not have known about this position if I had not been out networking and meeting new people.

My Current Position

Prior to taking my second position, I realized that we as a company had many opportunities for improvement.  I decided that I needed to set myself apart from the rest and become the best at 1 or 2 things and pursue those.  For me, the one thing that I wanted to become the best at was understanding and implementing agile practices for software development project.  So I spent hundreds of dollars on books and read as much as I could on agile (ex. Lean Software Development: An Agile ToolkitSucceeding with Agile: Software Development Using ScrumAgile Estimating and PlanningAgile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile TeamsUser Stories Applied: For Agile Software DevelopmentAgile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the EnterpriseDisciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner’s Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise, etc).  I started connecting with agile people on twitter.  I watched agile videos on YouTube.  I flew out to Denver to meet with Lisa Crispin and her team to watch how they implemented agile and pick her brain on the topic.  I started discussion groups on our company’s internal social networking site and shared several articles/agile tips each week.  I met with various managers and groups within the company to talk to them about agile, understand their thoughts on it and potential challenges that we would have if we wanted to implement it.  Basically, my name became synonymous with agile within the company (as well as with many people in the agile community outside of the company).  Years later (and after “planting the seeds” with people about the benefits of agile, as well as constant “watering” by communicating with them about it), the organization decided that we needed to make more of a shift towards agile for the entire company.  We created a team to determine how to define agile, what areas of the organization would need to change (just about all of them), train teams on the concepts and coach them as they started to use them.  I literally have a following of “Ravings Fans” that pushed for me to become part of this agile team.  A new position was created to help train and coach agile as well as fit it into the overall software development life-cycle for projects.

My Advice For Finding Your Next Job

Build Relationships

This goes beyond traditional networking.  It means really connecting with people.  Find people who are doing what you want to do and get meet them.  Take them out for coffee or out to dinner and find a way to help them.  In my example, I met with 40+ managers within the company I worked at.  I took most of them to lunch and took a legitimate interest in them and what they do.  I also asked what problems they faced to see if I could help them without asking for anything in return.  This served a few purposes:

  • I learned a lot and gained knowledge from  multiple backgrounds/perspectives/experiences.
  • More people knew who I was and some of my background/skills.
  • I learned about problems in many different areas.
  • I created contacts that would be able to help me in the future.

Build Credibility

It is important to know what you are talking about, but what is even more important is making sure other people know that you know what you are talking about.  Basically, you have to position yourself as an expect.  I have done the following to do that for myself:

  • Created My Blog– By having my blog with unique articles show up when people search for me, they automatically view me as an authority on those topics.
  • Shared Blog Content – I use Buffer to share my articles on various social networks.  This brings people back to my website and lets people that I am connected to on those networks learn about me.
  • Deliver Presentations – There is probably no faster way to be seen as an expert than to present on a topic to a group of people.  There are always locals groups that love to have guest speakers.  Additionally, there are always conferences going on.  Many of them allow presentation submissions and offer free tickets to presenters.  I did this for the IBM Innovate 2013 Conference and received free passes to the conference.  Even within your organization, you can offer “lunch and learn” sessions.  I have done this on numerous occasions for various software topics as well as soft skills like time management.
  • Get Interviewed – Another great way to be seen as an expert is to be interviewed.  I was interviewed by my Alma Mater about being an entrepreneur (Interview with Nazareth’s Center for Entrepreneurship) and also several times in local newspapers for Warsaw Wine & Spirits (Warsaw Shops Uncork Fun).

Offer Value

My objective in every situation is to help the other person out.  I like the analogy that each relationship that I have is like a bank account with that person.  Every time I have a positive experience with someone or help them, I add to that bank account.  If I have a negative interaction, I remove from the bank account.

  • Appreciate their time an experience, make them the expert by asking questions
  • Solve a problem that they have
  • Send them useful articles about topics they may be interested in
  • Connect them with other people in your network when it make sense

Be Ready

Many people often wait until they need to find a new job before they take the steps to find one.  I recommend always creating opportunities that provide you options.

  • Keep Your Resume Current – Every 6 months or at least once a year update your resume.  That way you will always have it available if someone asks for it.  Plus it is easier to update it in smaller pieces.
  • Be Aware – Understand what is going on in your job, company and industry.  You may unexpectedly find yourself looking for a job if you company lays people off.
  • Stay Connected – Keep up with your network and those relationships.  Opportunities may come along that you were not aware of.  Or if you need to ask a favor of someone, hopefully you have “money in the bank” with them when you need it.

The Takeaway

Finding a job in today’s marketplace is much different than it used to be.  Using some of the tips that I mentioned along with other creative ways will allow you to take ownership of your career and next job instead of using ineffective means of searching and being at the mercy of the hiring company.

Tom Sylvester is an Entrepreneur, Real Estate Investor and Lean/Agile Coach.  He has started multiple businesses and is passionate about helping others achieve their goals, both personally and professionally.  He lives in Rochester, NY with his wife and daughter.  Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Posted in Life

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