Human connections still rule, even in the digital-saturated era of online job searches, the networking website LinkedIn, and checking out job candidates on Facebook.
"Social media is just a tool to learn about somebody," said Teresa Daly, a founder and CEO of Navigate Forward, which works with professionals in search of their next jobs. "Networking is still more important.
That goes whether you're just trying to meet and stay in touch with folks in your field who one day may serve as a reference or an employer, or you're in an earnest job search.
"Your time should be spent about 30 percent online and 70 percent networking with people," Daly said. "Networking for a job is about connecting with the right people in the right positions with the right message. You have to be able to say, 'Here's what I've done and here's what I'm looking for.' "
Job candidates still need to have the basic qualifications for the positions they're seeking. It doesn't help to network for a financial analyst position if you're a zoologist and lack the basic skills.
Increasingly, applications are taken online. And it's tough to pierce the HR hiring wall — applicants can't control that. However, job counselors say, networking allows job seekers to set up their own informal groups of contacts who may know somebody or who can help them get the coveted human interview at the company at which they are applying, or another company.
Networks can be woven through informational interviews, professional and trade associations, asking peer groups if they know anybody at a particular company, or even volunteering, a way to do some good while you meet people and showcase talent. It may also be smart to take classes or seek a certification in your area of focus.
It's imperative that job seekers and others even casually interested first research new careers and companies using online tools, informational interviews and other means.
Eric Harkins, an executive vice president of Navigate Forward — who has held operations and HR jobs at Target, Best Buy, G&K Services, the Nerdery and other companies — has used networking to advance his career as well as help others.
Harkins recalled that back in 2009, during the Great Recession that claimed millions of American jobs, he was an HR manager at G&K Services, then assisting in letting go hundreds of employees for the uniform-and-laundry company. After that, he was laid off.
Acquaintance pays off
He subsequently had a conversation with a recruiter at UnitedHealth Group. He also mined his network of former colleagues and associates to help him get his résumé inside UNH for a variety of jobs. Nothing. Several months later, though, an old acquaintance at Best Buy told him that she was meeting with a hiring manager at the Optum data-analysis unit of UNH. She carried Harkins' résumé and referred him. Harkins got a job he had sought.
" 'On my first day, my new boss said 'I wish we had met six months ago,' " Harkins recalled. "I said 'Me, too. We could have been celebrating my six-month anniversary!' The point is the more people you know [inside a company where you seek employment] who can walk down the hall and say 'Hey, I've met this guy and he sure seems like a genuine person,' the better for you. That's better than LinkedIn."
Social media has not replaced the power of face-to-face self-marketing through formal and informal networks. And often the spade work of seeking and meeting people must be viewed as a long-term investment. And the best networkers are in the business of helping others land. It's good for the spirit and builds a bank of personal goodwill.
"Networking for me was never just about [my job] transition," Harkins said. "I like to meet and I like to help somebody. I just get energy from that. And most people want to help other people."
Lenny Newman is a veteran CPA and corporate financial manager who left a job as chief financial officer of a private company in 2003 and opened a restaurant business with his wife. They closed the money-losing Camille's Sidewalk Café a half decade ago.
"I went to school on the résumé, LinkedIn and networking," said Newman, 57. "And I have vowed since then that I will never be in a position again where I do not have a robust, active network. Networking is a contact sport. You can't do it with just a phone and computer."
Newman met with as many as 10 or 15 contacts, job prospects and casual referrals every week. That helped him land a six-month consulting gig that was extended to a one-year appointment with a family-owned business in South Dakota. He commuted Sunday through Friday while his family remained in the Twin Cities. When the South Dakota post ended in 2012, Newman resumed networking as much as possible. Within a few weeks he was contacted by a recruiter for his current company. The recruiter had been referred by an acquaintance, a private-company CFO in Newman's network.
"I met with the recruiter and the company and I had the job within 72 hours," Newman said.
Newman is now CFO of privately held Eastview Information Services of Minnetonka.
He's grateful. And he's far from done with networking. In fact, a member of his networking group introduced him to Rotary, the service organization. And he meets early in the morning once or twice a week with people who want to meet him for advice.
Paying it forward
"Back in 2010-11 [when looking for work] I knew nothing about networking," Newman said. "There were people back then who took time and helped me. Now, I pay it forward.
"I get a couple requests a week from people who want to meet and I generally never say no."
Newman, who left a job in disagreement with the owners before his foray into the restaurant industry, knows what it is to struggle and empathizes with those who are worried about landing the next position, along with mortgage payments, family and other obligations.
He always advises networking job seekers to stay positive, and look ahead.
"The windshield is wide and vast," he said. "Don't spend too much time looking through that narrow rearview mirror."
Job counselors stress again and again that applicants need to have great, accurate résumés. LinkedIn profiles that are positive but not embellished. And be ready to back up claims with achievements and job-well-done anecdotes, and references from colleagues past and present.
There are usually qualified candidates for every good professional job. The internet application provides the job leads but not necessarily the interviews and offers. That's where a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and friends of acquaintances can make a difference.
"Recruiters call people [already] in jobs," Daly said. "Networkers are the ones who advocate with the recruiters. Social media and technology have not replaced the power of face-to-face networking … the human connections."