From Career Tips, 2012 Volume 3, March 2012
At a workshop I gave on common traps that trip up job-seekers, an attendee questioned the value of networking. Afterwards, I wrote to him as follows:
"I hope you didn't get too bruised by the passionate responses to your question about networking studies and statistics!
I've seen many statistics presented, but haven't seen a rigorous study such as you were seeking. All I can tell you is that my own experience, and those of the hundreds of clients with whom I have worked, bears out that the most productive job search method at all levels, industries and professions is networking. And when you have any serious 'flaws' in your background that will be obvious in the initial screening, it is virtually the only successful method.
I think often many people have misconceptions of what networking is that hold them back. (If we had more time on Saturday, that was one of the traps I would have gotten into.)
The way I would look at it is that networking (or any other method) should be prioritized among your tools as to its level of effectiveness, and discarded from your toolbox if it's not effective. However, in making that judgment, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Am I avoiding it because it's uncomfortable or because it's truly ineffective?
- Is it ineffective in general, or because I haven't taken the steps (training, strategy, role play, practice, ... ) to make it effective?
- What is my goal from each type of networking (making a pitch at a networking event, informal networking before and after the meeting, going to a professional event, attending social events, having one-on-one phone calls or meetings with people, ...), and am I approaching each of those realistically?
For help in assessing that, you might want to read this.
Here was his response:
"Thanks for giving the session; I don't bruise easily. The issue isn't that people who are good at networking are good at finding employment. The issue is whether that technique produces the best results for everyone, which is how it is sold.
The odds of having a recent meeting where the jobs are is fairly remote; the math here is pretty exacting. How many meetings a week can someone have? How many of those could be tied to a potential job directly?
The underlying problem is that the number of people looking far exceeds the number of positions. As a result, there can be anecdotal evidence than anything works. That is not really evidence though. There are tests where engineers were given random sequences of numbers and told the find the pattern; they found all sorts of complex algorithms. Random feeding of pigeons had them doing all sorts of ritual dances. Random feedback to job seekers produces what positive result?
Getting out and meeting people in a business or professional environment for some may simply improve their interpersonal skills. Or cause them to refine their résumé and story line. However, that is not how networking is presented.
If a jobseeker has obvious flaws, this is a rough market. Networking may work. However, is it evaluated in comparison to other remediation techniques?
In a more robust job market, networking may seem to help more, especially at senior levels. In this market, where virtually no one will hire from a reference without also looking outside that seems less likely. In a tighter job market or field within a job market, the reference is welcome to both the hiring company and the job-seeker.
On another note, aren't employed people already tapped out by job seekers?
There are other aspects that also seem to be issues: thank you letters that may be more likely to turn a positive into a negative than move a candidate above others; targeted résumés that may be more likely to introduce typos than improve the targeting and may inadvertently make a candidate seem unqualified for other positions at the same company; the awkward double repeat of their full name in the 30 second pitch, etc.
Right now this seems to be more religion than science. I'm just looking for the metrics that would be required for any marketing program or new product testing."
There are a lot of points I could address in response to this, but I'm interested in hearing all of your thoughts. How would you respond to any of the points he makes? And have you seen any rigorous studies that would address any of this? Send your reactions to me at Advice@JHACareers.com.