Fans of Bruce Mount sang his praises to BzzAgent before he applied to become vice-president of engineering of the Boston word-of-mouth marketer. In late June, the software-development manager asked nearly two dozen present and past colleagues to tout his abilities. “Even one sentence will help!” he assured them. Their testimonials ranged from a brief haiku to a multipage missive dubbing him “a freakin’ gold mine of knowledge, ingenuity and kindness”.
Mount’s creative approach “made him stand out”, recalls Rossana Y. de la Cruz, BzzAgent’s director of recruiting. He was the front-runner among 166 prospects. And though the firm ultimately promoted an insider, de la Cruz vows to consider him again for a relevant vacancy.
Unusual times demand unusual networking tactics. Most candidates find work through networking, surveys show. But in today’s dismal job market, many feel frustrated with standard strategies such as tapping friends for referrals.
Clients of Laurence J. Stybel, a Boston outplacement counsellor, fret that acquaintances ignore their aid requests because the contacts fear they may lose their jobs. Anxious about unemployment, people hoard knowledge about openings for themselves and closest friends. Networking “is perceived to be a zero-sum game”, the president of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire says.
“The bar has been raised on what it takes to make networking work,” concurs Scott Allen, a consultant about online networking. “Virtual interaction allows us to create the illusion of networking by making electronic links with people” but online ties are “just a starting point”. “You still need some kind of relationship,” he says.
For job hunters who use networking websites such as LinkedIn.com, Allen favours a more sophisticated approach. When you invite someone to join you on LinkedIn, he proposes including a personalized offer of help, such as an introduction to a customer or a useful link.
In the real world, you can improve your networking by finding out whether key executives of potential employers will attend a trade group meeting and then scheduling encounters during the event, recommends Brandon Gutman, vice-president of business development at Battalia Winston International, a New York search firm. “Don’t expect to just show up and bump into these people,” he cautions.
Robb Leland wanted to move into mobile marketing, which involves targeting promotions at mobile devices. He identified three concerns that were listed on an industry association’s site as being registered for the group’s March conference. He then contacted officials at the companies, including Shira Simmonds, president and co-founder of Ping Media.
Seated beside each other at a seminar, they found common ground. “That’s why I’m here today,” says Leland, who joined Ping Media as senior business- development manager in September.
There are additional ways to network more effectively at events. “Be the only person like yourself in the room,” Stybel advises. For instance, he encourages human resource managers to attend local meetings of Financial Executives International and share their expertise. Because many HR executives report to chief financial officers, those who belong to that professional organization probably hear about promising HR positions.
An offbeat but memorable “elevator pitch” will also make you stand out in a crowd, says Lorraine Howell, a public-speaking trainer in Seattle.
Several years ago, Howell coached Wimsey Cherrington, a Seattle massage therapist who unearths hidden causes of chronic pain. The therapist was having trouble describing her speciality during gatherings of a women business owners’ group. “Networking wasn’t working at all,” Cherrington remembers. Things changed after she began calling herself “a body detective”. The catchy description “at least doubled my practice”, Cherrington says.
Still frustrated? Your network may know why. Ask friends, relatives and associates to anonymously assess your strengths and weaknesses through SurveyMonkey.com, an online polling tool, suggests Diane Darling, a Boston networking specialist. The gambit worked for her. Based on her SurveyMonkey feedback, she realized her artsy-looking purple suits hindered her career because she didn’t look “corporate”. The contacts “would have never told me this in person”, Darling says. She fixed her image by buying costly, classic business suits.