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Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Key to a Successful Job Search: Making Personal Connections

People are your greatest resource when looking for a job. Now, more than ever, it is not what you know but whom you know!

Career experts estimate that approximately 75 percent of all job openings are never advertised. Positions that become available because of internal promotions, retirements, and employees leaving the organization for career advancement, often are not posted. Rather, these positions are filled through personal connections established long before the opening ever existed. Somebody knew somebody!

So, what is the secret? How do you tap into this hidden job market?

The most successful job searches rely on connecting with people on a personal level. Traditional job-search methods, such as applying through newspaper advertisements and human resources departments, primarily are conducted electronically. This creates the false impression that technology has made the job search more efficient when, in fact, technology has decreased your ability to establish relationships and be invited to interviews. To increase your chances of landing a job offer, move your job search from your computer to your connections!

The key to a successful job search is making personal connections. Here are several suggestions for adding a personal touch to your job search strategy.

• Do Not Rely on the Internet

The popularity of online job searches makes the Internet, by far, the most competitive method of job search. A better way to distinguish yourself is to find out the name of the hiring manager and contact him or her directly by telephone. Begin the conversation by introducing yourself and assuring the manager that you have followed the organization’s formal online application process. During this conversation, quickly outline your background highlighting the special talents and unique qualifications that make you the best candidate for the job.

As the conversation ends, remind the manager of your sincere interest in the position and your desire to be selected for an interview. If the position is already filled, ask if the organization has additional openings or if the manager knows of other organizations that are hiring. Once a personal connection is established, and you have moved yourself from being a piece of paper to becoming a person, it is amazing how individuals will extend themselves on your behalf.

• Courtesy Counts

Before contacting any manager or practitioner in your career field, be fully prepared to present yourself in a professional manner and to demonstrate the utmost courtesy and respect for their time.

Remember, you are the one who needs help, so you are the one who should do the work! It is not the responsibility of the manager to “keep you in mind.” You must follow up and continue to reconfirm your interest with professional contacts. Likewise, if anyone provides a referral or recommendation on your behalf, provide that person with your résumé, make him or her aware when they may be contacted for a reference check, and always express your appreciation for their support – with a thank-you note by mail (not e-mail)!

Once you acquire a position, the same courtesies apply; let your references know where you are employed and, again, express your appreciation for the part they played in helping you find your new position.

• Maximize Face Time, Not Facebook

Connect, connect, and connect! Attend professional development functions, association lunches, and networking events. Get to know people in these organizations. This means attending events on a regular basis, engaging individuals in genuine conversations, and being willing to contribute your talents to committee work or task forces. Eventually, you can mention that you are searching for your next professional opportunity, but the personal connections should be made first, before expecting people to be willing to help you.

• Go to Job Fairs

These events allow you to meet the greatest number of employers in the shortest amount of time. Again, when attending these events, be prepared to introduce yourself and tell prospective employers about your unique qualifications. The dialogue does not end there. The smart job searcher follows up on each connection by getting a business card and sending a letter reminding the employer of the meeting and the conversation you had. The savvy job seeker always asks for the interview and always thanks the employer for their time.

• Say “Thank You!”

Make it a priority to acknowledge the time and efforts of anyone who assists you with your career advancement. Depending on the profession, your appreciation can be expressed with a formal business letter or a hand-written thank-you note. Whatever version you prefer, demonstrate your good manners by expressing your appreciation in writing. The courtesy and thoughtfulness communicated by sending a thank you is the easiest way to stand above every other candidate or practicing professional.

• Return the Favor

Appropriate business etiquette requires that professional favors are reciprocated. Whenever possible, make a concerted effort to assist your colleagues. In addition, once you are in a professional position, pay it forward! When young professionals approach you for assistance and advice, be willing and available to help.

Making professional connections is the critical element that sets candidates apart, especially in today’s competitive market. The relationships you build when conducting a job search are the beginning of a professional network that will serve you well throughout your career.

By Karen Lamb

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