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No-Nonsense Tips For Networking Your Way to a Job

With financial firms doling out four- and five-figure employee referral bonuses yet skittish about hiring anyone not currently performing identical work at their closest rival, personal introductions may be more critical than ever to getting in the door. Two recent items offer a multitude of useful insights into how to make networking work for you.

First, a post on Harry Urschel’s The Wise Job Search blog last week explains the key to successful networking: “Help them help you.” Second, a Harvard Business Review blog post by Ariana Green discusses the importance of offering help before you ask for a favor, the use of online and offline communication tools, and the effective use of psychology (your own and other people’s) in networking. The latter piece backs up its points with individual case studies.

Here’s Urschel on telling your contacts what they need to know in order to help you:

Most people would love to help you, but have no idea how they can. It’s up to you to help them help you! Often, a job seeker will jump to a question like ‘Do you know of any job openings that would fit my background?’ Chances are the networking contact doesn’t know of a specific opening at the moment, and the conversation stalls there, becoming awkward for both.

That’s why you shouldn’t put a contact – especially a new one – on the spot by asking straight-out for job leads. Instead, Urschel lays out several questions you can ask that will prompt your contact to think of others to refer you on to, who will be one step closer to actual job opportunities that you are a fit for.

Offer Help Before Requesting Help

How can you realistically offer to help someone you just met, if you’re looking for a job yourself? Green’s post offers this tip from Ivan Misner, lead author of Networking Like a Pro: Turning Contacts into Connections and chairman of global networking organization BNI International:

You should always ask new contacts to tell you about a business challenge they are confronting. That way, you might know someone who can help, and that’s the start of a relationship.

If anyone out there still thinks networking is a waste of time, a just-released survey reported in The Wall Street Journal should help clear things up. It offers the latest concrete evidence that applying for jobs without seeking referrals from former colleagues and other business contacts is like trying to run with your feet tied together.

More than one in four external hires last year came through employee referrals, according to the survey by Kendall Park, N.J. talent consulting firm CareerXroads. Referrals contributed 27 percent, company Web sites 22 percent and external job boards 13 percent, with a variety of other sources making up the remainder. Participants represented 41 companies that employ a combined 1.8 million people and filled 176,420 positions in 2009. CareerXroads co-founder Mark Mehler told the Journal the results mean networking is the most effective strategy when applying for jobs.

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