Many jobs openings aren’t publicized. The only way people hear about them is by word-of-mouth — aka networking.
“Networking is the number one way to find a better job,” said Mike Lang, manager at the Minnesota WorkForce Center in St. Paul.
That’s not to say that workplaces don’t post jobs. They do, and many require word-of-mouth referrals to then submit an online application.
The difference may be that you know about the job ahead of time, or someone’s referral will bring your résumé to the “examine further” pile instead of the pecking order determined by computer algorithms, career experts said.
Networking is when people try to connect with others at a desired company, in a desired industry or just generally in a community with shared interests. In most cases, it is a professional organization specific to your industry or it could be a more general young professionals or chamber of commerce group. But it can be more informal, for example reaching out to someone who is a manager in your field of choice and asking if he or she has time for lunch (of course, at your expense).
For job seekers who are having a hard time finding work, Lang said networking can jump-start the search and allow you to make contact with others.
“It’s easy to focus on getting out as many applications as you can and revising your résumé. ... But it’s very important that we find a way to network in some way,” Lang said. “Networking can be the difference between finding a job and finding a better job.”
While networking is not a new concept, it can still be daunting for people to reach out and talk to people outside their immediate contacts.
“The word networking can be very intimidating,” said Maggie Heier, assistant director of career services for the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts.
To help students, advisers try to frame networking as a chance for students to build a support system and share who they are and what they are curious about.
“We know that the majority of students come to college with some level of undecidedness, so talking with others that have been there and starting to build a community ... is really important for students,” Heier said.
The best form of networking doesn’t feel formal at all and resembles ordinary socializing, Lang said.
“Very often people think that networking is ‘tell me how I get a job in this company.’ ... Starting from a common interest or starting from, ‘tell me about yourself,’ is a good way [to begin],” Lang said.
Even with the advent of social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, nothing beats in-person interaction, said Lang, who has more than 17 years of experience teaching networking and job-searching classes.
“Use LinkedIn to set up a face-to-face,” he said. “Don’t use that as the connection.”
Having friends know you are looking for a job also is helpful. They can pass on leads.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) runs nearly 50 WorkForce Centers throughout the state.
The centers offer free classes, workshops and hands-on training to help job seekers find employment as well as help businesses find workers. DEED also provides a directory of job clubs, groups of job hunters that provide networking and support for each other.
At the U’s College of Liberal Arts, the process begins freshman year. All new students get a career readiness guide. The school’s career services offers appointments, events and career courses which include advice on networking. Students are encouraged to join professional associations in their fields of interest.
“Networking can be a really important avenue for identifying and exploring interests,” Heier said.
Networking doesn’t need to look the same for every student, Heier said. Students and job seekers in general should find the form of networking they are most comfortable with, whether that is one-on-one informational meetups or large networking events.
For more information about networking, visit mn.gov/deed/network.