Networking is often considered a less than noble activity reserved for the most desperate in their job search. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Networking is one of the most effective and efficient activities in finding your first position.
We network every day. We just don't call it networking.
The reality of the job market is that many positions are never advertised, never actively recruited for, never made known outside of the organization. Yet they continue to be filled. How? By referral of someone internal or external. By the "who-do-you-know" method of job search. That is what we call networking.
Let's understand some of the dynamics behind networking by looking at a practical case example:
Entry level hiring within our company is usually planned a full eight to twelve months in advance of the actual hire date. The first persons made aware of our entry level hiring needs are our local management team. Planning for entry level hiring is part of our annual strategic planning process, and the first step toward potentially filling the positions are internal recommendations from our local management staff. The process goes to the next level when we announce the potential hiring needs to all of our local employees. Next level is a request to our area office. Then a request to corporate, each time seeking qualified candidates who may be "already in the pipeline." If we have not yet identified potential candidates for the positions, we will integrate the positions into our on-campus hiring process. And no, we typically do not advertise the positions. And college students who have tapped into our internal network often gain job offers before we even begin our on-campus interviewing.
The key driver behind the internal referrals is our Employee Referral Program. Our company, like many large employers, pays a monetary bonus (often several thousand dollars) for employee referrals that are hired. Money is a very effective motivation to drive employee referrals. The "who-do-you-know" network is alive and functioning quite well in the employment marketplace.
Yet most college students do not consider themselves to be very well plugged in when it comes to networking. "After all, who do I know who can offer me a job?" Perhaps no one directly. But networking is not about first-level contacts. The key to effective networking is what I call "The Ripple Effect." Simply stated, The Ripple Effect is similar to what happens when you toss a stone into a pond. The first ripple is the largest ripple, but it is the second and third ripples that further widen the affected surface area. The more stones that break the surface, the greater the amount of the pond that is filled with your ripples. Moral to the story: if you want to give yourself the opportunity to make a ripple in the employment world, you are going to have to toss a few stones into the pond. Otherwise you probably will not even break the surface.
In building your job search network, you will need to develop a list of potential network contacts. Don't worry about whether they are personally responsible for hiring. It's not who you know, it's who they know.