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Job Search Networking Dos and Don'ts in the Age of Social Media and Job Aggregators Strac Ivanov, MBA, PMP, President of Vicinity Jobs Inc

About the Author

Strac Ivanov is President and Co-founder of Vicinity Jobs Inc, a Canadian cloud-based analytics technology provider that monitors economic development and business intelligence data trends on the Internet. Vicinity Jobs operates a network of specialized search engines and a hiring demand analytics service, and was among North America's first companies to launch an Internet search engine for jobs. Strac holds a Master`s degree in Business Administration from Vienna University of Economics and Business. He lives in Vancouver, BC with his wife and two children. You can follow him on Twitter, at @stracivanov

If you are looking for a job, you have certainly already heard or read about the virtues of networking. An introduction from someone who knows the person who is hiring goes a long way making you stand out from the crowd and could give a tremendous credibility boost to your application.

So the advice is: Get out there and network. Tell people you know what you are looking for and what you have to offer. Don’t be shy to ask for referrals to people who may be able to help.

This is a good recommendation, when it is interpreted correctly. Unfortunately, it rarely is. I find that the recommendation is often followed by an advice to contact as many people as you can, and ask for as many referrals as possible. This rarely works. It is an archaic and hopelessly outdated strategy in a world where almost everyone uses social media and anyone can send a message to anyone, by typing a couple of sentences and hitting “Send”.

The result: Managers with already busy schedules and inboxes overflowing with emails receive yet another general message that sounds somewhat like this:

''So-and-so suggested that I contact you. I am an engineer with X years experience looking for a job. My resume is attached. If you can help me, I would appreciate it.''

In some cases, the applicant may also request a meeting in person to get feedback on their application.

This approach may sometimes work, if the recipient already knows the applicant well enough to understand his/her skills and background. In all other cases, such emails are begging to be ignored, even if the recipient is otherwise open-minded and willing to help. In my experience, a big percentage (perhaps most) of the managers who receive such emails will not open the attached resumes at all.

Don’t ask others to find a job for you

The issue is that the sender of such message assumes that the recipient will analyze their skills and find a job opening that matches them. It fails to answer the most basic question in recruiting: What can you do for me or the people you want me to refer you to?

It is up to the applicant to answer this question. Finding the answer could be quite involved and is not something a job applicant can reasonably expect from a person they have never met before.

To understand why, imagine being the manager who receives this email. Unless the applicant is very lucky, you do not have a current job opening that matches his/her skills. You do, however, have dozens of emails from your clients, vendors, co-workers, managers, team members, etc… all sitting in your inbox, waiting for a response. On top of that, your schedule is booked full with meetings and phone calls. And you are hoping to make it home just on time tonight to see your kids before they go to bed.

If there is one email that you can afford to brush aside, it is the unsolicited job application. You may simply ignore it. Or, to avoid the scorn of the person who referred the applicant to you, you may send a standard response, sounding like this:

''Unfortunately, I don't know of any current job openings that match your skills. We advertise all jobs on our web site, so keep an eye on it. Best of luck with your job search.''

The conventional thinking is: There is nothing you can do about the fact that people are busy, so just contact as many people as you can, and eventually some opportunity will pan out. Unfortunately, following this strategy will very soon isolate you from your contacts and will become counter-productive to your job search. Rather than opening new doors, you risk closing existing ones. There are more productive ways to unleash the potential of your social network.

Do your research before contacting people

As a job applicant, it is up to you to find out what you can do for the people you contact or their organizations. If you are not willing to spend the time to find this out, why should they?

This is true regardless of whether you are responding to a job posting, reaching out to a former co-worker, or contacting someone you were referred to. A major goal of your networking exercise is to establish connections with people who do not know you. Simply telling strangers who you are and what you want (a job) will not get you very far (Mentioning the name of a common acquaintance will not change this). Since they don’t know you, they don’t care what you want. If you want their attention, it is up to you to tell them what you can do for them.

So instead of contacting as many people as possible, spend more time researching the people and organizations you want to connect to. Do your best to find out who they are, what they care about, what they do, and what kinds of job openings they are advertising. There are many channels through which you can do this nowadays, including search engines, job aggregators (such as VicinityJobs.com), social media, corporate and personal profile web sites, corporate web sites, news releases, blogs, etc.

Ideally, your research will enable you to tell the person whom you are contacting what exactly you can do for them. As a minimum, you must be able to tell them which of your skills and experience will add value to their organization and why (or, to the organization you are asking them to refer you to). This is your value proposition, and should be the key message in your introduction. Mentioning a referral is meant to reinforce it and give you extra credibility. A referral is meaningless without a clear value proposition because there is nothing for it to reinforce.

Do use social media websites in your research

Through social media, you can learn a lot about the people and prospective employers you want to reach. The person you are trying to contact likely already has a LinkedIn or Facebook profile, and may be on Twitter. LinkedIn has a feature that will tell you if you have any contacts in common – or even if you have any contacts in common with other people in the organization that you want to connect to. Check the publicly available information in the profiles of people you want to connect to, to learn more about them, to explore what you have in common, and to look for common friends and acquaintances.

You may even use social media to ask your social contacts to share what they know about a given company or person. You can post a question on Facebook, or find common acquaintances on LinkedIn and contact them directly, with specific questions.

Do make specific requests

Don't let the people you contact guess what you want from them. A general request for help simply is not specific enough for someone to take a specific action. If you are hoping to meet with the person you are contacting, for example, explain why you think they should meet you, and ask what would be a convenient time. If you are looking for answers to specific questions or an introduction to someone else, make sure that you specify this in your request.

Specific requests are easier to fulfill, and are therefore less likely to be ignored. Part of the objectives of the research you do prior to contacting someone is to formulate specific requests. If you are not sure what the person you are contacting can do for you, how would they know?

Do search job postings to identify whom you need to connect to

Unless your job is very specialized and your skills are only applicable to a very small industry, chances are that there are many companies out there that may potentially need someone like you. There was a time not too long ago when most job openings were not being advertised. Internet and Social media have changed this, and made the job market a lot more transparent. Advertising jobs online is now a common practice among most employers. Internal procedures in many large organizations in North America now require managers to post all job openings online.

This is why it makes sense to start your networking effort by using a job aggregator like VicinityJobs.com to find current job openings requiring your skills and qualifications. Then you can tap into your social and professional network to find people who can introduce you to the employers postings these jobs, instead of simply sending a blind response to the job ad.

The advantage of this approach is that it is much more likely to get you a positive response than general networking introductions, by shifting the focus of the introduction from your needs to those of the employer. The person introducing you will be much more comfortable doing the introduction, and the person you are being introduced to will be more interested in connecting with you. The focus of your communication would shift from you and your needs to the

Don't wait till you’re thirsty to start digging a well

Building up and maintaining your professional network and skills is not a one-time project. It is not something you do when you need a job. If you have been on the same job for a long time, this may give you a false sense of security, which may lead to complacency.

Try to stay in touch with the people you enjoyed working with in the past even when you are no longer working together. Social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have made this easier than it once was. You can keep track of their paths, share information that they may be interested in, comment on information that they share.

People you have stayed in touch with will be more willing to introduce you to their contacts when the time comes than people who have not heard from you in years. Finally, remember than you don't only tap into your social network when you need help: Be prepared to share and help the people around you as well.

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